My surgical oncologist, a fantastically tall and freakishly young looking Doctor, told me exactly what to expect after my surgery:
- He told me I would feel like I had been hit by a truck. Lovely.
- He said that he would be giving me a stoma/ileostomy, since he was performing a resection on my bowel. Disgusting.
- The hot chemo that he would be pouring into my abdomen while I lay on the operating table, (called HIPEC), would cause some hair loss. Thank God I was starting off with 80’s style Big Hair.
- He added that, unfortunately, he would have to perform a hysterectomy so I would go into early menopause. Fuckety Fuck Fuck.
I remember taking a Xanax while he rambled on, but I also took diligent notes in my little spiral notebook, adding lots of exclamation marks and angry faces. As hellish as this whole ordeal sounded, at least I knew what to expect. Or so I thought.
Fast forward to three weeks post-surgery. After various complications, including a couple of days of being delusional where I was convinced that my mind was being taken over by something called “Crowd Sourcing,” – LOL! – I finally graduated from the ICU, to the Step-Down unit, to my own regular hospital room.
Throughout this period I had a catheter, since I was too weak and sick to get out of bed. Plus, my left leg no longer worked. I had awoken from surgery to find that the femoral nerves had been damaged. Are you fucking kidding me?! Apparently I had been splayed out on the operating table for so long that some of the nerves had checked out. My surgeon reassured me that “most likely” I would regain full mobility. NICE. Could this get any worse? Why yes, actually, it could.
One day my nurse said “let’s have you pee in a bed pan!” She said it with an air of excitement, like we were about to go see our favourite band perform. It sounded like a reasonable enough suggestion, though I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to pull myself up. But I was game to start peeing again, I hated looking at the giant bag of urine attached to my bed. So I tried. But nothing came out. Not even one freaking drop. “Don’t worry,” said the nurse, “your bladder is just waking up. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
After five weeks in the hospital – and no peeing on my own – I was transferred to the Rehab Hospital to work on regaining strength and learning to walk again. The nurses there were hardcore – they were like the Gangsters of Nurses – they immediately yanked out my catheter and started “bladder training.” I had to try peeing on my own every two hours. But nothing came out and I was in major discomfort. After six-eight hours a nurse would scan my bladder – “it’s completely full!” Really?! How shocking! Then the nurse would perform an “In and Out,” which is basically sticking a well-lubed skinny tube up my urethra and draining out the urine into a pan. Cue “The Glamorous Life” by Sheila E.
I loved most of my nurses, but there was one crazy-assed broad who I hated. She acted like it was my fault that I wasn’t peeing and that it was a major imposition on her to have to perform an “In and Out.” Instead of properly sterilizing my urethra, she would just THROW sterilized water – from a far distance – on my entire vagina. Then she would start searching for a flashlight because she couldn’t find my urethra. LOL. Often she would attempt to put the tube in, but instead she would jam it up my vagina. OMFG! Are you kidding me?! Where did this nurse go to school?!
At this point my cancer wasn’t even my main concern. All I could think about was the fact that I was a ninety pound skeleton with thinning hair who couldn’t pee or poop. Were it not for the support of my amazing partner, family & friends I would have surely slid into a deep, bottom-less depression. Then came the day when one of my favorite nurses dropped The Bomb: “so, today I’m going to teach you how to do your own In & Out.” Noooooooo!!!!!!! This can’t be happening. This can’t be my life. How is it possible that after leaving a crappy marriage and finally meeting the love of my life, I now have terminal cancer, my bowel sticking out of my tummy and I have to stick a tube up my f-ing urethra every time I need to pee?! “Are you there God? It’s me, Mary Ellen. This is bullshit! Thanks for nothing!”
Thus began a chapter in my life called “Finding Urethra.” Because if you want to drain your urine, you first need to find the hole that it comes out of. And by hole, I mean a really tiny, almost imperceptable slit that is kind of hidden by the rest of the female bits. I now understood the crazy-assed nurse’s need for a flashlight. Maybe I’m in the minority and I missed a crucial health class back in grade school, but I honestly didn’t really understand where the urethra was. Yes, I have a degree from The University of Toronto, but I studied Philosophy and Religion, trust me, urethras were not covered. So I looked at google images of the female anatomy. I used a mirror to watch what the nurses did. When I couldn’t sleep, I used the light from my cell phone to search for my elusive urethra. And then, finally, “The Big Reveal.” Just like those reality makeover shows where the formerly dumpy looking woman with Sister Wives hair walks out on stage to great applause, looking chic & fab, I excitedly and with great fanfare, found my urethra and drained my own urine! I basked in the glory of the moment, telling every single person I encountered about my ninja-nurse like abilities. I was a Rock Star.
A few days later I was discharged from the hospital with a supply of pee sticks, lube, a giant splint on my leg and a cane. It would be six more months until my bladder woke up. I became a pro at self-catheterizing, my urethra and I were besties. Then, one day, my bladder awoke from its epic long sleep. I sat down on the toilet and heard a beautiful noise – the swoosh of urine hitting the toilet bowl. OMG I am peeing!