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When Surgery Becomes Your 'Normal'

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Today started like any other day. Well, not exactly I guess. I actually woke up this morning planning to be away at the beach this week, so I organized things around the house, put the bins out, cleaned a few floppy veggies out of the fridge, washed the dishes to avoid coming home to an overgrowth of mold, you know, the usual things you do before going away.

We were looking forward to being at the beach all together as a family and enjoying the last couple of weeks of the summer holidays, chilling out and working from cafes (we have a remote business).

Then, just as I was done packing the car, my husband rang to say a last minute spot had come up for his hernia repair to be done this afternoon, followed by an overnight hospital stay. Just a sudden, totally unexpected change of plans.

It’s amazing how many things go through your mind when you get a phone call saying it’s time for surgery:

  • I’m so glad this hernia is going to be repaired.
  • This is really going to throw our plans for the week.
  • How will this affect our family for the next week/s?
  • How will my husband cope with this at the moment?
  • Is last minute surgery better than having a couple of weeks to think and stress about it?
  • I didn’t need to bother getting the house organized.
  • I’ll be able to water our garden tomorrow.
  • I guess we’re sleeping at home tonight.

It’s like a little firework of thoughts goes off in your mind in about five seconds flat. There is a mix of actual rational thoughts, like the question of our coping ability at the moment, then there are the not so important thoughts, like being able to water the garden tomorrow. Our minds are a funny thing. They can process so much at one time, yet they can also get us thinking about things that are not even remotely important at that point in time.

Yet, you know what I’ve realized this afternoon while I wait for my husband to come out of surgery? This whole thing gets easier every time I do it. The last minute changes of plans are easier. I’m getting used to surgery waiting lists. I’m getting used to the phone call for surgery. I’m completely over my fear of hospitals, and in fact now feel more relaxed in a hospital than in a lot of other places. I’m getting used to waiting for someone to wake up from an aesthetic. I’m getting used to the unknown and unpredictability our lives.

Today it’s relatively minor surgery for a hernia. Last month, it was dental surgery on my 5-year-old son (the one with congenital heart disease). In the future, it will be open-heart surgery (yet again) and catheter procedures. Our family has a lifetime of facing surgery ahead. It’s hard. Anyone in this situation would tell you it’s hard. But going through this also means I’m coping with the healthcare system and this whole thing a lot better than I did five years ago when our son had his first two surgeries.

So if you’re new to the diagnosis process, know that it does get easier.

If you have just been given a diagnosis, know that it won’t always feel like this.

If you’re feeling like a fish out of water while you try and navigate the healthcare system, know that you will learn what works for you, which doctors and/or specialists you want to stick with, when to fight things and when to let go.

If you are exhausted from trying to sleep on fold out hospital couches, believe it or not but you will get used to sleeping on those so-called beds too. You will become an, “I can sleep anywhere” professional!

If you’re on a surgery waiting list, know that yes, it will most likely throw your plans when you get the phone call for surgery, but also know that you will get through this, lots of our plans don’t matter that much, people are incredible at helping, and all you really need to take with you (if you’re waiting for someone having surgery) is your phone, wallet and a phone charger. Take those three things with you and you’ll be good to go.

A version of this story originally appeared on Despite This.

Getty image by Perboge

Originally published: May 5, 2019
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