Yesterday was a miserable day. I wasn’t able to sleep the night before, due both to simple discomfort and distractions and to pain. Yesterday, I tried to sleep during the day with little success. I couldn’t get warm, no matter how many covers I pulled over my body; I felt like I was destined to be cold no matter what I tried. Even sitting in front of the fire place was futile. I felt sufficiently miserable that I began thinking of whether I could long continue to tolerate the roller-coaster and how I might make it stop. Anything would be better than constant pain and fatigue and shortness of breath.
One day, I feel pretty good, the next I am in constant pain and have absolutely no stamina. The lack of stamina is pretty constant, whether or not I’m in pain.
Yesterday, in the midst of anguish and despair, I felt a sense of hopelessness like nothing I’ve ever felt. I felt like I was becoming an albatross around my wife’s neck. If this was the best I could expect, what would life be like for her if it gets worse for me? I can’t begin to adequately describe the depths of my thinking. I contemplated the possibility of just getting in my car and driving away. Far, far away to a place where I could just disappear. I’ve not felt a sense of despondency like that since periods of deep ennui when I was in college, alone and in emotional pain and willingly contemplating the possibility of buying or stealing enough pills to enable me to end it.
Today is better. I’m not planning any celebrations, but today is much, much better. Yesterday, during the worst of it, we decided we should cancel New Year’s dinner with a couple who had invited us to join them. And I opted to plan to stay home from the musical program at church today. I simply couldn’t imagine trying to get up and get dressed and attempt to enjoy music and photographic art (which was the plan). So I decided to stay home. My wife had invited our friends next door, thinking they would enjoy the program, and they accepted; she left a while ago.
I really don’t understand why my mind (and my body) is taking me on such a grotesquely painful journey of late. Not long after I got home from my surgery, I felt very much like I was on the mend and I could see a point at which I could look back at my experience as an ugly but survivable detour. That sense seemed to have left me, replaced by a sense that the removal of a lobe of my right lung has irreversibly and permanently altered the course of my life. It probably doesn’t help to do a Google search for “quality of life after lung lobectomy,” and then read in detail (and between the lines) the results. The bottom line of such an endeavor was a sense that much of what’s written suggests a tolerable quality of life after surgery for those unfortunate fifty percent of patients who suffer chronic, lifelong post-surgical pain. That, coupled with the horror stories I’ve heard and read about the after-effects of chemotherapy and radiation, tends to bring me down. (Side note to Bev: I know, Bev, and I am glad you’re there to offer a real-world perspective.)
Today, as I look at and write about my emotional reactions to what I can only surmise is a normal, natural response to my surgery, etc., I can be dispassionate about it all. I can be an uninvolved third party, examining the situation from a distance. My distant assessment is that I have simply allowed my emotions to hijack my experience, replacing analysis with fear and coping with desperation. Today, I can make choices that, yesterday, would have been knee jerk reactions to growing panic. I realize, today, that I’m only a month and a half in and that I need to give myself double that to know the direction of my recovery. And I know I have to factor in the chemo and radiation during that assessment. I read, somewhere recently, that taking experiences, even bad experiences, in short segments makes them more tolerable. I think the writer suggested that, “I can tolerate anything for thirty days…I can decide after thirty days whether the experience is tolerable or whether I must do something to escape it.” Thirty days of pain (though, in my case, it seems like ever other day I’m in pain, so it’s really just fifteen days) should be tolerable.
Yesterday, I should remember, was an especially bad day. The worst so far, I think. Perhaps it was simply a fluke. I realized, late in the day, that I hadn’t taken my vast assortment of medications early in the day. Perhaps that had an effect on me. Maybe yesterday was an aberration that I won’t experience again. When I woke up this morning, I felt so much better than I did at any point yesterday that it was like I was living in a different body. While I’m in pain today, today it’s mostly a low level, almost not noticeable experience. I can live with that. I can get used to it. While I would rather not cope with it, I can cope with it. Yesterday’s pain? I tell myself I can cope with thirty days, like the writer suggested. And I have to remember, too, that I have options. I can ask doctors what other medications or regimens I might pursue.
Today, as I reflect on yesterday and how miserable I was, I have an odd sense that it was, indeed, an aberration. Maybe I’ve crossed a threshold beyond which the pain will be more tolerable and the depression or whatever it is that seemed to have taken over my mind will slip away quietly. I know one thing with some certainty: constantly focusing on my pain, myself, my experience, my cancer, my prognosis, etc. is by itself a fatigue-inducing exercise. So I must stop. I know I can’t eliminate that train of thought entirely, but I can derail it to an extent that I can explore other things of interest.
One of my interests is (for reasons beyond my understanding) Scandinavian culture. In my fiction, I’ve written about Kolbjørn Landvik and Lina Lindström and Stefan Ruud and others from Norway and Sweden and Denmark, etc. I’ve explored Icelandic history. I’ve dreamed (in writing) about how my affinity for certain foods must be a sign of some odd connection through the dust of the universe I have to long-dead Scandinavians and their gustatory pleasures. I realize, of course, I have absolutely no real world connection to Scandinavia, but I enjoy making up stories that involve leaving the rugged coastline of western Norway in a fishing vessel, destined for experiences that might shape the future of the world. So, if I can keep surgery’s and cancer’s physical and emotional attacks at bay, I shall invest some more of my time in Scandinavian imaginizing (it’s my neologism; leave it alone).
I like to write. I think I have something to say (though just what remains to be seen). I feel a need to empty the contents of my overstuffed imagination into a container the size of the universe, climbing inside and retrieving bits and pieces and cobbling them into stories. I hope I haven’t lost my ability, through my months-long focus on writing about surgery and cancer and pain, to write interesting fiction. I suppose time and productivity or the lack thereof will tell. I feel I’m attempting to crawl out from under self-imposed emotional baggage. Today, I think I have the energy to do it.