Be wary of anyone who tells you that recovery from any type of abdominal surgery will be “a piece of cake”.
A piece of cake is delicious and a totally good time. Abdominal surgery, and the recovery that goes with it, is neither.
My first experience with any sort of abdominal surgery was August of 2005. After less than two months of marriage, I had to rush Cortney to the hospital to have his appendix removed. Emergency surgery like that is frightening anyway, but our circumstances were complicated by the fact that I was rushing Cortney to the ER moments after he said goodbye to his dying dad.
The recovery was complicated by needing to be able to dress up in a shirt and tie, walk up a church aisle, and read scripture at his dad’s funeral three days after surgery.
My first abdominal surgery was an emergency C-section. That recovery was complicated by postpartum depression. As was my second C-section.
The recovery from my third C-section was simpler, but I would not classify it as “cake”. It still hurt. I still had frustrations and setbacks.
Hernia surgery was, by all accounts, the easiest abdominal surgery yet. The recovery was not what I expected, although it has been textbook. I wanted to be back to normal in days. I wanted to be back doing what I do with no lingering pain or other inconveniences.
But that is not how recovery generally works, is it? Recovery is usually at least a little hard. Because as soon as the initial numbness wears off, we have great pain. And that great pain can be controlled, but it’s not gone right away. Things are not “normal” just because we take some meds.
Other people are generally affected when we need to recover too. It’s obvious that when Cortney had his surgery, I took over household chores, and he took over pretty much all of life when I had all my surgeries. Once we had kids even more people rearranged their lives to help us out: people to care for our kids, help out at work, bring us meals.
And in all cases, once recovery is declared over, there are scars left to show what we went through. I have a long scar on my lower abdomen: the exit route of all three of our children. And now I have a little frowny face over my belly button (or as Charlie calls it, “a button rainbow”).
Recovery has been on my mind lately not just because of my own recent surgery, but also in terms of recovering from a pain that isn’t necessarily physical, but emotional. Which brings me back to Cortney’s abdominal surgery: his appendix.
We had been married just under two months and just left his dad and stepmom’s house where his dad lay prone on a Hospice bed, unresponsive, barely breathing, dying of lung cancer. We weren’t even out of the subdivision when I got the text that he had passed, but we couldn’t go back because Cortney was having an emergency of his own.
Once it was confirmed that he would have an appendectomy, I went to work making phone calls so everyone knew where we were and what was going on. I called my parents to please come sit with me at the hospital. I called my best friend and told her Cortney was having surgery…and that his dad died…and could she please start a phone chain to all our close friends. I ran home and threw some clothes and toiletries into a bag and grabbed my pillow in hopes they would let me stay the night with him (they did).
It was a whirlwind in every sense of the cliche. We’ve been in recovery ever since.
I don’t think this is the kind of recovery you call call complete, although it does leave scars.
Sometimes, even after almost 18 months, my C-section scar will bother me a little. Sometimes it itches, sometimes there is a twinge. Grief is like that. Each time our children to things that make us think about what their grandfather is missing, our heart hurts where the scar of loss is. Each time I see the dimple in each of their smiles, I think of their dad’s dimple, and then I think of their Papa’s dimple. Each time Cortney has a house project to work on or tells me he is going to ask my dad’s opinion of something, the scar flares up.
I think of him at least once every single day.
Sometimes it’s a fleeting thought or a smile. Sometimes it’s a “what if he was here…” thought. And sometimes it just hurts.
Then I think about how if this is how my “recovery” is going, how much more hurt it must still be for Cortney and his siblings. For Cortney’s stepmom. For his Grandma. For his aunts and uncles.
He was my father-in-law for 57 days. The only photos I have of me with him are from my wedding to his son. How much deeper are the scars of those who had a lifetime with him?
I can’t even imagine.
With time after our surgeries, Cortney and I were finally deemed fine. And now, eleven years after Steve’s death, we are fine. But the scars don’t go away. The emptiness doesn’t go away. The memories of the hurt don’t go away.
We will always be in recovery.