We arrived at the hospital by taxi at 5am. I had not really slept at all, only laid down for about half an hour, having gotten home at midnight and spending hours packing my bag and creating my surgery CD. I was on a high from the night before, with my scenes that went up and my being topless on stage. It was such a magical night doing Streetcar and Danny; I felt so filled and encompassed with love that I was almost floating everywhere I walked. I wasn’t meant to be at the hospital until 5:45 or 6, but I figured leaving at 4:30 in the morning was enough time to get there and I had no concept of early morning traffic in New York City. In the cab I remember watching the city slowly creeping out of darkness and gaining more light as we drove on. My brother, John and I said very little, if anything at all. I knew that the comfort I needed did not exist in him and I chose to find it within myself and my thoughts instead. Watching the city go by through the windows and knowing that this was it and that I had no other choice, I remember sinking into the comfort of the reality and the calmness that comes with true acceptance. And I remember feeling my mom with me somewhere, knowing she was there and she mattered. I felt Louis too, my cat. I knew he was inside my heart and I felt the loud vibrations of his purring inside me, calming me more, and engulfing me in soft cat fur and the thirteen years of cuddling we’d done. I thought of my friends in New York and of my loves in California; of James, Shannon and Christopher, and of my nieces and nephews who mean everything to me.
At the hospital I checked in and they sent me upstairs to wait. Then I left John out in the waiting room while they had me change into a gown and robe and special no-slip socks. I didn’t talk to my breast as I changed or really think about it so much. I had said good bye in the shower an hour before and I was just breathing deeply into it with all the love I could send there. I moved slowly, no rushing, and I gently placed my clothing on the hanger inside a garment bag the woman had provided for me. I was taken into an area where this very friendly nurse got my I.V. ready and my brother came in and we sat there taking photos of Stella. I normally do not condone the Irish/Desy way of talking around everything, but I let it be as it was because I wasn’t in the mood to cry anymore and I knew John wouldn’t understand how I felt if I said it. I was okay with it this way because I knew it could not be any more than what it was.
7am and after a momentary tearing up and an awkward hug from my brother, I was walked into the operating room by one of the assisting surgeons. She was very nice, and escorted me in and I said hello to my surgeon and to all the doctors and nurses in the room. The room was large and filled with metal, but also with other things and it seemed cozier than I’ve ever seen operating rooms on T.V. My surgeon was wearing a face mask but I know she was smiling at me under it.
They had me sit down on the operating table and put my legs up. They helped me get underneath this blanket. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect but I think I kind of thought that there would be some sort of introduction before anything was started. I sat on that thin operating table in my gown and the anesthesiologist was apparently already getting me set up to be knocked out. The doctor who escorted me in was getting my surgical mix CD set up in the CD player. It was all Moby & R.E.M. (of course). I remember hearing the beginning of the first song, then asking the doctor if my freckle on my breast would still be there or if I should say good bye to it now. She said it would be there. Actually, as it turns out, both of my freckles were conserved. I’m glad; I like them.
I looked around the operating room and I remember so clearly that it hit me at the exact time I said it out loud: “You’re all women.” They all looked around and laughed and smiled and my surgeon, said “yes,” and I said: “I’m glad.” I was lying down as the music started: Moby’s Life’s So Sweet and then I was out. I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up –sort of-- and saw my friend Natasha’s mouth smiling at me from the foot of my bed, then her beautiful blue eyes sparkling for me, just like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. I couldn’t really make out the rest of her face, but I knew it was her and then I think I drifted off again.
Later I recall hearing my brother’s voice and hearing my friend, Jasmin talking then seeing her a bit but I could not understand exactly what she was saying. She brought me food. I kept going in and out of sleep, and it was like a fuzzy dream state I was in that would not wear off. At some point in that fuzzy dream my other friend and scene partner in Streetcar, Kire showed up holding this small vase of purple flowers and I swear my heart melted. Obviously I was spending so much time visualizing flowers coming out of where my breast was, and I do love getting flowers, that seeing him with them made me so happy. And the fact that they were purple, much like the ones I had been visualizing prior to surgery, was an added joy. I felt this overwhelming urge to jump up and hug him but I was way too delirious and not very able to move. I probably looked like a drunken moron!
At some point I’m told, and vaguely recall, that I was throwing things. I remember being so hungry that I was going nuts. I was frustrated that my brother wasn’t forcing me to stay awake long enough to eat something. I got him to feed me what Jasmin brought in but it tasted weird and all I wanted was an apple. I mean, I DESPERATLY wanted an apple! I was begging for an apple like a thirsty person lost in some desert, but I think I was getting pissed off because I couldn’t talk that well and I believe I had a migraine from not eating and because it was migraine season that day (yeah, like I needed to start my period the day after my mastectomy!). Being a woman sometimes really sucks. I guess that’s when I threw stuff. I was feeling sick to my stomach because I hadn’t eaten all day. I kept getting excuses that the apple order took a while so I believe I sent John to get me one. When I finally got my apple I took a giant bite from it, and even though it was a red one which I normally don’t like, I think that was the very best tasting apple I have ever had in my life. I remember devouring it for a while then passing back out with it still in my left hand. My brother had gotten me a banana too but bananas were of no interest to me… so odd since usually I love them. I think it was the sugar thing. My blood sugar was off or something. Fruit, like watery fruit, really helps.
I was also totally unable to pee and I was getting really frustrated because I had to pee so badly but I couldn’t. I tried so hard but then something hurt on my side and I was not able to control my bladder muscles. Finally, in desperation, I begged for a catheter, which for me is a big deal because I absolutely hate those things, and I was so worried they’d force it on me which they didn’t, but here I am begging for it. Crazy how things change when you are so desperate! It wasn’t even that horrible. It certainly wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t horrible because I was still hopped up on medication and because the pee came out and I was happy.
I remember curling up in the hospital bed with my teddy bear, Wendell Gee, and I was so happy he was with me. Yes, I’m 34 and I still have the teddy bear I got from Circus, Circus when I was 14. He has really been there for me though, throughout the years, and with him come a lot of memories. I look at Wendell and I see my cat Snowy and I see Louis, and I hear R.E.M. playing and my life is so sweet. Since I suck at relationships, or I pick the bad ones, I guess Wendell has offered me the comfort of unconditional love no one else can, and despite the fact that he’s inanimate I feel like he’s far passed the qualifications that even the Velveteen Rabbit had to meet to be “real.”
My friend, Vanessa showed up the next day to take me home. I found a note from my friend, Shanty that she came by while I was asleep and left me gifts of food and tic tacs, which I do remember eating, and Jasmin had drawn a pretty sign with my name on it. Vanessa was there when the Physical Therapist showed me the exercises to do, and when the nurse finally came in to have me see my stitches and learn how to milk the drains. I thought I’d totally flip out seeing it but I didn’t. I was visualizing the flowers, much like my bouquet of birthday flowers my gay husbands sent me days before. I think I sort of looked at Vanessa’s big, beautiful eyes seeing my stitches before I actually looked. I think seeing her looking and not looking away or anything helped. I was staring at her a lot to see if she was freaked out or anything and I kind of followed her lead. The milking was easy, although my range of motion was off a bit, and my hand and arm were very weak.
Vanessa’s mom dropped my brother and I off at home, and she helped us get everything from the car. I really felt okay at this point, like I was myself still. I guess I sort of thought I would wake up as someone else, but I didn’t. I was happy. I mean, not like when you get married or win the lottery or have a baby, but I was on loads of drugs and I was, well, happy. I think I went to bed right when I got home and I’m not really sure what day was what after that. I wanted more visitors but no one came by. I was rather bored. I slept a lot and I think I just wandered the apartment all weekend trying to occupy my awake time until I finally went out on Monday with my brother and walked around. Then I went back to school that night and everyone was so kind and welcoming and happy to see me. And I was happy to see them and to be back where I feel most at home; where I feel I have the most purpose and reason to survive this.