Still Not Dead

To start: I’m fine, or I will be. (Better, Jason?)

To continue: If you ever have to go to the emergency room, don’t forget to bring a book. It will distract you from Larry King in the waiting room and all the people he has on to yell at each other about Sarah Palin. It will give you something to do besides worry as you wait in the examination room and feel the blood flow out of you. It will keep you company as you stay awake all through the night waiting for someone who can fix you.

Make it a long book.

To explain: A couple weeks after my surgery, I was ready to go back to work. I was done with the antibiotics and my digestion was back to normal. I was adjusted to the new migraine medication and not likely to pass out. I was no longer sleeping all the time. I almost felt like me again.

I spent the weekend with friends out of town. I stayed out of the hot tub because I was experiencing a little light bleeding, but nothing that hadn’t happened after my punch biopsy. It had almost completely stopped by Saturday night. Sunday afternoon, I carried our cooler out to the car.

When we stopped for dinner, I noticed that I was bleeding again. Luckily, I was still living in the land of constant sanitary pads. This bleeding was heavier than anything I’d experienced yet, so when we got home, I checked online for advice on bleeding after a conization. “Contact your doctor immediately if you experience heavy bleeding.” Only, by their definition, I wasn’t. Just moderate bleeding.

Still, I promised Ben I’d monitor the situation, and I stayed home from work the next day to do just that. By late afternoon, the flow was tapering off again. I’d been moving as little as possible all day, and I was bored. I was frustrated with still being home without being able to do anything to get us ready for hosting Thanksgiving.

So I swept the stairs. That was when the bleeding really started. Because I swept the stairs. In hindsight, I’m perfectly willing to admit that doing that instead of staying in bed was stupid, but it isn’t hard work. Just, apparently, the wrong work.

I lay back down. Ben was almost due home, early because we were supposed to go out to dinner before PZ’s debate. He could take me wherever I needed to go without us incurring ambulance charges.

I got back up and took a quick shower. If I was going to spend time in the hospital being uncomfortable, which it was increasingly looking like I was, I at least wanted to be clean. Drip…drip…drip. Then back to bed.

I debated sending the email about dinner. I didn’t want to worry anyone, but suddenly not showing up to an event for which I’d chosen the restaurant wasn’t going to reassure people either. “Um, we may not make it tonight. Depends on whether I stop bleeding by the time Ben gets home.”

Remarkably, I did. Well, I went back to moderate bleeding. No more passing 2-3 inch clots. Just some blood. A manageable amount of blood. An amount of blood that wasn’t going to stop me from seeing people I hadn’t seen in a month or more during my health-related exile.

It was a mistake but a worthwhile one. Good friends, good conversation, good fake Mexican food. I was sorry I couldn’t have a margarita, but my virgin daiquiri was tasty.

Bumpy car rides, though, aren’t good for bleeding ladies. There’s some cognitive dissonance in laughing at something really funny and feeling it bring a small gush of blood. I told Ben when our food came that we’d be heading to the doctor when we were done.

We did. We stopped at the house on the way to pick up books and, it turned out, a change of clothes. Then it was off to the emergency room to wait.

That’s what most of the night was–waiting. Well, waiting and being hooked up to monitors to make sure I wasn’t going to die if they kept me waiting some more. The rest was the four cautery procedures and the ironic blood draw, to make sure I had platelets, I assume.

First came the silver nitrate, a long matchstick from which I strangely felt heat but no pain. It was smaller than the spots from which I was bleeding, so it didn’t help. I just bled around it. Oh, yes, I was apparently bleeding from multiple spots–gushers, according to the very funny nurse practitioner. (This is the woman who walked in and said, “Hey! You’re bleeding!” I only wish I’d been quick enough to respond, “Do you think I should see someone about that?”)

The second procedure wasn’t really cautery. It was application of ferric subsulfate, a styptic, which is what had stopped the bleeding after my punch biopsies. It was great, perfect, instant. Stopped the bleeding immediately…and for about three hours afterward, during which time I’d gone home but not fallen asleep. I told Ben to go back to sleep when he dropped me off at the emergency room for the second time. I at least got to lie down, and I wanted someone to be rested when I was done and needed to get home.

I have no idea what they tried for the third procedure. It was five in the morning and whatever it was didn’t work. I only really remember that everything hurt by this time. Being swabbed repeatedly with cotton in order to clean up enough that the doctor can see is not really a natural function of the cervix. It just isn’t made for it. Oh, and that the earnest, shy orderly had to clean blood off the floor afterward.

After this, they brought the electric cautery machine down from the operating room. This was the same machine that had done the surgery. It would have been the same doctor, too, except he was already scheduled for surgery first thing in the morning. One of his partners came in to use it instead.

I think she told me that she thought my cone biopsy had come back clean of cancer. Just high-grade displasia. She wasn’t sure and I don’t remember that well. It was now 7:30 or so.

This time I got Versed and fentanyl. I didn’t get enough, though. There’s something truly weird about a doctor asking you how much drugs you think you’ll need. I had no idea. I’d never done this before. Asking, “More?” each time they hurt you is not an optimal solution. At least it was over quickly, or it was once I gritted my teeth and stopped asking for more drugs. And for my writer friends: Cautery smells very much but not perfectly like burning hair.

The good news is that Vicodin doesn’t make me sick the way I thought it had after the original surgery. The bad news is that I needed to find out in way I hadn’t after the surgery. The mixed news is that between my niece and me at Thanksgiving, we determined that what’s happening is that the Vicodin makes us susceptible to motion sickness. No playing video games on narcotics and only very cautious car rides.

The other bad news is that I’ve been afraid to sneeze since then. This hasn’t stopped me from sneezing, just freaks me out every time, even though it hasn’t led to bleeding. Lifting has, however, particularly lifting something right in front of me. So I didn’t get to move the table for Thanksgiving, and I still haven’t gotten to do the kind of housecleaning I want to do. Groceries require assistance.

Two weeks after the ER trip, I had another bleed, another major one with big, black, ugly clots. For this one, I was out of town again, again preparing to go back to work on Monday. This one stopped itself, though, as I was debating between an ER on a Saturday night and waiting until Sunday morning. It was nothing like the close to two pints I estimated I lost on the first bleed, but it was still terrifying.

Then there’s this weekend, which has been the period from hell. Late, which isn’t surprising after the stress of the last…oh, I’ve lost track. Savage PMS and dysmenorrhoea severe enough that ibuprofen can’t cut it and I find myself breathing funny sometimes from the pain unless I go back to the narcotics. Again, not surprising, given my enforced inactivity and the abuse my cervix has seen recently. Just not any fun.

So I’m still here. I’m still healing. It’s just turned into a much longer road than expected and one that sometimes requires pretty much everything I’ve got. I’ll see you all on the other end, I promise, and hopefully soon.

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18 Responses to “Still Not Dead”

  1. December 7th, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Theo Bromine says:

    Glad to see you have surmounted your most recent crises. I’m in awe of your ability to maintain your sense of humour and perspective. So I once again de-lurk to let you know that I am among the many who are silently voicing shouts of encouragement from the sidelines.

  2. December 7th, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Thanks, Theo. I have to admit, though, that some of that humor and perspective is built into how I write. And I don’t write when I don’t have access to it.

  3. December 8th, 2009 at 1:04 am

    Dr A says:

    I went through something very similar in February.. scary. Take it easy lady.

  4. December 8th, 2009 at 7:13 am

    D. C. Sessions says:

    Enforced inactivity sucks bricks. Worse, I suspect, for you than when it’s something like a cast on your leg — the cast is visible.

    Then again, I’ve found that perhaps the wisest line in any Disney cartoon was Alice’s “I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom take it.”

    Best wishes, Stephanie.

  5. December 8th, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Scicurious says:

    Glad you’re ok and still alive, been worrying about you!!

  6. December 8th, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Dan J says:

    Just want to chime in with my own best wishes, and to let you know that I miss your more frequent writing. The little updates via Twitter or FB are always welcome though, and reassuring.

  7. December 8th, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Thanks, all.

    Dr. A, I promise that I’m taking it very easy, even if it’s driving me nuts. Cleaning for Thanksgiving was as ambitious as I got, and I did as much of that with robots as possible.

    I should note, by the way, that this kind of complication is rare enough that a chunk of the time I spent in the ER was the nurse practitioner looking things up and getting advice on what to do.

  8. December 8th, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Jason Thibeault says:

    Robots? Your cleaning involved robots?

    Clearly the solution to this problem is to build more robots. Have Ben bring in all your robot-building gear to wherever you’re relaxing the most. And if you can build a robot to play your video games for you, that’s almost as good as playing them yourself, right? Except that you can’t watch…

    (Did I really leave that big an impression on you when I had my mini-panic-attack over your Twittering that morning?? Sorry…)

  9. December 8th, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Jodi says:

    We miss you Stephanie, but I’m glad that you are taking the time to rest and heal. It sounds like a horrible ordeal that you’ve been through so far, I hope that it is smooth sailing from here on out.
    Also, I agree with Dan that, when you can, leaving small notes on twitter or facebook makes us all very happy :)

  10. December 8th, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    a daughter's mother says:

    Well, this helps explain why you’ve not been blogging that much on Almost Diamonds. Slow recovery = no sense of humor = no writing. I’ve been checking and hoping for new postings. Now I’ll know to ask how you’re doing when there’s too much silence. And just let the housekeeping go. (Or train Ben?) Trust me, it’ll still be there when you’re actually up to it. Next year sounds good, eh?

  11. December 9th, 2009 at 7:23 am

    george.w says:

    I must second that awe. You’re doing amazingly well in spite of setbacks.

  12. December 9th, 2009 at 7:38 am

    cass_m says:

    I drop by occasionally. Gosh you make me realize what an easy recovery I had. I even went to a second, different, surgery within a month. Glad you’re being very aware of your recovery. Emerg rooms everywhere are no fun.

  13. December 9th, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Stacy says:

    Suddenly, my flu doesn’t seem so bad. Thanks Stephanie. Get well soon.

  14. December 9th, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Ben has been doing more than his share of the housecleaning and everything else, and he got to do all the heavy stuff for Thanksgiving. I needed to do something by that point, though. The robots are just a Roomba and a Scooba, but they kept me from sweeping, which was apparently a problem. But Jason, we just sent a bunch of old Roomba bits to Toaster Sunshine for making new robots.

  15. December 9th, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Toaster says:

    Yes, we received the Roomba bits and now they’re proliferating! Another Roomba and even a Scooba has shown up even as we’re trying to work out power supply and programming issues on the first ones. For what it’s worth, I intend to flood the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit next summer with little robots.

    This makes me think that better cleaning robots are necessary: 1) wall crawler to wash dirt prints and dust bunnies away and 2) dish arms to scrub and clean dishes for you.

    I am glad to hear that you’re getting through it. It’s easy to be angry at the situation, to feel hopeless and powerless and betrayed by your own body, but it is far better to focus what attention you can gather to creative productivity, because in the act of creating something new we can more easily forget the inconveniences gnawing at our toes.

  16. December 9th, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    DuWayne says:

    I am glad you are alive, healing and about again. I hope you don’t have any more visits to the ER in the near future, they are never fun.

  17. December 13th, 2009 at 2:34 am

    Dana Hunter says:

    All that, and you still managed to pull off one of the best COTEBs we’ve ever had. You’re incredible!

    Here’s hoping your cervix decides it’s time to stop messing you about and just heal up already. Enforced inactivity sounds great until you actually have to experience it. Argh. It’s about the only thing in the world that can make a person yearn for the good old days when they could enjoy common household chores.

    And then, of course, there’s hospital teevee. I think they choose the programming to ensure you end up needing further medical care. It’s a money-making scheme. Maybe they’re trying to drum up more business for the psychiatric unit.

  18. December 13th, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    There might have been a little pent up…something…that made its way out in that COTEB. Just maybe.

    I hadn’t thought about the TV that way. I was actually thinking they were trying to keep ER visits down by making me never want to come back.

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