I’m in recovery for another forty-five minutes and then someone wheels me back up to my room in short stay. Gary is there to greet me with a relieved smile and a positive report from the surgeon. “The doctor said there was no cancer in the lymph nodes and the tumor was extracted with clear margins. The only problem with the surgery was an allergic reaction to the antibiotic and the tape. She had to use super glue on the incision.” I laugh at idea of being held together with super glue.
A nurse comes in to ask about my pain level and returns to give me a large white oblong pill. Gary is sitting by the side of the bed feeding me water, juice, and crackers. The Saltines are tasty and apple juice has never been so sweet. A slight dizziness gradually disappears. The nurse tells me to cough to clear my lungs and move my legs and arms to keep the blood flowing. I have to be able to walk across the room and meet other posted requirements before they will let me leave. There is an itch on my stomach, but no sign of a rash.
I’ve met the discharge criteria and we are ready to leave by three-o-clock. Gary brings a wheelchair and pushes me down to the lobby. When we arrive home he fusses over me while I wrap myself in my grandmother’s quilt and settle in on the couch. It doesn’t take me long to devour a full plate of Gary’s famous mashed potatoes. Considering the events of the day, I feel reasonably well.
Sleep doesn’t come easy the first night on the sofa. My throat is raw and an irritating itch travels from one part of my body to another. It is impossible to find a comfortable position. By morning I am swollen and tender from the top of my breastbone down under my left arm to my waist. Fearing an infection, I call the surgeon’s office and schedule a four-o-clock appointment.
Because the pain medication doesn’t seem to be helping, I pull out the container of large white pills to check the dose. Down at the bottom in between all the warning stickers I see “Generic for: Vicodin – HYDROcodone/ACETAMINOPHEN.” No wonder I itch and my throat is raw – I am allergic to Acetaminophen. How did this happen? In addition to the red allergy band on my wrist and notes in my chart, at least ten different caregivers during the day were told about my allergic reaction to Tylenol/Acetaminophen. A few hours after stopping the Vicodin my throat is no longer sore and except for surgery related tenderness and swelling I start to feel better.
At four-o-clock I’m sitting on the end of the exam table while the doctor unwinds the wide bandage to check on my condition. “Swelling and bruising is to be expected especially with your sensitive skin. It should resolve in a few days. I don’t see anything to be concerned about at this point.” As she wraps the elastic bandage securely around me again, I mention being sent home with Vicodin for pain. Aware of my allergy she is horrified. We settle on an over the counter pain medication I have tolerated in the past.
On Thursday it takes all morning to get ready for a required afternoon meeting related to my new job. Although a day on the couch is preferred, Gary will drive me downtown and all I have to do at the meeting is listen to the discussion. Before my shower I notice more swelling and a large area of deep maroon bruising. The roomy button front shirt I bought before the surgery will barely close over my lopsided double D shape.
Whether it was the bumpy ride downtown, exertion from the meeting, increased swelling, or lack of a strong pain medication, I spend Thursday night roaming around the house looking without relief for a comfortable position. There is nothing lonelier than pain and anxiety induced sleeplessness in middle of the night. I calm myself with Hildegard of Bingen’s chant, “All shall be well.” Exhaustion eventually blesses me with a few hours of sleep.
Each day over the weekend I feel a bit better although the swelling and bruising does not dissipate. My sister comes over twice to do Reiki, a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. Gary pampers me and brings me comfort food.
Tuesday afternoon at my one-week appointment the surgeon is visibly concerned when she sees the degree of bruising and swelling on my left side. An attempt to drain fluid is unsuccessful. “You have a large hematoma. How would you feel about going back to surgery?” There is no point in arguing with the serious expression on her face.