In the time since my operation my right foob has recovered beautifully. Initially swollen and tender and sore at the stitching site, it has settled down into a relatively squishy, comfortable part of my body which I know I will learn to live with and maybe even love. The scar, under the implant, is present but not obtrusive. The nipple is nerveless but, I’m told, responsive to touch.
Well done, right side. A round of applause.
Left side. *shakes head* Why can’t you be more like your sister?
Instead I’ve endured a red and angry scar that has been by turns very hurty and then very itchy. And s-l-o-w to heal – the doctor made me fill three scripts’ worth of antibiotics while it took its sweet time to fix itself. The radiation-damaged skin had seized around the implant, making it flatter and harder and at one point about two inches higher than the right side.
It hurt. A lot. I thought about writing a dark and poetic piece about it, but listening to tales of pain has the same appeal as listening to other’s dreams, i.e. none. But in summary it stressed me out and made me grumpy and forced me to interact with my kids at arm’s length, as if I were a not-so-affectionate aunt.
One thing I’ve been told is tolerating pain is very bad for you. Much more effective to take pain killers and do what you can to get on top of it. You are psychologically stronger and recover more quickly.
I know this. But did I act on it? Did I fuck. We are part of a species whose actions often make zero sense. I got lazy and didn’t take the Nurofen and suffered because of it.
“I just want to hide in a cupboard!” I told Faye on the phone, through a river of snot and tears. As she has for 30 years, she listened and sympathised. She then urged me to talk to my doctor, who I wasn’t supposed to be seeing for a fortnight.
So I got an earlier appointment and went along. In fairness, the pain had tapered off on that day, but was still a major source of concern. After the routine inspection/photography-from-4-angles, I hit the file transfer button and start to download.
She listened patiently before telling me, in iron-fist-in-velvet-glove doctor speak, to take a teaspoon of cement.
“Radiated skin is always compromised. A degree of discomfort is to be expected.”
She goes on to offer a bit of comfort which I cling to like a drowning man. “While sometimes it’s chronic, other times it comes and goes. It’s still early days after the operation and it may just be things settling down.”
But of course when I call home with the summary, I headline for the sympathy “HTFU is what she said, Ted! I don’t want to HTFU! I’ve hardened up enough, haven’t I?” Back home he is tender and kind, and along with his mum they provide an excellent force field against the kids as I book more sessions in the oxygen tank and wonder how the fuck else I’m going to strategise my way out of this.
Then a strange thing happens. The next day I wake up and the pain is gone. The ghost of it lingers, but it’s largely gone. I am weak with relief, euphoric.
Another lesson: there is always room for redemption. Always. I shouldn’t believe in decline, and should fiercely believe in hope. Time was, and we’re talking last week here people, time was I’d think “Well this is it. The side effects of radiotherapy are here now. Still worth having the treatment was it? Can you live with this?” and then I’m released from pain prison and I realise there is hope for improvement and has been all along.
Maybe it’ll turn out the left implant is just a place I hold tension. I am certain it’ll play up again and aesthetically, it’s still hard and high. But I can also be hopeful any pain it causes me won’t be permanent.
In the meantime I salute/take my hat off/give a deep bow to anyone actually suffering from chronic pain. People call me brave but you… you are legend.