Talking About Surgery
I have some pretty spectacular people in my life. In between family and friends there are people who will fly across the world, or take over an hour of public transit after a long day of work just to see me. They’re kind of amazing. A week and a half ago, I had neurosurgery. Honestly, I keep forgetting. I’m incredibly lucky in that my pain has been very manageable. In some ways, I feel better than before. In others, I’m very much in recovery.
This wasn’t a last minute surgery. The date had been booked a couple of months in advance.
As would be expected with something like major surgery scheduled in the calendar, the phone was ringing or buzzing, off the hook or off the table for the past two to three weeks.
The only thing is, it was very rarely my phone.
My phone, especially in the week leading up to surgery, was strangely silent. While I received countless messages of love and support, they were mostly delivered through my parents, with few exceptions.
After the surgery I know that there were a number of calls, texts, and emails checking in, but even now that I’ve been online for a week, I’ve barely been contacted directly.
It makes sense. Truthfully, I most likely wouldn’t contact myself directly either. I would be concerned about being a nuisance, thinking that someone preparing for major surgery probably had enough to deal with.
And after surgery I would have no idea if I was up to talking. I would assume not, and would plan to reach out later. It’s not that I wouldn’t think of me, wouldn’t be hoping that everything was going alright. I would probably just stay quiet and like anything on Facebook connected to me - lending unobtrusive support, and possibly contacting my parents for details.
And that’s great. It really is. The love and support come across, and it’s true - I was stressed before, and sore and tired after. It’s also true that talking to my parents, checking in with them and giving them love and support directly was and is extremely important. They went through a pretty big ordeal - they had to pay for someone to slice their daughter’s throat open and then sit and wait, fully aware, while it happened.
I have to say, I truly appreciate every single person who has reached out, directly or indirectly, every person who has thought of me or my family, who has been supportive or wished me well in any way.
I also have to acknowledge that for me, this whole experience has been fairly lonely and isolating.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had moments of being overwhelmed in some way or other and unable to talk, but generally that’s been pretty minimal and I’ve had a lot of spare time on my hands.
Leading up to the surgery I was essentially just waiting for it to happen, staring at my stagnant phone. Now that it’s over, I’ve been waiting to recover, napping occasionally and desperately looking forwards to the 2-3 hours a day that I can socialize in person.
I think there’s more to it than perceived availability though. I think there’s more of a reason why my phone had been relatively quiet.
I mean, it’s neurosurgery. Just hearing the word is scary, contemplating it is worse, and addressing it directly is downright terrifying.
What do you even say? Good luck? I hope nothing important gets snipped accidentally? Afterwards is even more uncomfortable - ‘Did the surgeon do the thing right?’.
And apart from addressing the surgery itself - how can you have a proper, back and forth conversation to begin with? How can you talk to a person facing major surgery about your own life and drama? Isn’t that totally insensitive?
My short answer is no, definitely, 100% not.
Honestly, this whole experience has been fairly boring for me. Yes, it’s scary and a big deal, but thinking about that isn’t exactly helpful. And as for the surgery itself, it was kind of like the spring break I never had. I have absolutely no recollection of what happened, all I can do is repeat second and third hand accounts. Afterwards I woke up with a ridiculous headache, sore throat, and was surrounded by beautiful humans who arranged my pillows and made sure I was comfortable during my stay.
It was a huge deal. But it also wasn’t. It was a thing that was going to happen, and then it was a thing that was happening for just under two hours and then it was a thing that did happen.
It changed me physically, but that part’s not a big deal. People change physically all the time with new haircuts, tattoos, and piercings. You can’t even see what changed in my case. People also have major events all the time - happy and sad, exciting and scary.
It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to tiptoe around those times - unless someone’s gotten a new look that you really dislike because then I’d definitely recommend skirting the issue.
Those big moments are when we need reassurance, love and support more than anything. They’re the times when we need to be upfront and direct with each other, because life is happening and it’s real.
Those moments don’t define us, but they can be the dots that, when connected, give us our shape.
And how we handle each other’s moments, how present we are, matters.
Because sometimes, when you miss a dot, it can be hard to find the next one. And soon, the image can become distorted.
I am so lucky to have people in my life who are drawing on the kids menu right there with me and I sincerely hope that my crayon’s also holding steady with them.
But I think I’ve learned something from this experience. It might not be universally applicable, but it’s certainly true for me.
Sometimes, the only wrong thing to say is nothing at all.