Friday, June 26, 2009

Back to work

I went back to work this week.

That's a good thing, believe me.

I was driving Michelle crazy when I was home. I was calling her an average of six times a day to "just talk" as I was bored out of my mind. I was doing things to kill the time like sitting at the kitchen table with a bb gun, waiting for the furry sneak thieves that are the neighborhood squirrels to come to the backyard bird-feeder. I did enjoy getting to spend time with the kids though, but I needed to get back to work for my own sanity.

There's a darker side to that as well. You see, I could get used to not working. I long to spend every day at home, just writing. And Michelle could have gotten used to it as well. She'd never admit it, but I suspect she liked coming home to a clean house, with the laundry washed and folded, and dinner on the table. Although, in retrospect, I didn't get nearly as much writing done as I would have liked. The siren call of the internet got in the way of that, as well as the plethora of zombie and horror flicks that came every couple days from NetFlix. Someday I'll be a famous writer and get to say that writing's my job... but until then I need to slog along like a good corporate drone. Dear dark Pagan gods... save me from a horrible and horrifying life of mediocrity!

Anyway, I went back to work.

It wasn't bad. I jumped right back in and have a shitload of projects waiting for me. The true drama of this week was only tangentially related to my return to work.

I, by the way, had to go get drained on my right side AGAIN this week. This time, Dr. Persons pulled 180+ cc's of fluid from my chest. That's an ungodly amount of fluid. I was really swollen and uncomfortable... but I suspect it was so much because we had some left over from the week before. You see, my mastectomy left what are basically two flaps of tightened, stitched skin on my chest. Because they hollowed out all of the breast material underneath, I have two voids between my skin and the pectoral muscles underneath. My body keeps trying to fill the space between with fluid to help it heal because, as we all know, Nature abhors a vacuum. Anyway, the voids have pockets with healed areas between them.

In my prior post, I mentioned that last week's aspiration (that's fancy, schmancy doctor talk for jabbing someone with a needle and draining them!) was really uncomfortable because of the larger gauge needle and catheter. Well, because it was uncomfortable, the doctor only jabbed me once and drained like a hundred or so cc's. The problem is that we left some fluid under my armpit alone because I was pretty much done with the whole thing, and because - truthfully - my surgeon kind of scares me a little. The pain and discomfort meant I didn't push it, and the result was that I swelled and filled with twice as much fluid as previously.

So, as a result, of these latest shenanigans... I am now wrapped for the next couple weeks with a tight ace bandage. The doctor thinks that, if I stay wrapped for a week or so, the compression on the voids will heal faster and not fill with fluid. Here's hoping it works, because I am so fucking done with getting aspirated!

Incidentally, I was cleared last week to start doing cardio, and that's where I had the most trauma this week. I returned to work, as well as eating healthy. You see, while I was convalescing and off of work, I was eating like a total pig. I took to sitting with Michelle on our front porch every night and having a couple beers. I ate chicken wings, french fries with cheese, and fast food. I was bored stupid, so Meg and I were baking things like homemade cherry pies and homemade granola bars. Fortunately, I only put on about six pounds... but it was disheartening to see the scale go the other way. Especially considering that I had been losing weight because of diet and exercise before this whole ordeal started.

So - I awoke Monday excited to go to work and excited to get back on the fitness wagon. I went to the gym on Monday to do some cardio, and that's when the uncomfortableness started.

For the first time, I had my shirt off in public.

It was weird, it was uncomfortable, and it was much more difficult then I thought it would be. Oddly, I didn't think it would be as bad as it was, because I have always prided myself on my unselfconciousness. Despite my discomfort at revealing my fat... I have little or no problem with nakedness or my body. I come from a family that thinks nothing of going to the bathroom with the door open, was in the theater where there is no modesty when one is changing for the next scene, and have never had any problem with nakedness. I may not be the most physically appealing or endowed of individuals, but I've always felt that one should never be ashamed of their body.

And I realized that I used the word endowed there... that's not what I meant, you dirty minded degenerates! (Although - and this is solely a general observation - all men are concerned about their 'endowments', no matter how they were born. Here's a helpful hint, girls: any man who tells you differently is lying. Every man out there harbors a fantasy wherein he unzips and the woman looks at his most manly of bits with a mix of horror and fascination at its size. It's like the scene from Full Metal Jacket when the Vietnamese hooker refuses to sleep with the black Us GI, crying, "Too beaucoup! Too beaucoup!" All men want their women to, upon first seeing their man's package, scream and cringe because they may have gotten in over their heads at the size of it. But I digress...)

I was talking about my going to the gym...

Anyway, I went to the gym at my usual time and, as I walked down the hall towards it, I started to get that fluttery, jittery feeling you get in your chest when you're about to do something you're nervous about. There was no reason for it, but it was there.

When I got to the locker room, it was the moment of truth. I put down my bag and began getting undressed. My scars are still fresh and red on my chest, so they stand out like a stop sign. I saw several guys nearby give me a double take when they saw my scarred, nipple-less chest... but, mercifully, they looked away in conformance to the heterosexual guy code which says you don't stare at another dude when going to the bathroom, or changing at the gym.

I quickly changed and went out to the gym, where I spent a pained half hour on the elliptical. I had forgotten my iPod, so I tried to read a copy of Outside Magazine. It was an exercise in futility. My entire workout was dominated by thoughts of my return to the locker room. It was a feeling I've never felt before. I was suddenly self-conscious and it was not something I'd ever experienced before.

When I returned to the locker room, I half thought about wearing my shirt to the showers, but decided against it. This was something I needed to conquer. I'd endured weeks of pain and debilitation, this was part of me now and I needed to get used to it. At least that's what the logical, rational part of my mind was saying. The emotional part of me that's still the odd, geeky, Dungeons and Dragons playing high school kid had other things to say about it. I was suddenly different. Not normal. Scarred. Deformed.

And that part of me that longs endlessly to fit in, to be normal, was screaming in a panic.

I stood for a few long moments by my locker, trying to get the nerve to take my shirt off. I finally took a deep breath and, like jumping into a cold pool, stepped off of the ladder into the void. I shucked my short off and, with forced nonchalance, took off the rest of my clothes and stood naked for a few seconds before I wrapped a towel around my waist. I could feel the eyes of all within my line of sight in the busy locker room. Next to me, an Indian programmer from IT apparently missed the Guy Code orientation on the day they went over the staring rule and stared at my chest like a rube at a carnival sideshow.

I grabbed my other towel and made my way across the locker room, my heart racing and beating like a panicked bird in the bird cage in my chest. I made my way to the sauna and found that I was alone.

I took a few minutes to relax in the dry, harsh heat and was blissfully alone. I need to think about lymphodema, and was concerned about the sauna... but wanted to try at least five minutes. I was watching for swelling or discoloration in my right arm, so I was distracted from my discomfort. The sauna, by the way, is one of my few guilty pleasures. I was dismayed when I found out I might not be able to luxuriate in it when this whole ordeal started. I'm, honestly, afraid to give it up because I love the relaxed, cleansed feeling it gives me.

I'm happy to say that there was no adverse reaction.

After six minutes, I got out and took a long cold shower, and then walked bare-chested back to my locker. I even stopped and checked my weight on the scale. I found it was getting easier, but the apprehension was still there. The self-conscious desire to crawl and hide my deformity away from prying eyes was almost overwhelming.

I dressed and returned to work, feeling exhausted and drained by the whole experience.

I know it's still new, and that it will take some getting used to, but it's an alien experience for me to be self-conscious like that. I've joked about showing my chest in bar bets, and am seriously considering getting a whole chest tattoo, but this experience was much more difficult than I thought it would be.

I know it will get easier every time... and will seem silly in a few months.

It has to.


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