I quickly became obsessed with the idea that my armpit stank. I don’t really know if that was true, but not being able to bathe properly was driving me mad. Jen, Julie and Del got a kick out of the fact that I was constantly trying to smell it, not satisfied with their assurances that I was imagining things. The armpit hurt greatly to the touch. (This is bringing back memories of just how much, as I try to prepare myself for my upcoming reconstruction. Aack!) The second day after hospital release I had to start physiotherapy, again with a PT who made house calls! I’d had a Flemish friend ask/call around and find one for me. (I was sooo on the bandwagon of having learned to ask my friends for help! And indeed it was making my life easier. Thaks for that one, Patrick!)
I was dreading it. However, he turned out to be the loveliest man, who – unlike the PT in the hospital – didn’t believe that gain required lots of pain. He was quite content to work with me daily, gently widening my limitations of movement. It would take a bit longer, but I was more than happy with that trade-off. In fact, for the first few weeks, I was simply treated to a relaxing “lymphatic massage” over the area and some gentle stretching. I was so loving this guy.
On the second day of home nursing care, in what would cause a major turn of events, Del left for work and locked me in the house. He’d forgotten that I had no key to unlock the door even from the inside. My sister had my keys, and she was at the apartment of yet another dear friend of mine, Dan, who had offered up his place to her and Julie during their stay. (Didn’t I tell you I have awesome friends?!) I realized this when the nurse showed up. It was quite a scene, as she stood outside and argued with me in French about the fact that I was locked in and she claimed to be unable to wait 10 minutes for my sister to arrive, nor would she come back later. She was very unsympathetic and simply suggested that I’d be fine without my incision cleaned for a day as long as it stayed dry. Never mind that this was an impossible feat given that it was 100 degrees, and I was enveloped in a two foot wide bandage and had no air conditioning. Chronic sweat was an issue and I was constantly nervous about it making the wound dirty. After 5 minutes of this I grew tired of her Belgian-style inflexibility and just told her to go away. She did so happily.
Jen and Julie came right over to rescue me, and in a move that will go down as one of the most touching actions of true friendship, they stepped up to the plate and offered to clean my wound themselves. That way I wouldn’t be nervous about it all day, and if it went well then they’d take over and we could just cancel the nursing service all together. If so, Julie even offered to stay on longer to help me by herself once my sister was gone. Jen had seen the hospital do it many times; they had both seen the nurse the day before. It looked simple. Just in case, we called the hospital and asked if there were any reason why this was not a good idea.
The nurses were impressed. They said there was no practical reason why the girls shouldn’t do it. The nurses are just a courtesy, as most family and friends are not comfortable with such a task. “More power to you,” they said (or would have surely, had their English slang been up to the occasion).
The three of us worked on it together and quickly became pros. Julie was as unaffected at the site of my scar as Jen, Del and I had been. She was completely unintimidated and I felt it was one of those moments that endeared her to me for life. Both of them handled it like professionals. Wait, scratch that. They handled it like friends and family – eager to get it right and attentive to the last detail. Like with so many things in this saga so far, we would approach daily cleaning with laughter and curiosity. We’d giggle at our trepidation, our clumsiness with the cotton balls and sterile pads; I’d take the opportunity to try and smell my armpit (when I struggled to angle my head and extend my nose into my armpit they would burst out laughing at how silly I was being) and insist they swab it with alcohol and/or the red disinfectant Iso-betadine (which made me look like I was sweating blood); we’d fix my bandage as if it were a trendy tank top, etc. With this too, we had far too much fun with what would normally have been a sober task. The daily wound cleaning actually became an intimate ritual that I enjoyed. Their actions were special to me and it always turned out plenty of laughs. It was just another way to prove to me that with well-picked friends, if you let them in, there is very very little that can touch you. At least not for long.