OT: Pain and body consciousness

[I’m working on another beard post, but I have to put this somewhere. Comments welcome, especially from people who have been through this kind of thing before.]

So, we brought her home from the hospital and she has a huge incision — longer than a foot — that is stapled shut with the most industrial strength staples I have ever seen, and healing well.

(My mother is tough. When I was 21, she sliced the tip off her index finger with a table saw. She shut off the saw, collected the tip, wrapped her hand up, and drove herself over 10 mi to the emergency room. When they reattached the finger, she called my dad and asked him to come and get her. She maintained full use of the hand / finger.)

Obviously, the dressing has to be changed. Note the way I put that sentence in the passive voice. The active equivalent would be “someone has to change the dressing.” Note the use of the pronoun. Note the person to whom I am not referring in this paragraph.

I changed it tonight and really I don’t mind at all — the worst thing about it for me is probably the odor of the soap on my hands before and after (note to self: buy something perfumeless) — but she was so upset. “Does this disgust you?” she asked me. “No. Do I look disgusted?” I asked her back. “No, but I just wanted to make sure,” she said. “I’m not disgusted. I feel sorry for you,” I said. “It looks painful.” “Not painful,” she said. “Just disgusting.” And then she cried a little.

OK, the sound of the crying is much worse than the smell of the soap. My mother is not a cry-er. I watched her do nothing more than bite her lip yesterday while they tried seven different times before they placed an IV line. But she cries when she sees her incision.

~ by Servetus on July 8, 2012.

47 Responses to “OT: Pain and body consciousness”

  1. I wonder if the incision reminds her of her vulnerability? Being sick, relying on others to take care of her may just be giving her a sense of powerlessness. Maybe that is what is making her disgusted.

    The sound of my mother crying kills me. It renders me to pieces. When I was 16 yrs old my mom had a hysterectmy and was hospitalized for a week. I cried every night because I heard the word tumors which to me meant cancer. NO one bothered to explain to me the difference between cancerous tumors and fibroids. I acted strong and maybe even a little indifferent, but I remember literally sobbing silently into my pillow every night. A nurse came to the house everyday to change bandages. But I helped a lot with everything else. I remember being burdened by it and yet unable to stop myself from doing more for her than she asked. In my forties now and still doing more for my parents than I am asked. And still confused by what it all means.

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    • I’m wondering whether she thinks my father is going to think it’s disgusting, although for various reasons this is unlikely. Inter alia his vision is deteriorating.

      Thanks for sharing your story, especially the detail about doing more than asked. That will have to be a post down the road sometime.

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  2. I know sometimes when I face a difficult situation I can be brave and then later I cry. Sometimes it surprises me what will trigger the tears.

    Your mother sounds like a strong woman, who normally does what has to be done. The incision is the physical evidence/reminder of her illness/health problem and it’s not going to go away. There will be a scar. Dealing with the permanent reminder that her body isn’t what it used to be can be very difficult. It’s a new reality. I’ve cried over new realities of my body that weren’t nearly so significant. It’s the unpleasant part of growing older.

    Blessings for you and her through this difficult time. I’m glad you’re writing this down. Writing can be therapeutic, but it’s also good to have a record of one’s life. Memories are strange things, and a contemporaneous record can provide clarity later.

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    • Thanks for the reminder that we sometimes cry after the trauma.

      I’ve decided that whatever happens in the next year I can’t afford to shut down like I did after 2008. So I am hoping to keep writing by, well, writing. There was a sign on the hospital floor she was on to the effect that you shouldn’t wait for the storm to stop but learn to dance in the rain. And the memories thing is important, too.

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  3. Oh, it’s so hard when the ones we love are in pain and distress and we feel helpless to do much of anything about it. And that incision obviously distesses her greatly. It’s so frustrating for both of you. *hugs*

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  4. I don’t have any answers for you. Perhaps yesterday she was able to bite her lip and today she was that little bit more tired, a little less strong. She and you have been and are going through so much. Don’t underestimate the toll it will take. Just take it an hour at a time. Sending warm wishes.

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  5. This reminds me of bathing my newborn daughter just before putting her on an operating table. I remember crying because her perfect little body was about to be mutilated . Except her perfect little body held within it a very sick little heart that wasn’t going to keep beating for very long without help. I remember howling as I left her and I remember that the next time I saw her she was covered in tubes and wires and a very big bandage. They virtually cut her in half and even when the tubes had gone we had to be so careful not to hurt her when we held her. I remember going on holiday and being frightened people would stare at her naked body – that children would ask why she looked like that. No one did. Twenty years later that heart is still beating and the lovely young lady it belongs to doesn’t give the now white mark a moments thought. It’s just part of her story- of who she is. To me it is still a sign I got it wrong – the thing that most people get right quite effortlessly. It was never the scar that really bothered me- what hurt was the reason there ever needed to be a scar.

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    • Bollyknickers – your post took my breath away as I had just had the almost identical image flash through my mind. My son was 8 when he underwent full-blown open-heart surgery. We were with him: he was lying on a gurney in the pre-op room exchanging JOKES with the aneasthetist even though he knew exactly what was about to happen to him. (The day before he had asked one of the surgeons precisely how they would access his heart through his ribcage because that was the one thing I could not bring myself to tell him). We stayed with him until he was out. I kissed that perfectly-formed, finely muscled child’s chest (the most beautiful thing I have ever seen) in the full knowledge that 1. I might not see him alive again and 2. that if I did, that chest would be ever more scarred.
      He too is 20 now and is considered by the hospital as one of their great successes: he is ridiculously well, fit, athletic and at school played rugby to a fairly senior level. His chest is beautiful again but in a different, more manly way 🙂 well-shaped, muscled, with a long scar (and a few smaller ones from drainage tubes etc), much-faded and partially hidden by his chest-hair, but which adds – in a hugely positive manner – to his story.
      It’s only recently that we have spoken about that time at length and he told me how terrified he was, convinced that he would not make it, and yet all I remember was the dignity and courage with which he underwent all the awful, unspeakable things that were done to him: he was 8 and yet he did not cry once, he did not complain once and the only time he showed any impatience was with me when I did not get the gifts he wanted to give the nurses the instant he told me to!
      His childhood has not always been easy but each “blow” has formed and honed his character. I sometimes wonder whether God has a particular purpose for him to have pushed him so hard; I would have chosen an easier path for him, but then I would not have the son I have now: a man whose personality hits you between the eyes the moment you meet him.

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      • Thanks for your story, wydville. The theme I pick up is: scars definitely make us who we are in a positive sense, too, even if we wouldn’t choose them.

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    • Thanks, Bollyknickers, for sharing your story. I feel a bit like slapping myself — of course things have a symbolic value (that’s what this blog is all about) and of course I wasn’t thinking about that.

      Glad your daughter has this incident long in her past, and you too.

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  6. Dear Servetus, this post says a lot about the strengh women posses, and the depths of our devotion to the people we love. There isn’t much we woudn’t be able to do, if that was required of us.
    It’s strange, because women have always been seen as the weaker sex, and yet they give birth, nurse others to health. We’ve been limited by the notion of what femininity is, we’ve been taught to be body conscious, and what is approriate, but the truth is, in times of trouble, we are able to just keep things going. In times of crisis, it’s the most important thing
    I wish you and your Mother all the strengh you need to go through this very tough time, but I have no doubt you already have it in you!

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  7. Servetus, I’m so sorry your mum has to go through this… 😦 But she sure sounds like a strong lady! I remember when my mum’s chemo started and her hair was beginning to fall out rapidly, she asked me to cut it for her. I started, but I just couldn’t bear it and had to stop. She had to finish cutting it herself. She was so much stronger than me! I never thought the hair thing would affect me like that. After all, it grows back! I washed her bandages all the time and it never had the same effect on me. Strange. Stay strong, but cry if you need to! Take care of yourself too! All the best to you and your mum!

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    • That’s the next step for us, too. The hospital already set us up with a cosmetologist. Thanks for the good wishes. Your mom sounds like a veritable emotional bulwark.

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      • Not sure what you mean by “emotional bulwark”.. 🙂 So your mum has to undergo chemotherapy too?

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        • pillar of strength? yes, chemo starts July 16.

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          • Thanks! I suspected it meant something along those lines but wasn’t a 100 % sure!:) Yes, my mum was very strong. She battled with her illness for 8 long years…I hope your mum’s system will tolerate the chemo well. I don’t really know how to pray but I’ll keep your mum in my thoughts…

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  8. She cries because of all the complex emotions. She couldn’t even say why she cries. Is it gratitude, an apology, pain, body consciousness, impossible love for her daughter, anxiety about your father, fear…. Crying is also a relief, and it’s a relief because you’re there, and you’re helping.

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    • I think you hit the nail on the head, Didion.

      My best to you and your mother, Servetus.

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    • I figure the main thing is not to look away.

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      • Not looking away is a good insight. If she’s showing you her vulnerability it’s important to her for you to see it and at least in that way share it with her. You’re in my intentions.

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        • somehow, in my last job, when people would avoid me in the halls, it made me feel like they thought they could make me not exist but pretending I wasn’t there. I really don’t want to do that. If the pain is there it has to be seen / felt. (That’s my more general insight about blogging / writing from the last few years)

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  9. Hello Servetus, I have been following your journey for a while but have never cotributed, nervousneess bashfulness etc. On Friday however It took 6 attempts to find out why my iv line was blocked. Its out now and due to be recited next week. My prayers are with you and your family. I’ve been at this for nearly a year and despite this setback I’m up and around and driving my car and expecting a houseful of sons next week. Your Mum is very brave and we all feel tearful before and after major surgery. Often the worry is not so much for ourselves as for those around us and how they will cope. In the end we just get on with it. Keep up the good work, it sounds as if you are doing just fine. I’m back to watching Wimbledon…hoping for a minor miracle!

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    • Thanks for the comment and welcome to the blog, Alana. As you see, there are many friendly people here to talk to!

      Six IV attempts — uch. I’ve never even had one. It looks excruciating. Finally in my mother’s case they called someone in from emergency who got it on his first try (so why didn’t they call him first? But I didn’t say anything.) I’m glad you’re going on with life. And I hope you got the Wimbledon result you wanted!

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  10. My aunt was visiting last summer, she fell in the hotel room bathtub and sliced her head wide open. She was rushed to the ER and has several staples in her head that had to be cleaned to avoid infection. It was all dried congealed blood surrounding those industrial staples that you could use to buld a house. I had to clean them for her during her visit with my uncle shouting over my head, “Make sure you get that staple right there.” He was reduced to a shouting toddler. They’ve been married over 40 years and he just couldnt handle it.

    Yes it freaked me out. It made me realize that we are all so fragile. We are so delicate. (And BTW what is up with those indsutrial staples? You’d thought that they would’ve come up with a better alternative) Yes I was digusted — dried blood, industrial staples in her scalp! But what I said to her, is this is love. Love is … cleaning the blood out of the staples in your scalp. Honestly, we should all be so blessed to have someone to clean out our dirty staples. By the thrid day, it didn’t bother me as much. I got used to it. and she got used to me helping her. It was a moment for us. We’ve had a contenious relationship over the years. This is the woman who after I gave birth told me…”I needed to lose weight because I was too pretty to let myself go.” Family, God help us all. Right?

    We make this transition with our elderly loved ones from child to parent, it is a bit of a mind bender for everyone involved. If you think about it though, we all play different roles with one other mother, daughter, friend…

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    • the staples are *seriously* frightening. It looks like one of them would hold a wall up (let alone two side of an incision together).

      What I’ve been saying to my mother is, jokingly, I love hospital rooms. Especially the ones my mother is lying in.

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  11. I’m with your mom, surgical wounds, especially abdominal ones with the staples and the discolorations and the way the skin heals around the staples are disgusting looking. I suspect that your mom is referring to the whole ordeal as being disgusting as well. The whole situation must be hard for her.
    As Didion mentioned, the gratitude and love for you, anxiety about your father, possibly some fear, perhaps some exhaustion and anger at dealing with cancer (maybe some guilt or more anger of a previous cancer treatment causing this cancer). It’s ok to agree with her that the wound looks bad (if you think it does) but make sure that you also convey that you are glad the wound is there, that she is doing what she can to fight the cancer and how much she means to you (that may be embarrassing, but it sounds like she’s been reaching out and trying to express what you mean to her).
    Our parents are people with feelings, fears, desires, embarrassments and complexities that we sometimes don’t see because they are our parents. If you don’t know what to say or what to do, that’s OK too. When she cries, does she want to be held, her hand held, left alone? It’s OK to ask about that too. Even if she doesn’t answer then, she will let you know. Hugs and prayers for you both.

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    • I worry that she’s heavily motivated by thoughts / fears about the benefit of my father, who is in frightening denial (but this isn’t a topic I can really broach with her, at least not at this point. She’s not doing anything that’s unreasonable, yet). I just hope she can see that more clearly if it becomes crucial. I am worrying that I am starting to take sides, but I suppose, given my childhood, that that outcome was foreordained. I’m not sure I can go so far as to say I’m glad the wound is there because I don’t think that. I’ve been stressing to her that she needs to do what she wants *for herself* and I’m there for her.

      My attitude toward blood and gore is that it all washes off. So I tend to say, “ick” if I see something icky, and then laugh. I haven’t seen anything yet that makes me nauseous, but I suppose I might.

      Thanks for your hugs and prayers, we need them.

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  12. For my family, it was taking care of my dad’s frequently infected legs. Whether wrapping the sores or attaching the IVs, we did what we could. Being home the most, these tasks often fell to me. In some ways your description of your mother reminds me of my dad. He was this 6’2, larger than life person to me and seeing him weak and vulnerable was difficult to handle. The thing that always helped dad was telling stories (and he had a ton). Slipping into a story from the past seemed to help him forget about the present for a time. My prayers are with you and your mother.

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    • thanks, jas. I’m grateful to hear your story just because it’s good for me to realize how many other people go through these things. I think with us it’s going to be cryptic crossword puzzles — she’s trying to get me to solve them.

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  13. I truly know how hard it is to do this. I nursed my husband and both of my parents through prolonged illnesses with multiple major surgeries before the end. The incision isn’t just pain. Pain can mostly be managed with mind games and will., if not with drugs But the invasion, the mutilation, affront to the body that a large incision represents is not easily borne. There is something atavistic and revolting about being helpless to stop the insult. The tears come from anger, helplessness, outrage, embarrassment, and stomach-turning revulsion at the violation, at the rape of the self. I pray for your strength and fortitude, and for your mother’s full and swift recovery. Please recognize that you can only cry in front of someone you trust. She trusts you, dear heart. Take solace in that.

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    • This is a really thoughtful comment. I’ve been thinking in the background of all this as I watch all the procedures that I could never do this — I just have a fundamentally different relationship with my body and I couldn’t subject myself to this kind of assault. I hadn’t thought of her situation in those terms. Yet another way in which she is much stronger than I.

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  14. Feeling a little teary myself, after reading all of these wonderful thoughts. It reminds me of the time my mother had open heart surgery…but it wasn’t to fix the heart. It was to remove the thymus gland that lay under/behind the heart. I had already nursed my mmother-in-law post open heart surgery and knew we were in for a storm. It was probably a mistake, but I couldn’t bear to tell Mother about the pain. When it hit, it was awful. I sat with her in the hospital room all night battling pain, anguish, tears, confusion and finally defeat. She wanted to go be with my daddy. I told her under NO circumstances was she going to cheat her great-grandchildren out of knowing her! I told her to put on her big girl panties and get tough. You cannot imagine how hard it was to talk to her like that.

    The next AM, the physical therapist came to start her exercise. I pushed her all the way with encouragements, threats, bribery…whatever it took. To this day, my beloved nickname is Dragon Lady.

    All of this to say, there may be a day down the road that you’ll have to do the same…you become the mother, she the daughter. You’ve already experienced some of that. You’re doing fine. There is no right way or wrong way. Just what fits the two of you.

    One final thought…I believe G-d puts us in these situations to teach us something. One of the many things I learned while caring for my Mother was that I realized that one day, the shoe may be on the other foot. I needed to pay attention because I’ve never been a great patient. (Just stick me in a corner and LEAVE me alone! LOL!) The G-d of Comfort, 2 Corintians 1:3, “Praise be to the G-d and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the G-d of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from G-d.”

    Tons of Love and Blessings coming your way!

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    • Thanks for the prayers.

      I sat at three deathbeds as a teenager, and what I constantly need to remind myself is that this is not one of them, not yet. Watching people die (or, I suppose, survive) is a potent lesson about one’s own weaknesses, that’s for sure.

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  15. I’m sure one of the things your mother will be most thankful for is just the fact that you’re there for her in whatever capacity the situation may require — whether it’s to change bandages or watch fireworks. What you’re going through is a horrendous experience, but it’s also an opportunity to bond with your mother in a way that has the potential to create everlasting memories. The one thing I think my father wanted the most when he was sick was to maintain his dignity. It can be quiet distressing to be helpless and dependant on others especially for someone who is a tough and independent person as you’ve describe your mother to be. I’ve mentioned this numerouos times now but my father and I found it very therapeutic to watch old movies. Not sure if you or your mother like older movies but if you so, you might want to try it. By the way, have you introduced her to RA. He might be just what the doctor ordered.

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    • We do have a stack of movies based on everyone’s recommendations. Although tonight we watched Shrek because my father wanted to see it (I cannot tell you how much I dislike this film).

      I wouldn’t mind introducing her to RA but unfortunately he speaks with an English accent in everything he’s been in that’s of note …

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      • Well it’s a shame she can’t/won’t use subtitles because the sound of his voice is very relaxing — it’s almost like the white noises suggested to calm a fussy baby or help someone sleep.
        I’m not a fan of Shrek either although I’ve recently become a fan of Pixar movies. Tangled is my favorite so far and I plan to see Brave sometime this week. There’s nothing I like better than a story about medieval times so I’m looking forward to seeing this movie. Speaking of RA’s voice, he would probably be a great candidate for doing the voice in a Pixar movie.

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        • We tried the Sylvester audiobook, but she wasn’t having that, either. It’s a combination of being old, being a bit rural, using a hearing aid …

          I believe he said at some point he’d love to be in a Pixar movie — in one of those very short magazine pieces that appeared around SB if I recall correctly.

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  16. You’re a good daughter, Servetus. It’s not easy when the ones we love face illness and pain, but you’re with your mom and that’s what counts. Bless you. The stories that everyone has shared are so moving–you are surrounded by warm and caring people.

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    • They really are — I wanted advice, and I got so much out of reading this thread. Thanks to everyone who posted (and this is not the final word, I am sure)

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  17. Your Mom is a very strong women….later there will be pale thin scar and pain closely associated with weather fronts. Take care of yourself too,Servetus!

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