Here’s what I remember from those first post-mastectomy moments: Waking up to see my primary care physician, Dr. J, in the recovery room (even though there was no medical reason for him to be there). Being comforted by my family and friends. Watching my Mom futz with the daisies and delphiniums. Sipping 7-Up. Smiling, even though the pink-flowered elastic tube top they had put on me felt like it was lined with burlap and foxtails. Testing the efficiency of my morphine PCA drip. Feeling gratitude. Worrying what my hair looked like. Drifting in and out of sleep.
I also clearly remember this:
My “suite” had the usual hospital stuff, but one half of it had the look and feel of the Brady’ Bunch’s den. It had a low-slung sofa, a curvy coffee table, an entertainment center and TV, and a big round table with chairs, over which hung a Gunsmoke--looking light fixture.
After sleeping a bit, I woke to the sound of voices, so I turned in their direction. Surrounding the big round table were my ex, Ocho, my brother Dennis and his girlfriend, my Dad, my son Michael and his buddy, and my friend from work, Mitch.
My brother: “Ok, here’s the flop…here’s the river…and I’m guessing the ex has nothin’ but pocket deuces.”
The ex: “I’m betting my pocket deuces’ll beat that weak hand you got, Dennis.”
My brother: “You can’t check yet, Ocho.”
They were playing Texas Hold ‘Em. And it felt oddly normal and comforting.
The game lasted for hours and continued into the night, while Mom and Katie watched movies and read People and Us.
I did have a few hours alone. When everyone left to get dinner that first night, I took the opportunity to look at myself. The desk/table that held my 7-Up and ice had a secret pull-out compartment with a mirror. I flipped up the mirror and looked at myself. The tube top I had on was pink with patronizing little flowers and a ruffle at the bottom and the top. “Good grief,” I thought. “Who designed this ridiculous-looking and uncomfortable thing? Not only does it itch, it looks like a top I got at the Sears Roebuck in Shawnee Mission, Kansas when I was 11.”
I undid the Velcro on the tube top and looked at the white bandages wrapped around my chest. My chest was as flat as a prairie. “I look exactly like I did in 1971,” I thought. I laughed at the image, and also, I think, at the reconstituted pre-teen angst it induced. Then I had a good cry.
Two days after the surgery, I was discharged from the hospital. When I got home, I had a burst of energy—I looked at my flowers, I went through my mail, I had dinner on the couch. Two hours later, I crashed and crawled into bed.
The French doors in my bedroom look out onto my backyard. Here's how I'd like to describe the view: green grass, abundant flowers, artfully shaped Japanese maples and a little Balinese meditation house. Here’s the actual view: dead grass, abundant dog poo, leggy Japanese maples and a deteriorating wooden swing set that is a liability just waiting to happen.
There are, however, hand-trimmed, 12-foot hedges in my backyard, as well as an orange tree, a giant redwood, and some Mexican sage that the hummingbirds like. I gazed upon these for a while then fell asleep for a few hours. I woke to the sound of voices out on the back deck. It was a lovely feeling being in my home, surrounded by my family and friends, the setting sun making everything look a deeper shade of green, the current crisis providing meaning, energy, solidarity, love and life. I soaked it all in. And I listened…
Here’s what I wanted to hear: “…incredible…recovering so quickly…very brave…such a good mom…can you believe what she’s done to this yard?...so strong…so healthy…so lucky…and her hair looks amazing…”
Here’s what I heard:
“Who needs a beer?”
“The ex needs one because he’s only got a two and a five.”
“The bro needs one because he’s going to try to bluff with that inferior hand.”
“You can’t check yet, Ocho.”
I drifted in and out. Everything in my world was Ok.