Everything seemed to be going fine and then I had to go and celebrate my birthday. I couldn’t stand looking at the empty refrigerator, the mound of laundry, and the tufts of Buddy hair all over the floor. I was going to take advantage of a good thing. (This is where I overlap info from my last blog). I went to the local Food City and spent over $400 (As I said, we were out of everything. By the way, $400 doesn’t go as far as you would think. Groceries are very expensive here). Of course, putting all those groceries away was quite a chore!
On our previous trip to Lexington, Jeff had picked up a jar of grape leaves at the local middle- eastern store. I was excited about finally testing Sylvia’s mom’s recipe. Weeks ago, when Sylvia’s mom was making her batch of stuffed grape leaves, I quickly scribbled every detail as she threw in unmeasured dashes of this and that. I remembered her bowl of meaty/ricey/spicy stuff looked different. I called Sylvia. “It just doesn’t look the same,” I said. “Did you smell it?” she said, having no idea that I wouldn’t know what it was SUPPOSED to smell like. “I don’t smell anything, except hamburger, lamb, and cinnamon. I already doubled the spice amount like Sandy (her sister) told me to.” I added another teaspoon of each spice and hoped for the best. I rolled grape leaves for three hours, put them in a pot and, as directed, slowly spooned ladles of boiling water on top of them. They at least LOOKED like Sylvia’s mom’s creation. We’d see….I then marinated shrimp and chicken in a “Margarita Marinade” from a recipe in my new Savannah cookbook. I made some aioli sauce, and was feeling kind of like Wonder Woman. I vacuumed, cleaned the bathtub, threw some laundry in the washer and realized…Oh crap. What have I done? Knowing that everyone would start arriving in a couple of hours, I figured I’d better get in the shower. I realized that I couldn’t stand for more than five minutes at a time without this horrible pain shooting down my left arm. It just kept getting worse. By the day. I was swelling again, not just my breast, but my armpit felt like it had an apple inside it and I couldn’t put my arm all the way down. Jeff said, “You overdid it this weekend.” I couldn’t argue with him. I had to take some painkillers, and it made me mad. I despise all of the side effects of these medications. They defy everything I believe in. But I had no choice. I would lie in the bed and shiver. I took my temperature-99.7. Eh. Nothing to worry about, I thought. I was FREEZING and it was 72 degrees in the house. I turned my heating pad on high and put it on my stomach. My teeth were chattering and so was my stomach (another first). On my nightstand beside me, I heard my phone chime (text messages) around 20 times. I remember hearing Jeff’s ringtone (You Shook Me All Might Long), Lauren’s (Margaritaville), and Jordan’s (Fur Elise) that day, but I couldn’t reach my phone. I’m not sure if I even had the energy to swipe that stupid bar to even answer it. Jeff came home from work that day (Tuesday) and I was out of it. He popped the thermometer in my mouth and it beeped. “103.1. I’m calling Dr. A.J.,” Jeff said. “He’s out of town…. remember?” Figuring that one of his partners had to be in town, he called the hotline. Dr. Shane returned his call. I didn’t hear everything, but I do remember Jeff saying, “We’re supposed to be in town Thursday afternoon to see the oncologist…...”
“He’ll see you Thursday morning. He’ll probably drain the fluid and put you on an antibiotic. In the meantime, you can take Tylenol to keep the fever down.” Two days seemed like an eternity, but whatever. Anything was better than going to Prestonsburg’s Highlands Regional Hospital ER, where I have told my entire family to promise me that no matter what my fever may be or what appendage is dangling-DO NOT TAKE ME THERE!!! From past experience, they all agree with me. I suffered through the chills and pain, but at least I was alive. If I had gone to Highlands, it would have been iffy.
I couldn’t wait to feel better, so Thursday came very slowly. I sat in the examining room alone for about 40 minutes, shivering violently. The fever was only half of it. At that office, they give you a paper napkin to wear. It opens in the front. Really?!!! I tore the first one trying to put it on, so I searched all the drawers looking for a new one. I imagined the sight if Dr. A.J.’s partner walked in and I’m shuffling around the exam room, topless, with my eggplant colored boob, looking through their drawers! There they were. A whole drawer of blue “one size fits no one” paper napkin vests. In reality, I needed help just getting the damn thing on! I couldn’t lift up my arm…at all. I finally got it on and looked in the mirror across from the examining table where I was sitting. I had to laugh out loud. There was this big gap where it opened in the front and I was sweating from the effort. I pulled it as tight as I could to close the gap, grabbed my phone out of my purse and snapped a “selfie”. I quickly messaged it to Jeff and Liz, just feet away in the waiting room. Attached was the message, “One size fits no one”. I turned my ringer off, set my phone on the chair, and laid down on the table in the fetal position. Then the door opened.
“Hi. I’m Dr. Shane. I talked with your husband the other day. What’s going on?” I could tell immediately that the guy had the bedside manner of a robot. I’ll bet the da Vinci robots were more friendly. But I was used to Dr. A.J., all handsome with his salt and pepper curls. He always looks me in the eyes when he talks to me, stands beside me and shows me the reports, and deciphers every word into layman’s terms. After that, he’ll gives me a copy of my record. Right then.
The robot had his nurse Susan with him. “I don’t know. You tell me. You think I have an infection?” I wasn’t about to tell him that I cleaned the house and fed an army after my lumpectomy/lymph node dissection surgery. I didn’t want him to tell me what I knew at the time…”You are an idiot!” I would surely burst into tears.
Lie back and let’s see. “Wow. That’s quite a bruise.” Lying flat on my back is quite a sight. My normal right breast, a hefty D cup, flattens out and spreads out, mostly toward my armpit. The newly, (hopefully) cancer- free one is about double my normal size and pointing straight up like a pyramid of Egypt. From the crease of my armpit and down a few inches, begins the hills of Appalachia. Curiously, much of the pain runs the course down to my elbow, on the inside of my arm.
“We’re doing to need to drain this.” Whew. Music to my ears. He took my arm and lifted it over my head. I cried actual tears from the pain. He said, “Just do the best you can.” I was excited at the thought of getting some relief. He numbed the area with some Lidocaine and inserted a huge needle. I looked away. I winced from the enormous pressure, felt a hot liquid oozing down my side. Then I heard this loud splashing sound. I can’t say it was instant relief because I still felt pinching from the needle. The robot slapped a bandage on me. I turned my head back around in hopes of seeing matching boobs. Despite the fact that they drained almost a pint of liquid from my armpit/breast, the only difference I could see was that the hills of Appalachia looked smaller…and there was a FREAKING DRAIN tube hanging from my armpit! There was a bulb dangling, and I knew I was in for a long few days. “How long will I have to have this?” Dr. Shane said I needed to come back Monday (four days away!), the day I was supposed to get my chemo port installed. He prescribed more Lortabs and some Augmentin as a prophylactic antibiotic...”just in case”. Ugh. “By the way, I’m cancelling your port install, for now.”
Susan the nurse stayed behind and gave me lessons on measuring and caring for this new monstrosity. “That’s some bruise, sweetie.” I immediately liked her. There’s nothing like a good shot of empathy and validation. “Could you please hand me my phone? I have to show you something?” I scrolled through my pictures, trying to find the two photos, which when flashed to select friends and family, always elicit loud gasps. Susan did not disappoint. “Honey…I’ve been doing this a long time and I can honestly say that when it comes to bruising and swelling, you take first place.” I smiled because, well… I’m an overachiever.