Recovery is a journey

Surgery is scary. No matter how big or small a procedure is, doctors will always warn you there?s a risk something could go wrong. And despite preparing for surgery, at some point you have to leave it in the hands of your doctors, God, the Universe. The real work, I?ve learned, comes after surgery. A patient?s recovery is a true test of strength, perserverance and patience.

On Sept. 7, my parents drove me to Iowa City to have a benign tumor on my seventh cranial nerve (the facial nerve) decompressed. At 10:37 that morning, the anesthetic team lead me down a long, winding corridor toward my operating room. By 10 a.m. the following day, I was signing my release papers. The surgery lasted three-and-a-half hours and went better than expected. My surgical team not only decompressed the tumor (removed a small portion of my skull around the tumor) but were able to remove about 75 percent of it. I?ll never regain the facial function I lost over the last five or six years as the tumor was growing, but we?re hopeful the doctors were able to stunt its growth. As I was being wheeled out of the hospital and to my parent?s car, I was overjoyed. How can you not be with an outcome like that! But I knew the next several weeks would all be on me. My test would be my recovery.

When my parents drove me home from open-heart surgery nearly 11 years ago, I winced and moaned at every bump we hit. I clutched a pillow to my chest hoping it could somehow hold my chest together better than the wire and glue my doctors had used. When we finally got home, the only thing I wanted to do was lay down in my bed, but that proved to be impossible. There?s a song we used to sing in elementary school, ?the leg bone?s connected to the knee bone, the knee bone?s connected to the thigh bone? and so on. It?s simplistic, but true. Doing the simplist of tasks was a challenge because moving my arm or abdomen meant shifting my chest, and that caused too much pain.

When my parents brought me home after brain surgery, I went straight for the recliner ? the same place I had slept for almost a month after my open-heart surgery. This time, however, I only slept there for three days. After my heart surgery, my mom had to help me wash my hair for at least a week, maybe more. On Sunday, after we had removed the head dressing, Mom helped me wash my hair as I was so nervous about hitting my incision. The next time I showered, I was comfortable doing it myself. It took my parents almost a week to get me to go outside and go for a walk the first time around. As you can guess, I had my tennis shoes on and was ready to walk much sooner after this surgery.

Why such a difference? Having open-heart surgery, I hope, is the most intense and dramatic thing I?ll ever go through. But if it isn?t, I?ve learned a great deal about myself from recovering from it. A recovery that took much longer than the two weeks doctors suggested. As I?ve grown and matured, I like to think I?ve learned to understand and accept my body, I know how much I can push myself. And as the saying goes, ?Rome wasn?t built in a day? and recovering from trauma doesn?t happen over night.

That doesn?t mean I?m perfect and have it all figured out. Life is a continual learning experience. I came back to work a week after surgery. I was ready to dive back in, but my body wasn?t. It was annoying becoming so tired after deadline and not being able to work on stories because my hearing wasn?t completely back in my left ear and talking was still difficult. Like I said, everything is connected.

I finally lost it this past Monday. I was just so ready to feel like me again. ?You?ll get there, little by little, day by day. Just have some patience,? my friend reminded me.

So that?s what I?m working on today and tomorrow and the next day. Reminding myself that life happens day by day. It?s OK if you struggle, if you have a hard time and if you feel a little down in the dumps. Because tomorrow you get to try again. And tomorrow it will be a little better.