Friday, July 26, 2013

Three Weeks Post-Op

Yesterday marked three weeks post-op. Every single day I have little moments of frustration and discouragement that I'm not already at 100%. In consulting with the doctor, I'm actually exactly where I should be. My oft-repeated phrase over the last week is "Patience is a virtue, but it's not mine." I'm not really in any pain, except for moments when I'm laying down and then go to get up by using my stomach muscles instead of rolling to the side and using my arms. Ouch. I'm taking it very, very easy and I confess that I'm feeling quite restless and bored (shh, don't tell the boys, bored is a dirty word in our household). We've had a crazy record-breaking high heat streak here in Shanghai, so I've not gone outside in daylight at all. Each night after the boys are in bed, Michael and I take the dog for a stroll around the garden downstairs to gently build up my strength. Last night it cooled all the way down to 99F (that's sarcasm folks), so we cut our walk short when I started feeling dizzy.

I'm normally a voracious reader, and in anticipation of this time of recovery, I filled up my Kindle with dozens of books. Unfortunately, not a single one of them is keeping my interest! My mind wanders or I doze off, something that has so rarely happened that I can actually recall each and every time I've experienced it in the past! Instead, I've been filling the hours by watching documentaries on Netflix. I can't watch my normal favorite genre of comedies, as a good belly laugh is actually painful in my current state. So, bland documentaries it is. I've also watched 2.5 seasons of Say Yes to the Dress on TLC, before getting completely burned out on it (I can't identify with any of the indecisive brides who have to try on a dozen dresses to find "the one." As a costume design student at the time, I designed every element of my own gown down to the lace, and my expert seamstress mama made my sketches come to life. Seventeen years later, there's nothing about it I would change).

Speaking of "sewing"... my incisions are all but invisible three weeks after surgery. I commented on Facebook yesterday that my surgeon must have had a career as a haute couture seamstress prior to going into medicine. I wish she'd been the one to stitch me up from C-sections, gallbladder surgery, and another laparoscopy procedure I had done years ago, all of which have left my abdomen peppered with distinctive scars. Though actually I don't mind them... each one has a story, and I was born to tell stories.

Before I head off to finish watching my latest documentary (about Woody Allen, which borders on a little-too-much-comedy post-surgery), I'll leave you with some comedy of my own making. Last night just before turning out the lights for bed, I went to the kitchen for a glass of water. I heard a noise in the boys' bedroom, so I opened their door. At the exact same moment, Nathan, who had heard my noises in the kitchen, opened the same door. It was late, and so unexpected, and seeing a tall figure in the dark where I expected to see nothing at all, I screamed and screamed and screamed like I was auditioning for the lead in a teenage horror film. Of course this frightened sleepy Nathan, so he screamed and screamed right back at me. Michael, who'd been gently drifting into slumberland, jumped from his bed to see what all the screaming was about. My brain had caught up with the fact that it was just Nathan (when did he get so tall? He looks like a man!) but the screams in my throat were lagging behind, and all I could do was start laughing while tears started rolling down my cheeks. After Michael calmed him down, Nathan confessed he thought someone broke into our house and he was going to check it out. Last time he'll ever do that.

More soon!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fifty-eight and Five

Happy 58th Birthday to the original Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland! 
Here's my friend Autumn and I, celebrating Disneyland's 40th birthday. Whoa, a lot of life has happened in the last 18 years!

And Happy 5th Birthday to my blog!
(Or at least my first blog, which has been migrated here under My Wandering Life). It certainly looks a lot different today than it did back then! It started as Boy Wonder, and was strictly about the boys. And then when we moved to Macau, I changed it to Wandering Macau. And then when we left Macau, we picked a name that would better reflect our life regardless of where we ended up roaming, My Wandering Life. Five years. What a crazy journey!
In the beginning, I had three readers - my parents and my friend Rachel Davis. They still read it (Hi!), but now I have so many more people along for the ride, most of whom I've never met (Welcome! Stay awhile!). Thank you to each and every one of you for coming along on this journey. I'm so glad you're here!

Monday, July 15, 2013

In Sickness and in Health

When Michael and I got married, I wasn't really all that concerned with the vows. I just wanted to start our life together as husband and wife. I know so many couples are all about the vows, however. They write their own and struggle with finding just the right words. We were married by the chaplain at the Los Angeles Police Academy, and we used one of his ceremonies. Really the only thing we were adamant about was choosing to honor rather than obey. I don't even have a copy of our vows (or maybe I do... somewhere) but I do know that one common phrase has to do with promising to stay together through thick and thin, good times and bad, and in particular, through both sickness and health.

Shortly after our marriage, we came across a book (or maybe it was an article?) that proposed the best way to a happy marriage was to give 100%. Not she giving 50% and he giving 50%, meeting in the middle to make up 100%. But each person giving and doing 100%, not worrying about whether the other person was doing the same. If each person gives 100%, then everything gets covered. It removes the focus from yourself and what you're getting from the relationship, moving it to your spouse and what you're giving. While I've read plenty of ink on marriage since then, I'd say this was the one point I've clung to these past 17 years. What 100% looks like changes from month to month, year to year, but over all, when I give my marriage my all, it inspires Michael to do the same. And when he gives all he's got, I'm encouraged to put all I've got into it.

The tricky part is when the whole sickness part comes into play. Obviously, there isn't much I can physically do while recovering from surgery, other than rest and receive all the care Michael puts into helping me recover.

A few years ago I was very sick and had to have my gallbladder removed. The outpatient surgery was on a Monday, and on Tuesday Michael started a brand new, high stress job which had an initial steep learning curve with long hours starting on day one. This was bad timing for all of us (unplanned), and I'm so grateful my Mom was able to stay with us to help me physically and to manage the household while I recovered (it was a brutal recovery compared to this one). My husband had a lot of stress during the day, coming home to even more stress caused by seeing his wife in significant pain and unable to do much for myself. I needed help to even sit up in bed, to stand, and to get down the hall to the strangely-placed master bathroom. Waking him from his much-needed slumber three times a night to ask him for this help did not make him a happy man. Emotionally, I was a wreck. I'm not sure what was done to me on the operating table, but the bruising all over my abdomen was so significant that I'd sob whenever I lifted my shirt, and Michael was frustrated over my inability to see that bruises fade, they aren't permanent nor worth sobbing over. It was a very rough time, one that I kept dwelling on over this past year as it became clear that other treatments were not going to work and that I'd need an operation in the near future.

Having gone through that experience in the past, and not wanting a repeat, I sat down with Michael before this surgery to say very specifically what I was going to need help with. What my limitations would be. What the worst case scenario might look like. What we could lean on other people to provide. What I needed Michael to provide. I was honest about my fears and my expectations. And over all, I asked Michael for his patience with me and my body as it healed. For my part, prior to the surgery, I did an immense amount of work to get the house in order, lining up friends to help with childcare, and prepping the part-time ayi who does laundry and housework to let her know I would not be able to do anything to keep things running smoothly unless it could be done from bed.

When I checked into the hospital last Tuesday, Michael came with me, setting up a mobile office in my hospital room. For the first two days, it was nothing but tests and a lot of boredom for me, but Michael was there, answering emails and fielding phone calls from work in an uncomfortable chair so that I wouldn't have to be there alone. He brought me Starbucks from the lobby and edible food to make up for the nasty replica of a food-type-product that hospital tried to serve me. During our conversations prior to being admitted, the two days prior to surgery which I'd have to spend in the hospital getting poked and prodded were not mentioned at all. I thought I could handle them on my own. I figured he'd report to his site office as usual, saving his time away from his desk for the actual surgery day and the days after. But no.

Giving 100% for Michael meant he was going to relieve both my boredom and my growly tummy while I was stuck in the hospital, on top of getting all his work done to meet big deadlines in the office. Seeing the stark white, sterile environment, hearing the crazy-loud noises that hospitals produce at all hours, and seeing the mild panic in my eyes each time some strange new thing happened to me, Michael ran home for supplies. He brought me a bright green blanket (my favorite shade), a dozen new songs on my iPod, and my best childhood pal, Nanner Monkey, who travels the world with us because Toy Story 2 destroyed my life. Or at least destroyed my thoughts on abandoning childhood toys to live in cardboard boxes in storage units while you live all over the world. I have to tell you, these small acts did everything to increase my confidence that the day of the surgery and the recovery to follow would go smoothly, relationship-wise.

There was a really low point last Sunday, when my hopes were dashed about getting to go home that day. I was bruised, swollen, greasy-haired, completely helpless to do anything on my own, and had gone through a very traumatic experience in the morning at the hands of a doctor who didn't communicate well about what he was about to do to me. Tears of frustration and fear were streaming out of my eyes. Michael took my hand and told me I was so beautiful and so strong. It changed everything to just take a moment and see myself though his eyes. I posted part of that on Facebook, and our friend Michael Y commented that our relationship, the good parts and bad, was pure romance.

And that's so true. Romance may look like flowers and candy and candlelight to some, but to me, romance is Michael running to get my adjustable, rolling office chair and putting it at the dining room table because it's so much easier for me to get in and out of while joining the boys at dinner, which Michael has completely arranged. Romance is me not complaining and trying to keep a positive attitude when Michael gets home from work even though cabin fever has set in and I'm frustrated with my limitations and being stuck in the house. Romance is Michael surprising me with a hidden stash of Tangerine Jelly Belly candies after coming home from the hospital, purchased the week before my surgery in Hong Kong, knowing I am very, very hard to surprise. Romance is finding beauty in the brokenness, and loving each other through the good times and bad.

If you'd asked me what romance, or loving someone through sickness and health looked like when I was a 21 year old bride, I'm sure I would have described it differently. I had no idea that the road to a strong and happy marriage would take so much work. But seventeen years later, I can see the dividends of that hard work, still weak at the knees over the way Michael looks at me so full of love, even when I am greasy-haired, scarred, and puffy with tears in a hospital bed so far away from where our story started.

I love you, Michael Chase. Right now giving 100% involves laying in bed and writing all this down between naps, while I wait for you to come home and do everything else I can't. I don't love the sickness part of marriage, but it makes me so grateful for the healthy part. Every day I'm getting a little closer, as are we.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Home again

Hey everyone, I'm back home after a successful surgery one week ago today. There was good news all around. Due to my awesome surgeon's mad skillz, I got to keep both ovaries and she was able to do the entire surgery via laparoscopy, ultimately giving me four dime-sized scars instead of a big vertical slash. Also, I was totally off pain meds just hours after the surgery (it was making me vomit), though I went 24 hours believing that I wasn't feeling pain only because I was hopped up on drugs. Yes, I'm very tender and sore, but honestly this is nothing compared to the pain I had every day prior to the surgery. So many people emailed me, texted me, and sent messages via Facebook saying they'd had the same surgery and it was the best thing they'd ever done. I know I'm just a week out, but initial results have me making the same claim.

The hospital stay, on the other hand, was absolutely crazy. I have a journaling app on my phone, and every time I had a This is China moment, I'd quick open it up and jot it down. After two days, there was so much material I could barely keep up. After seven days, I can write a book. I promise I'll be mining my experience to bring you comedy gold, but for right now I find myself completely exhausted and battling to stay awake all day. I know I get exactly one opportunity to heal from this surgery, so I'm doing it correctly, with lots of rest and help and a tiny poodle who is sooo happy to have her favorite lap back in the house.

So give me a little bit longer to spend some quality time with my bed and I'll give you a great tale. For now, I give you my chest X-ray, which I got to take home as a souvenir. Thinking they'd want it back, I held it up to the window to take a quick Instagram shot and managed to get Shanghai in the background. Maybe my pain had something to do with swallowing whole cities?

I'll be back soon, and thank you so much for the kind outpouring of emails full of support and encouragement. It sustained me during the hard parts!

Monday, July 1, 2013


Hmm. Remember when I said I was promised a couple of days away with lots of solitude to just write? Life has interrupted and I'm getting something a little different.

I'm faced with something not so easy to just drop in this space, where I normally share my life with a breezy tone and light comedy to defuse the hardships. In fact, I've written and re-written this post four times already, debating on what to share, how much to share, and what is too much to share. I'm going to channel Sgt. Joe Friday here... Just the facts, Ma'am.

Tomorrow morning, July 2, at 8:00 a.m. I'll be checking into my local hospital here in Shanghai for two days of tests. On Thursday, July 4, time yet to be determined, I'll be having a total abdominal hysterectomy and removal of my left ovary, which will remove an irregular (though non-cancerous) fist-sized mass growing through my uterine muscle and a smaller endometrioma (type of cyst) in the ovary. These two things have been causing excruciating pain for several years (plus a noticeable increase in my waist size), and the conservative, non-surgical alternatives have been ineffective or can't be used on me due to additional health concerns. Sure, I've spilled a lot about my sinuses, but this other issue isn't the kind of thing I was raised to share, despite having issues in this region for the past twenty years.

While initially quite frightened of the necessity for such major surgery here in China (our insurance precludes us from returning to America for the surgery, and while having surgery in Hong Kong would be nice, the recovery period of six weeks would prove taxing on our hosts and wallet), the good news is my mind has been put completely at ease. My surgeon is a Turkish-born Chinese woman who did her training in Australia and Stanford in California. Her specialty? Treating the exact type of mass which has been slowly expanding and adhering to other organs inside me and making it very difficult for me to get out of bed many mornings. She arrived in Shanghai three months ago, specifically to train the doctors at the local Chinese hospital how to identify and treat my particular condition, adenomyosis. Her exact words upon reviewing my extensive medical file and numerous images and lab results: It is a miracle that you are here before me, when I have just arrived and specialize in what is ailing you. Miracle indeed.

I feel completely at peace about the surgery. I feel a little uneasy about the estimated 6-10 day hospital stay (more posts on this experience coming up). I feel somewhat nervous about how Michael is going to handle his job and the care and keeping of two boys and a dog while worrying about his wife.

However, one of the best things about being an expat is the community. People who might be casual acquaintances in your home country become extended family almost overnight when you live abroad, far removed from your actual family. To quote LOST and Disney's High School Musical in one sentence, nicely wrapping up the expat experience: live together, die alone because we're all in this together. Time and time again, everyone steps in with offers of childcare and meals and transportation without being asked, because they've been the recipient of the same, or know they might need the extra help themselves next month. I've seen it in every country we've lived in, without fail, and it's one of the things that makes me love this crazy, nomadic lifestyle (though it's admittedly easier to be on the giving end than the receiving end of such help).

I would give anything to have my own mom packing her suitcase right now to get on a plane and arrive here tomorrow to make everything right, as she's done with every other surgery I've had in my whole life. Since that simply isn't an option, I'm incredibly grateful for all the surrogate sisters and mamas here in Shanghai who are sitting down tonight and collaborating on a calendar of who is bringing meals or watching the kids for the next month while I do some intensive recovery. Instead of being filled with my usual amount of stress, that constant companion since December, I'm filled with peace.  Independence Day takes on a whole new meaning this July 4th. Let's do this.

And then, because life is better with laughter and cake, and because I'm me, I give you this:

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