The Ordeal of the Wound

I had some weeks to recover before chemo would start. One major thing of note happened in that time: (sorry, long entry here, even for me…)

The wound healed up prettily for about thee weeks. I got my second tube removed earlier than normal as well and my sister returned to America. Then, just before the staples came out, a few drops of blood started appearing. I tried not to worry. My GP assured me it was fine, that a bit of the gash in the center was stitched a little tightly, where the skin had to be pulled tighter to close. Not abnormal, not painful. But when she took out the staples, she placed a few sticky strips over the part that was pulling to give it a little support.

From then on it got worse. A few drops turned into a few more, which turned into a re-opening wound. A week later when I went to the oncologist to give him a look, he pulled off the strips and said that was a bad move (though she couldn’t have known it). It looked baaad. Exposed tissue, red and slimy. It seems like the few drops of blood were just trapped under the tape, which meant humidity against the wound and skin. I had three pencil eraser sized ones like this.

The problem wasn’t deep, but it was getting worse. First, the gauze began to stick to these wounds, which was of great concern. One day it was really badly stuck and Julie and I didn’t know what to do. I’d left the gauze on for a day but it was not coming loose without opening the scabs that had managed to form. I called several doctor friends and the hospital and they all said the same, dreaded thing: you have to get it off or it will infect.

What followed was another act of hilarity. Julie and I bought a gallon of saline solution, as it was the only recommended thing to soak the gauze in to soften it. After the 20 minutes it took us to figure out how to open the damn bottle (duh!) the next question was: how do you soak a wound on the chest in this stuff? Think, how would you manage that?…

After various attempts, I ended up lying in the bathtub in my underwear. By the time Julie found a good angle to pour from, she was standing with one foot on each side of the tub, bending over me, slowly pouring saline on my chest with careful aim. We’d wet it heavily it, rolling out eyes at the silly mess we’d gotten ourselves in, and talk while waiting for it to soak in. Then she’s stand up, balance over me again, and pour some more. It took about 30 minutes but we finally got it off without reopening the wound too much. I really wish you could have seen it. We were totally ridiculous.

The last week in July, my boyfriend and I went to his family’s house in Spain to relax before I had to start chemo. To my great concern, the red, raw bit was still spreading. Two of the three spots grew together into one big one and the edges seemed to creep out everyday. The doctors all said it was not infected and I cleaned it religiously. I looked at it in a magnifying mirror at every cleaning, fretting over whether it had spread or whether it had been arrested. I wanted to cry with frustration sometimes as I was doing everything I could think of and it was only getting worse. My pretty little scar wasn’t going to be so pretty anymore, though that was the least of my concern. If it wasn’t sufficiently healed in time, chemo would be delayed.

I was obsessed by it, as it required constant thinking on how to care for it. I was instructed to let it breathe. Again, how does one do that for a chest wound? I was a month post-surgery and still I couldn’t wear a bra or any other fitted clothing. But I had to keep it protected. Everyday (everyday, every day) I was scheming on how to cover it best and most conveniently. I tried every sterile product on the market and combination thereof. Mostly, I built a sort of tent of gauze over it with the help if scissors and tape. Never mind that now the skin around the wound was painful, raw and peeling. (Try removing a band-aid from the same spot everyday for weeks!) Dealing with this wound was like a bad song that just won’t get out of your head. I just couldn’t stop it from being distracting, worrying and uncomfortable.

Finally, the red stopped spreading and I realized after that night’s good sleep that the nightmares I’d been having constantly all week (several per night, I still remember some of them) must’ve been due to my anxiety about the wound. I spent that week walking around the house in nothing but bikini bottoms and a light scarf over my shoulders during the day to let it breathe. At night I had to cover it with my gauze tent or the covers would stick to it.

In one more gem of a moment, Del took me into Alicante city as I needed to buy some more medical stuff to experiment with. My Spanish has decayed into what I call “traveller’s Spanish”, but I can usually manage to get what I need. This one pharmacist didn’t have any idea what we were after. I ended up indicating to my chest, that I had a wound. She reached right over, pulled out my collar and looked down my shirt! I wasn’t offended, but I couldn’t believe she had done that! She stuck her nose right in! Then, in an earnest desire to help, she said she didn’t have what I wanted, but she had something just as good to cover my wound — and handed us a box of sanitary pads! I thanked her sincerely but declined her offer with a straight face Del and I were almost on the floor laughing after we left. Ohhh, those wacky Spanish!

Otherwise, the week before chemo was a nice memory to tide me over in what was to come. I enjoyed my week in good spirits. I did my PT exercises like a good girl and reveled in the arm movement that I had recovered. The last night in Spain Del made me sit still and listen to him while he asked me if I felt ready for chemo. He stroked me hair, and I knew we were both thinking it would soon be gone. I tried to say yes, but tears rolled down my face. I was terribly scared and just hadn’t allowed myself to stop and think about it until then. He was foiling that plan, damn him. Distraction had been working very well, thank you very much. He just held me for a few minutes until I’d had enough and was able to distract myself again. I just didn’t want to think about it. One step at a time was the way I was doing things. One step at a time.

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Filed under breast cancer, chemo, hair, humor, life, recovery, this time LAST year

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