Thursday, June 23, 2011


An uncomfortable tugging from my rib cage woke me at 5:30 this morning.  It was Willy the Cat batting at my drainage tube as if it was a coiled snake ready to strike.

"Do not - repeat - do NOT sleep with household pets during your post operative recovery period," was the explicit warning on the instruction sheet the doctor sent home with me. 

That ship, unfortunately,  has sailed.

Other than the dreaded drainage tubes, however, I'm feeling good a week after reconstructive surgery.  The giant rock-hard pecs are gone, and I even found my armpits again.  Things are rounder, softer, and infinitely more comfortable.

"Are you huge?" my 94-year-old friend Mary Caddy called me yesterday.  I told everybody I knew that I was taking advantage of this unique opportunity to choose the "Dolly Parton Full Figure Implants".   My elderly friend apparently took me seriously.

"Nope, Mary," I assured her.  "I look exactly like I did before." 

I could practically hear her disappointment over the phone.  "Oh, well," she said, "as long as you're happy..."

With any luck at all, I may be able to have the tubes removed tomorrow, and that would be a very fine way to celebrate the end of the week.  It's been a week of milestones all over the place.  Our Tommy turned 21 this last week, and Deb is celebrating her 50th birthday today.  That my baby sister who looks every bit as young as her 20-something daughters can be 50 seems utterly impossible.   At least she still acts as if she's in her 20's anyway.

"Watch this," she directed my attention to her newly constructed chest.  Like a bad Arnold Schwarzenegger impression, she flexed first her right boob, then her left - popping one out right after the other. 

"How'd you do that?" I was astounded by her newly developed talent.

"Practice," she shrugged.

In my mind, Deb is still the long-legged teenager who outgrows a pair of jeans every couple of months.   And somehow, never in my mind did I ever envision the day that John and I would take our baby boy Tommy out to Applebees for a beer.  What happened to my curly-haired towhead who raced his Big Wheels down the driveway again and again?  I don't know where those intervening years went.  But dammit, I want them back.  There wasn't enough time to properly enjoy them.

My sweet next door neighbor Ann Hart reached her own milestone just yesterday when she also completed her reconstructive surgery.  The two of us have big plans to sit on the front porch some summer evening and heal together.  We'll compare battle wounds, and I'll coax out a story or two about her granddaughter as I await the first glimpse of those elusive fire flies in the warm Nebraska dusk.

These long awaited milestones mark the end of the road for all of us.  Mary's final surgery is two weeks from today.  Then it's finished.  For all of us.

It's a relief, of course.  But my sisters and I have grown surprisingly attached to our wonderful care givers.  We'll miss the p.a.'s, Erin and Betsy, and especially our surgeons, Drs. Janet Grange and Marie Montag.  Dr. Montag has guided all of us through the reconstruction process, and she's become the familiar friend we look forward to seeing every week.

I never knew any plastic surgeons before Dr. Montag, but I held on to a foolishly preconceived idea that they were intimidating and untouchable people.  Dr. Montag blew that notion right out of the water.  With her long hair trailing down her back and her laughing blue eyes, she sailed through the door every week. Once, she tripped over a stool as she left the exam room where my sisters and I were all crowded together for our weekly fills.  "I'm such a klutz!" she giggled like a girl.  "Every where but in the operating room.  Don't worry."

As a matter of fact, Dr. Montag is a brilliant plastic surgeon.  People wait for weeks to see her - and not just for boob jobs and brow lifts.  She's treated children with devastating birth defects and many patients who've suffered traumatic injuries.  She and her p.a.'s, Erin and Betsy, are all bubbly, charming people.  Dr. Montag is married to a farmer and loves her dogs, especially her oldest and favorite who just recently passed away.  Every year, she travels back to Sargent, Nebraska, where her husband's family farms and spends a couple of weeks helping to make sausage.

The atmosphere in her clinic is far from stressful. Erin, the p.a., chatted endlessly for weeks about her upcoming wedding until Deb interrupted.  "I know you really just slipped up and meant all along to ask me to be your maid-of-honor," Deb said with a completely serious face,  "but I need to know where to get fitted for my bridesmaid dress."  Dr. Montag chuckled appreciatively.

My friends who suffer from cancer often tell me that the disease taught them to be grateful.

"Grateful for what?" I used to wonder uneasily. 

But  I understand now.  My sisters and I have come to love our wonderful doctors and their life-giving staff members, and we are tremendously grateful for their kind hearts that persuaded them to take on the four scared Mary's.  We never would have had the privilege of knowing them otherwise - or worming our way into their weddings.

In two weeks, the journey will be over.  Mary's surgery will be the last milestone.  Then we'll celebrate our health, the good friendships we've made, and the first glimpse of Nebraska fire flies.

Summer is almost here.

No comments:

Post a Comment