Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Expose: What it's like to have hernia surgery ...



When you have a baby, the hospital staff treats you like a celebrity. When you have a hernia, the hospital staff treats you like just another asshole with a body. It's more monotone, assembly line. You might be expected to change into a gown while a janitor sprays disinfectant on to the plastic mattress of the neighboring bed. She might look over at you, nonplussed, and say "Don't forget the complimentary chapstick."

I don't blame them. That's what we all are, assholes with bodies. But four months ago Chuck and I were cooing at the sunrise over Lake Superior, a room service menu and, of course, new life. Today Chuck throws back the curtains to reveal a street-level view of The Roundup, a dive bar with a decent karaoke book and, I'm told, edible burgers.

A man outside the window coughs.
We both cringe.
It's like his phlegm is actually jangling free right here in this room.

I'm starving. It's 3:30 p.m.-ish and I last ate at 1:30 a.m. I made two pieces of toast while I unloaded the dishwasher. I turned around for as long as it takes to shelve some mugs and found Orin snout-deep, lapping at a pocket of butter. "Idiot." I sneered and tossed the toast. I was only allowed food until 6:30 a.m. and since I didn't plan to wake up for a last-ditch gobble, that was it. Still, in the scheme of things, would one extra piece of toast sustain me much longer? Doubtful.

"Uncle Loui's is right next door," Chuck reminds me, mentioning the neighboring diner. "You could probably Kool Ade Man yourself through the wall."
I envision my Fruit Punch self face deep in a short stack.

A nurse repeatedly stabs at my left hand, tries to find a ripe vein. They're going to hook me up to an IV, he tells me.
"Can I get that in cheeseburger flavor?" I ask.
Eventually he gives up. Christa veins 1, stabby nurse 0. Someone else is going to have to do it.
"You did your best," I tell him as he leaves the room.

The surgeon stops in for a visit, which goes swimmingly, until he tells me that he is going to take my belly button and flip it up, repair the hernia and sew it back up.

This visual will not leave my head.

CONGRATULATIONS! IT'S A HERNIA
I'd recently been diagnosed with an umbilical hernia, caused by the stretching I'd endured during pregnancy. I think I remember when it happened. At one point my belly button started to really hurt. I thought: I can chalk this up to "Oh. You're pregnant. Things are going to feel weird." Or I can get all meow-meow first-time-mom, and press the panic button -- as were are correctly characterized as doing. Turns out I was making a hernia, so maybe some of those newbie complaints weren't so hilariously rookie.

In recent days, I've delighted in telling people about my hernia. I'm not sure how many people actually know-know what it is, and it's actually pretty fascinating. I'd hold my hand horizontal, spread my fingers, push the knuckle from my right hand through the gap.

"Then the surgeon will push the intestine back into place, and patch the hole with mesh ... like a bike tire," I'd explain animatedly.
"You've told this story before," this guy said during a recent retelling.
Everyone nodded.
"You've really got it down," a woman added, nodding.

In recent days I've also been terrified. Like, picturing people saying "... just a routine surgery," a slow head shake, a dab at the eyes. "... an otherwise healthy woman." When I was told I had a hernia, that I should probably have surgery since it was bothering me, I sat in my car and cried and imagined my life without me. I knew rationally that if I really thought that hernia surgery would hasten death, I wouldn't go through with it. You can live with a hernia. One of my friends just pushes her's back into place and proceeds with life as normal. Sometimes, she said, it hurts if she eats too much. But the hole can get bigger, the intestine can get strangled, the word "gangrene" appears in the literature. And it won't heal on its own.

Still, I did a lot of "this might be the last time that I do this" and on Monday night I ate about 1,200 calories worth of Reece's Pieces. The whole, "How many people skipped dessert on the Titanic" thing, you know.

HOW IT HAPPENS
Eventually I'm wheeled to an elevator, through some back passages, seemingly the underbelly of the hospital. It's like seeing the inner workings of an automaton, or the prep area of a kitchen. I'm parked in Slot 6 of what seems like a medical garage where blue-hatted patients wait to go under the knife. I overhear some of the staff making plans for happy hour. A man in scrubs sprays down beds and keeps smiling at me as if to say, "Look how clean I'm making this bed." At least two other employees walk past and comment on how hard he's working.

It's go time for the older woman parked across from me. She's wheeled out of her spot, and then she is perpendicular to me. She gives me a wan grimace-like smile. I wonder what she's in for.

"One of us might not make it out of here alive," I think, imagining her reading my obituary and staring off into space, trying to place my face.

After that I'm alone and it's lonely, man. People walk past in comfortable, albeit unattractive footwear. Few make eye contact. Some are walking through a door that very clearly says they must be wearing a hat to enter, but they are not. A few carry salads, sandwiches, brown bags.

A nurse stops by my bed. Jiggles this or that. An anesthesiologist explains his process. I sign papers.

I am visited by the physician's assistant who initially dug deep into my belly button to diagnose me last week. I like him. He took me seriously when I told him I had to be prepared for a dance competition in February, even when I explained that I was a novelty act.

"There's a friendly face," I say, and wonder if I sometimes express too much familiarity with strangers. But he did touch my hernia, so maybe he's not such a stranger anymore.

He takes me through the process and says the word "mesh" a lot. Then he pats my leg and tells me it will be about 45 more minutes. He walks away.

"Wait," I say.
He turns around.
"What do I do until then?" I ask.
He shrugs.
"Meditate?"
And he's through the double doors, wearing his hat.

A nurse walks past and asks if I need anything.
"Can I get a piece of paper?" I ask.

Two things calm me: One, imagining that some people live through gall bladder surgery, which seems way more invasive; two, writing this all down.


AND THEN
"This will take the edge off," a nurse tells me, hooking me up to some sort of liquid. "Like a glass of wine."
Here we go.
I'm wheeled into surgery and I can't stop talking. A woman asks me about my job and I tell her an extra-long story about what I do and the most recent thing I did and it can't possibly be interesting -- especially not in the great detail I'm giving her.

Finally I'm cut off. A mask is held near my face and a woman says "Sweet Dreams."

I wake up talking.
Where's Chuck? 
Where's the doctor? 
Am I alive? 
Where is the blog post I started writing in the waiting garage? 
Do I still have my free chapstick? 

AFTERMATH
I'm told the pain would be like I just did a massive abdominal workout. It's true: It feels like I've done 12,000 sit ups. I walk slowly. I worry about the infant nailing me in the guts with her flailing elbows while she eats, the only time I can hold her in any way. Chuck carefully sets her upon my nursing pillow, while I wince with discomfort. After 10 minutes, he flips her to the other breast.

I sleep very little, but take a good chunk out of the book "The Goldfinch" and become intimately acquainted with the night noises of our home; my roommates. One is a rhythmic breather, the other uses her talons to scratch at the mattress in her bed when she isn't making a constant "Uhnnnnnn" noise.

I rotate between Advil and pain pills and occasionally look at my wound in the mirror to make sure it isn't oozing fluid, which would indicate a problem.

I should be fine in 4-6 weeks.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The most 80s of ailments ...

My doctor draws it out for me, something that looks like the layers of Earth. It's taken him a single poke to my navel to diagnose me and now he's explaining it in great, disgusting detail.

My outer core, so to speak, has bubbled into my mantle at a weak spot. It needs to be pushed back into position. And, in non-Earth metaphors -- I have a small hernia. It's not unusual for post-preggos. This can happen when a belly busts out to here. A wayward intestine found its way into a gap and now there is a bubble poking through creating a painful little bump above my belly button.

A surgeon will have to go in, take his/her massive thumb, and push it back into place. Then, the hole will be patched like I'm a leaky tent.

"This is not from your navel ring," he told me, though I'd not asked or even wondered. "This is because you were pregnant."

There was a pain right in the spot where I rest the baby. This is also where, when I'm putting her into her pajamas, she most frequently hauls off and kicks me. It only hurts when it's touched, so the rest of the day it can be ignored.

If you Google the right combination of symptoms, umbilical hernia is the only answer. You can say, "Hernia? Why that sounds like something for other people to deal with. People with aggressive intestines, for instance." You can rearrange the words and Google again, but the answer remains the same. Umbilical hernia.

"It seems like it might be a hernia," I had told the nurse. "According to the internet. I suppose you hear 'According to the internet' a lot. But this does seem to be a hernia."

It feels kind of weird to have a hernia. Like now that I know, I really want it fixed. Every time I exert any effort, I imagine the intestine slowing oozing through the hole, like slow motion Silly String. I ate jalapenos for at lunch and imagined a spicy piece getting caught in this pocket. I have to hold the baby in a new way, which inadvertently folds her into a weird C shape that neither of us like.

Chuck said of the diagnosis: This is what happens when you carry things.

There is something so Totally 80s about a hernia. Was it a thing back then? A saying or an insult? God. She practically had a hernia about it. 

Sam Malone had a hernia, Chuck told me. He freaked. Thought it was an ailment for old people. He told the regulars he was taking a ski trip, but really he had surgery. Chuck just saw this episode of "Cheers" last week while I was busy growing my own ... stomach tail?

Then, of course, there is this, which has been stuck in my head all day.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Legs ...

"Okay. I think I have enough time to shave one leg."

Chuck laughs. 

It's true. This is going to be a process. I don't think I've shaved them since the baby was born and I certainly wasn't doing any bending in the shower when I was pregnant. 

I flip up my pant leg to show him the Sasquatch-ian scene. 

He pauses. 

"You're lucky I'm a hippie."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Let there be Sriracha ...

Every Monday I get an email from writer-performance artist-actor Miranda July and within it are the personal correspondences of a handful of somewhat famous people ranging from Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Lena Dunham. 

It's a project, much like everything Miranda July does. She is curious about the way people comport (her word) themselves in this medium, so she asked a bunch of people to comb through outbox and give her an unfiltered glimpse of emails that refer to a specific topic. This week it was "body." Then July forwards the collection to anyone who wants to read it. Like me. The whole thing is called We Think Alone.

Plenty of the emails are boring -- though I never tire of seeing new mail from Miranda July -- except Lena Dunham. Her letters are always so neurotic and witty that it's like she secretly believes that someday her entire life will be open to the public, her emails public domain, her underwear drawer on the second floor of the museum next to whatever mites, skin and hair some intern vacuumed out of her mattress.

Some Mondays, after reading the collection, I type the topic into the search bar on my Gmail to see what my contribution would be if, say, I was one of Miranda July's somewhat famous friends. The verdict: Zzzz.

Regardless, today two things happened: 1. I was thinking about Miranda July and 2. My friend C1 and I sent a few emails back and forth and at one point he asked why I never blog anymore. I realized amount of words I put into the email to him would more than make a blog post, so why waste the finger-pad power.

So here is my own mini We Think Alone project.

Me: Next time you're at Subway, might I suggest a touch of the creamy Sriracha sauce on your sandwich. 
C1: Subway's bread is sub-par, I avoid it at all costs. Well, except for the occasional meatball sub when Subway is the only option. But I did see a commercial for the Sriracha sauce and thought, "That might make something completely shitty slightly better." 
Me: The Sriracha made my shitty ham and turkey sub actual percentage points better. I guess I didn't realize that you don't eat at Subway. I guess I won't tell you about their new garlic-flavored bread or that they now serve breakfast 24/7.  
C1: I ate at Subway for about 75 percent of my meals when traveling with (group he travels with) from 2003-2012. That's a lot of Subway. I think their breakfast is actually OK, but (get ready for a controversial statement) the breakfast at Arby's is far superior. The wraps are fantastic, in the worst fast-food way possible. 
One of the women (he travels with) is sponsored by Subway, so she had a card that got her free sandwiches anywhere in the world. Luckily, the only Subway we encountered last year was in Kuusamo, Finland.  
Me: I guess I've been eating Subway almost every day since godknowswhen. When I was home on maternity leave I, of course, did not eat Subway. Then (Chuck) and I went to Minneapolis for this thing and we stopped at Subway because we were starving and it was the healthiest option on the road. He purchased a $5 foot long from a shop in a strip mall in Pine City that was so damn good that I almost lost my mind. It was just a simple turkey on wheat with a bunch of veggies, but it was packed so tight and so delicious. Secret ingredient: Dijon mustard, which they call "spicy mustard" at Subway. I've relished my return to Subway.  
Today's trip was almost thwarted because I was being followed by someone who had jumped into the Skyway system near the Radisson. This person was really huffing and puffing and snorting and seemed to be dragging a limb. I tried to walk fast, but it felt like this person was gaining on me. Every time I touched a glass door I was reminded that this person behind me -- and people like him (her? I never got a visual) -- were also touching these glass doors all day every day. By the time I got to Subway, my body would be more diseased than the garbage cans behind St. Luke's.  
Then she (he?) hawked another loogie, which she (he?) swallowed and grunted some more and coughed a phlegm-y couch and I almost took off running so as not to ruin my lunch. When I got to Subway, I quickly ducked inside making sure not to look at the faces of any of the customers. One stray blotch of Mayo on a customer's chin would probably push me over the edge.  
C1: BLT at Subway is a winner. It's not good bacon, but it's less weird meat than, say, the turkey. Erbert's & Gerbert's is far superior, in my opinion. I mean, they have two different types of hams. 

I ate tacos from a taco stand in Ogden, UT today. One spicy pork, one regular pork, one chicken. They were kickass. They came with a grilled jalapeno as an option. $1.50 per taco. Hell of a deal. I'm going to go to one of these places for dinner:  
www.lorenzosmxrestaurant.com/menu.html
www.elchubascomexicangrill.com 
Probably Lorenzo's because I go to El Chub all the time.  
Me: Every night for dinner I eat an Amy's Organic Burrito, the one in the red wrapper. I pair it with two heaping dollops of cottage cheese, after first eating a third and fourth dollop straight from the container. (We buy cottage cheese two containers at a time). I dump a bag of baked Doritos on the plate, too. Sometimes I do this one handed with my kid on my hip -- a kid that is becoming increasingly interested in the concept of food-food -- and sometimes I put her in her crib beneath her mobile, tell her I'm going to the bathroom, but really pig out.
I hope my one-a-day vitamin is picking up the slack.  
C1: WTF, (Blahler). Can't you get someone to fix a casserole for a week? A salad? What's your hemoglobin at right now?  
Me: Unsure. Thanks for asking. 












Monday, November 4, 2013

Of chili dishes past ...

Chuck flips through an old cookbook trying to find me a recipe for chili. He's already verbalized one off the top of his head:

Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil, add beans and ...

I can't work like that. I've been cooking for at least five years, but still prefer very clear instructions. Meanwhile, less than an hour ago he chucked a bunch of veggies into a pan, mixed in some eggs and created a restaurant caliber breakfast for us. He's a kitchen free spirit, I guess. And I'd say "show off," but i don't want to do anything to jinx a repeat performance. 

He finds, in the cookbook, photos from my friend Ethan's going away party. My 22 year old body getting tossed like a rag doll over my friend Hank's shoulder. Then there is one of Fannie on a toilet, pants around her ankles, socks up to her knees pretending to chug from a whiskey bottle. Our friend Pucci, a photographer, had staged, directed and shot it. It's like an edgy-but-tasteful advertisement in Sassy magazine. 

Chuck flips the cookbook in my direction to show me a chili recipe. 

"It's That One," he says. 
My eyes get wide. I groan. That One. 

Years ago, armed with oh-so much bravado, I'd made this chili recipe. There was no skimping on peppers and spices. I wanted something dragon-esque. Something so spicy, I'd never have to shave my legs again. Something that had to be registered with the ATF. Something that really said: YOU CAN'T HANDLE MY CHILI. 

Chuck reminds me today that he squashed his spiceometer and just ate the damn chili. But it didn't feel good and he certainly didn't go for seconds. 

I conceded that it was hot, for sure, but as a heat seeker, it was tolerable. 

The leftovers were another story. After a day of rest, the mix was toxic. Could be used to power a snowblower at least. But there I was. Chin deep in the sludge. Able to handle the spiciest of all spices. This is me in bikini briefs flexing. 

That night I woke myself with my own moans. I was on the floor next to the bed writhing. Twisting my body into every letter of the alphabet. 

Chuck found me like that and shot out of bed. 

"I thought I was going to have to take you to the emergency room," he recalled today.
I think at the time he thought I was having a heart attack.  

Eventually life went back to normal. There was no irreparable damage -- at least not physically. It just felt like there was going to be. 

But I did learn that I don't always have to shoot for the superlative. That it's ok to just make chili instead of CHILI!




Saturday, November 2, 2013

Our Pet Human (on the first day of 15 weeks) ...


She's got a case of diarrhea. It's mild. She's not like a leaky mustard bottle, she's going like normal but the result is more spoon than fork -- if you know what I mean. I'm told it could last two weeks, this cleansing of something or other from her innards.

It's only a few degrees more liquid than her usual fare, which made me wonder how Chuck could possibly know that yesterday she was normal and today she's got diarrhea.

"Let's just say I'm never having butternut squash soup ever again," he texted back.

I took this opportunity to teach her a classic: A song I'm assuming is called The Diarrhea Song. When you're sliding into first and you feel a little burst -- diarrhea, uh-uh. Diarrhea, uh-uh. Second, disinfectant, third, a little turd, home, your pants begin to foam. You get the drill.

Reader, she loves it. She giggles through the whole song, which I sing at every diaper change.  She squirms and clasps her hands together. I swear she's inserting her own uh-uhs into the refrain. It's all very fun for both of us and is quickly becoming Our Song.

Today I took a step back from the situation and realized that she's not laughing at the content. The repetitious use of the hilarious word diarrhea. The part, admittedly my favorite, where I sing about her pants begining to foam. In fact, she has no idea the degrees of humor present in this song. She's just laughing ... because.

There is so much to teach her.

***

Have you ever had a human being with freakishly long fingernails, perhaps even talons, treat your nipple like a doorknob? A friend wants to know.

***

In related news: I drew blood for the first time today, clipping one of the aforementioned talons. It went much better than the time she was like 4 seconds old and I pinched the skin on her chest while buckling her car seat and then I immediately burst into tears.

(To which Chuck said at the time: "I'm so glad it was you and not me.")

***

I hesitate to tell you this because when I mentioned it to the mother of a 2-year-old she told me:

"Nobody likes you. You need to stop telling people that."

Listen. I'm aware that today's norm could end up in the Rocket Blender and all of a sudden we'll be knee deep in a horrific phase that ends with me saying, through a mop of frizzed hair and smudges of week-old mascara "It's fine. It's fine. I'll just sleep when she goes to college."

But, knock wood, the PBG has a few times slept through the night. Like, super through the night. Like, into the ridiculous zone. Like, oh yeah. She's totally related to people who have yawned big and said in their most serious, albeit lazy, voices "Oh, me? I require 11 hours of sleep." She usually does well between 11 p.m. and 5 or 6 a.m. But on three occasions, she has kept right on trucking to 10 a.m.ish.

(Your grandma will tell you to never wake a sleeping baby; When your grandmother said that, her breasts probably weren't so full of milk that she could drown an entire box of Cap'n Crunch.")

The first time the PBG did it I noticed the quality of light coming through the curtains and two pancake sized drenched spots on my tank top and muttered "... the heck?!" Then I remembered she's aging before our eyes and part of that aging process means sleeping like a normal human being rather than this mini force oscillating between narcolepsy and 5-hour energy pill addict faced with a closet to organize.

Anyway, like I said, no reason to bust out the streamers. She's only done it three times.

***

That said: A few nights ago we couldn't get her to sleep, despite our most devious of baby-fooling tricks. It was 10 p.m., then 11 p.m. and suddenly it was 12:30 a.m. and she was a fussy mess and she'd been fed and changed and she needed toothpicks for her eyelids, but she was hanging on because she is going to always be the last one to leave a party.

I went downstairs to wash bottles and cats circled my feet and I kept dropping things and everything was terrible. Chuck came down holding the baby, her beady eyes shining, and he referred to as a "little a-hole."

We went back upstairs and re-tried some of the old tricks and finally, finally she fell asleep. I laid her in the bed and we both stood hunched over watching her sleep and Chuck whispered ever-so quietly:

"Stockholm Syndrome."

***

I wasn't going to dress her up for Halloween because she's 0 years old and who cares? Then I realized that if I didn't dress her up, Social Services would probably pay me a visit.

I don't want to talk a lick about baby girl costumes versus baby boy costumes. If I even get started on it, Chuck will go into his rant about baby girl shoes versus baby boy shoes. (The latter being good for rugged play; The former being something good for only standing in the living room and twirling. Chuck has always been a feminist. But since having a daughter, it's shot into "Vagina Monologues" territory).

I digress. I got a little sad that I'm not a sewing sort who made something cute and meaningful for her first Halloween costume. But I think she did a bang up job with what we found and knocked cute out of the park.