SAN ANTONIO - March 5th, 8:30 p.m.
I heard noises, voices, a lot of activity. I felt like I was in a secluded place far away from what was happening. I could hear everything, but couldn't see anything.
I tried to open my eyes, to see what was happening, but as much as my brain wanted to, my eyes just wouldn't open. The compression garments on my legs squeezed tightly as they filled with air, the blood pressure cuff on my right arm squeezed as well.
I heard the "beep, beep, beep" of a monitor and, in the distance, a tiny voice.
"When is Mommy going to wake up, Daddy?" my 8 year old daughter, Nicole, said. My mind screamed, "I'm awake, baby, and I'm fine!" Again, my mouth wouldn't cooperate. I felt Nicole's tiny hand on my foot, and heard my husband Tony reassuring her. "It takes time for all the medication to wear off, honey, she'll wake up soon." Tony stood by my side, rubbing my hand. I could see them both clearly in my mind. Nicole, with her long dirty blonde hair, pulled back in a ponytail, with just a wisp of it hanging down across her face. Her sparkling, brilliant blue eyes that she obviously got from her father. Tony, with his salt and pepper hair, and those few crows' feet around his eyes made prominent by his gentle and caring smile. "Are you sure we should be here? We should leave, Tony, and let you and Nicole be alone with Leslie when she wakes up."
I would know that voice anywhere. It was coming from the foot of the bed. It was my dear friend Julie Andreolli, talking in that Luling, Texas, twang accent I love so much. She and her husband Art had apparently been at the hospital for hours, supporting Tony and Nicole as they waited for my surgery to end.
"I can do this," I thought, "I can talk". I struggled and concentrated on opening my eyes. My lids felt so heavy, like they were taped shut. "I can do this, I can do this," I kept telling myself. Finally, after what felt like an hour (but was more like a minute) my eyes slowly opened. A sliver of light turned into a fog. As my eyes adjusted, the room came into focus. I looked at Art and Julie, and I smiled. "Hi, baby girl," Julie said in that nurturing, motherly voice. Art stood next to her with his arms folded high on his chest. He smiled at me. I tried to smile back, then turned my head towards Nicole. My mouth was so dry I couldn't speak. Again, I struggled to utter words. "Ice chips," I slowly and softly said. Nicole walked to the side of my bed, and grabbed a cup. "Here you go, Mommy!" she said, cheerfully, as she spoon-fed me the ice chips. I smiled. My mouth was like a dry sponge, and those ice chips tasted so wonderful. "Are you OK?"
It was déjà vu. I remember Nicole asking me that very same question 6 years ago when I woke up from my lumpectomy. She was only 2 at the time, but even now I can hear that little girl voice, the worry, the pure love of a frightened child. "I'm fine," I struggled to say. It was difficult to get words out. As my awareness improved, I looked around me. I felt paralyzed. Tubes, wires, and garments covered my body. The bed was elevated, pillows were all around me - under each arm, behind my head, beneath my legs. "MMMMMMMM," the compression garment hummed as it filled with air, squeezing my legs. I felt so claustrophobic. I couldn't move my arms or legs; I could only turn my head from side to side.
"How big are my boobs?" I asked in a raspy, broken voice. Tony laughed, "I can't see them yet, honey, they're all wrapped up." "But, did they take both of them?" I hoped they did. Going into surgery, it all depended on whether I had enough tissue in my abdomen. I knew the left one was going, but I wasn't sure about the right one. "They sure did," Tony said, as he held my right hand. "The doctors said everything went perfectly."
I tried to move my hands towards my breasts to feel them, but that was a futile effort. I could barely lift my arm, much less move my hands to my breasts. I could feel the support bra tightly covering both breasts, and saw tubes coming out from under my arms. At the end of the tubes were bubbles filled with red liquid. The dreaded drains. I looked down and saw the girdle covering my entire stomach, and another tube with another bubble coming out of my abdomen. Nurses were hovering around me, checking vitals, emptying drains, making sure I was okay. "Here's your morphine pain pump button. If you hurt, press it, and don't worry, you can't overmedicate yourself," a nurse said. "It's a good thing I can move my thumb," I thought as I pushed the button.
I started mumbling and rambling and, according to Julie and Tony, I had quite the stories to share with the nurses. "Tony gave my boobs a public farewell Saturday night at Howl at the Moon," I apparently said in a doped-up voice. The nurses smiled, "Really?" I talked in short, broken words. "He paid to have a phrase displayed on a B-I-I-I-G board on stage. It said, 'TA-TA TO THE TA-TA'S, THANKS FOR ALL THE MAMMORIES'!" Laughter broke out in the room. I don't really remember saying that, but I do remember it happening. It was my best friend Ginger's "Hello to 40" party - and my "Goodbye to the boobs" night. My last hurrah before surgery.
"How big are my boobs?" I asked again. "We'll know soon enough. Don't worry about it, just know you have some," Tony assured me. I tried to laugh, and that's when I realized just how much pain I was actually in. A sharp, shooting pain raced through my chest. I tried to take a deep breath, but the pain intensified. "It hurts to breathe," I said. "It hurts so bad". The nurse walked to my side and handed me what looked like a plastic measuring cup with a hose sticking out of it. "It's very important that you use this." The breathing exerciser had numbers on it ranging from zero all the way to 4000, with a blue ball at the bottom. I had to suck in as hard as I could, and each time the blue ball would go up. They told me to use it at least 10 times an hour, and try to get the blue ball to the 1000 mark. The first time I tried, I couldn't even get the ball to 100.
"I can't breathe, I can't do it!" I could hear the panic in my voice. The nurse assured me, "Just keep trying, it will get easier." I was under anesthesia for 8½ hours, and needed to rebuild my lungs to prevent pneumonia. "SSSSSSS." I tried to suck in air, only for a second, and was overcome with pain and a need to cough. "Help, help! It hurts, I don't want to cough. My stomach, my stomach." The nurse handed me ANOTHER pillow. "It's good for your lungs to cough, just push this pillow tightly down on your stomach when you need to cough." I had no energy, I could barely move, much less put pressure on a pillow, but I tried. I let out a very soft cough, but even that hurt like hell. I pushed the pain pump.
"We're going now, baby girl. Rest and take care of yourself. I told you I would be here when you got out of surgery, I had to make sure you were okay," Julie said. She reached over and kissed me on the forehead. "We'll see you soon," Art said as he kissed me too. "Bye, love you" I said, softly, as they left the room.
It was after 9 p.m. by this time, and Nicole had school the next morning. "I'm going to get her home and in bed now, honey, but I'll be back first thing in the morning," Tony said. He reached down and gently kissed me on the lips. "I love you very much. Rest, and I'll see you tomorrow." "I love you, too." Nicole tried to hug me without hurting me, and kissed me on my cheek, "Bye, Mommy." She smiled. "I'm glad you didn't die." "Me, too," I smiled back at her. "Me, too." The morphine kicked in. I drifted off to sleep.
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