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What I was up to while M.I.A.

This has helped my recovery

This has helped my mental recovery

I’m back. You may not have noticed that I had gone… but it has been a relatively long time since I posted. I blame busy-ness. I would like to blame time business (too much stuff to do), but I know me, if I want to do something, I make time for it. Really, I have not been in a good emotional place for a while and that lead to a combination of (1) needing to sit on the sofa watching mind numbing TV at night and (2) feeling too raw to write my thoughts down. It is all past (passed? I never know which one to use) me now, so I feel OK to write about it. In a nutshell:

First, I did not cope very well with my MRSA surgery

Actually, that is an understatement. I turned into a giant baby about it. I still don’t know why, but I utterly fell apart over the surgery. It wasn’t even that painful. I will say that it was deeply shocking to me to go to the Doctor’s for some anti biotics, and to leave being told I needed surgery under a general anesthetic. It bought back a lot of the feelings I had going to the OR after birth, and the thoughts I had when I came around in ICU and was told I was not out of the woods, but they were doing their best. Of laying there, with my son watching me, discussing with Wes about who we would call to warn about possible impending bad news, rather than the great news of Sam. About lying there thinking of the people he was telling while he made the ‘phone calls, feeling bad I was wrecking their night (I remember telling Wes not to call Clio becaue it was 4 am in England, and him saying ‘she will want to be woken up Lekki!’) and all the time wondering how the hell we had gotten to this place so quickly.

Anyhoo, the surgery went fine, was a piece of cake, and I came around only slightly sore (I mean geez, a med student with a fish knife could have done it). So, really I should have been fine. I should have bounced back. Bouncing back is what I do. It’s my thing. Like when I weightlifted with a fractured elbow. Or negotiated the gym on crutches. Or finished my training plan with stress fractures. Or fell down a waterfall and climbed back up. Instead I let Wes do Sam’s night feed that night, and on Saturday took Sam to bed with me and refused to move, for the whole day. Wes was pleased, I think, but very shocked. He came and bought me lunch in bed, and seeing all my stuff around me said “Wow, you really are planning to stay here then?”.

Recovery Day!

Recovery Day!

Yes. Yes I was.

That was only the beginning of me starting to lose it. I went to the surgeon two days later to have my dressings changed. I expected to see a cut. A skin wound. I did not expect to see an inch long, and 3/4 in deep hole into my flesh. I did not expect to stare down into my flesh and see all the white and yellow and red and so on. In fact, I was so shocked I handed Sam to the surgeon and promptly lost my lunch.

The surgeon told me I had to pack the hole with gauze twice a day. I had to pull the old stuffing out, and stuff it with new stuff. I had hydrocodone to deal with the physical pain, but mentally, I couldn’t hack having a hole in body. I cried for 40 minutes when Wes told me that I absolutely had to change my dressing. I hid from him. I sobbed. I begged him to leave it. I ranted that no one should have to deal with this (while fully aware that people deal with far worse every day). I shrieked at him “You don’t get it! No one should have a hole in their abdomen! Not an every day person! I know you were an EMT and saw car crashes and dead children and far worse, but that is a whole different spectrum. That is a different scale! On the everyday scale no one should have to deal with seeing their flesh! It’s not at the acceptable part of the everyday scale! This shouldn’t have happened to me!”

A somewhat confused Wes dryly remarked “At least I didn’t marry someone really dramatic or anything”.

To this day, I have no idea why I flipped my lid so utterly. Wes thinks I have not processed everything from Sam’s birth, and that this was a reminder. That burying all my emotions about the hemorrage caused them to surface with this little surgery.

I don’t know… there may be some truth in that… I don’t know. I do know that having hardly spoken about it (heck, I didn’t even really blog about it), I have the urge to grab people by the lapels and go “Do you know what I went through? Do you know they told my husband that they didn’t think I would make it? Do you know they told me that? Do you know what it is like to lie in bed, with your baby watching you from a friggin plastic box, while doctors just look sorry and worried, and use vague phrases like ‘you are not out of the woods’ and lie there dealing with the guilt that your nearest and dearest are hearing about this because you can’t make yourself better? What it is like to hear about a difficult birth and want to be sympathetic, but want also want to yell “you were carrying your sweet kid home, in your arms, with your partner so proud, before I was allowed to be in a room alone with my son, and while my body had failed and I had let everyone down and was just lying there in that stupid state?”. But then I remember that from everyone’s super kind emails to me.. yeah… they do know that, and it is only me who doesn’t 🙂

All that is left from surgery

All that is left from surgery – super recoverer!

On the upside though, (1) I am processing all that as best I can; (2) all the self pity has ended, and (3) the MRSA is totally gone and I am all healed. My surgeon (who is 75! – 75 – !) was so shocked at how quickly I healed, he did a double take. I have no pain, and just a little scabby scab. Sure, my lucrative bikini modelling career is prematurely halted, but I can deal with that.

Me before my MRSA surgery. No, really.

Me before my MRSA surgery. No, really. It was that bad.

So, I dealt with it by sitting on the sofa watching Grey’s Anatomy.

Second, work has been stressing me out. I set myself a number of goals for my first year as faculty: submit an NIH grant every cycle, and apply for one other grant each cycle. There have been 2 cycles, I have submitted 5 grants – boom. I also wanted to submit three first-author papers – done, collaborate with the ARIC group – done and get my student through her exams – done. So I did everything in 9 months not 12, but instead of making me feel good, it made me freak out.

I had my annual review. I understand that when you go for these things, you are supposed to pain a picture of ‘yes, I am awesome. See? I am a wonderful member of your community, worth far more than you ever have realized, and I have identified this tiny, surmountable weakness which when I conquer will make me even more invaluable to you’. Me? When my Chair said “So – how do you think you are doing?’ I had a meltdown and said that I had lost all my time management skills, that I was not only not working to full capacity but barely putting in 9-5, that my motivation had changed and I no longer cared about papers and prestige and that nothing I was doing was sustainable long term and I had been busy but not useful. Then I said ‘it is lucky my annual review was not last week, because I was crying about all this back then. Now I am just stressed about it’.

Ha. Luckily for me I have an awesome Chair. He said that my changing priorities (less about papers, more about advancing Science) was just a sign of maturity and made me a more welcome person in his Department. He said that time management after a family was incredibly hard – that he has struggled with it, but solved it. That he could not solve it for me, but was sure I would solve it on my own, if I just gave myself time and space and patience. We talked about ways of making my research more sustainable.

I also received an email from a dear friend / mentor / surrogate sister who pointed out that I had undertaken marriage, new job, new city, new baby, serious health problems.. all within 16 months. It was OK to lose focus a bit at work. To not have the energy to feel passionate about it. To feel like work and success are the not most important things. To feel that Sam, and our home, and my family are more pressing, and need to be clung onto more dearly.

And my mentor at UT put it most succinctly when she said “I told you not to give yourself a hard time until a year after Sam’s birth! In 9 months, you can give yourself a hard time. Until then: NO.”

So, I chilled and yes, I was very busy getting 3 grants in in Feb, but I was also very busy drinking Chocolate Stout on the sofa. Good times.

(3) I was not quite as chilled about giving up breastfeeding as I had thought. In fact, I didn’t want to give up, so I have kept on pumping, only to the following rules: no more than 3.5 hours a day & no stressing when my supply is weirdly low (think 1.5 oz after 45 mins). I just focus on getting Sam some of the antibodies and microbiota and stick at what I can give. However, it was a hard adjustment. And when I had to go from pumping 8-10 and feeding at night to 100% pumping & dumping and 100% bottle feeds, Sam decided he was not going to take the breast at all anymore. He still prefers the taste of breastmilk to formula, but even when he is super sleepy at night, he won’t drink from me, or even suckle. Little rat (lovable rat). It broke my heart.

But… it is all good now. I pump a reasonable amount and just supplement. I offer Sam my breast, he spits it out. I hug him a little tighter while I bottle feed him. It’s all good, but that also contributed to me need to sit on the sofa and eat Whole Food’s Pear and Almond Dark Chocolate. Yum.

Why wouldn't you do this anymore Sammy-Sam? Rat bag.

Why wouldn’t you do this anymore Sammy-Sam? Rat bag.

So, sofa + Grey’s Anatomy + Chocolate Stout + Pear and Almond Dark chocolate, with my puppy, has been pretty sweet. And very restorative. But, I have not done nothing…

I finalized and submitted a paper, which is now under review at Atherosclerosis. I got 3 grants in, and made a clear plan to my R01 submission (in 1.5 – TWO years – long term). I got my student a good plan to make sure she is productive and successful (that worries me a lot) and I wriggled in some quality time with my son – even bringing him into work if I had been working late and so missing his playtime all week.

Sam with Shine Chang - a very eminent Professor at MD Anderson. He doesn't know how lucky he is!

Sam at work with me, with Shine Chang – a very eminent Professor at MD Anderson. He doesn’t know how lucky he is!

I have also been doing paper crafting (fancy word for making cards!):

Birthday card for Wes

Birthday card for Wes

Baby shower card

Baby shower card for Bing

Good bye card for my OB practice

Good bye card for my OB practice

Thank you card for me WONDERFUL OB who is sadly moving :(

Thank you card for me WONDERFUL OB who is sadly moving 😦

(including some not pictured things on their way to friends in the UK – yes!)

AND, because the other thing making me sit on the sofa and sniggle Walter is my OB leaving (yes, the lovely Dr. Boswell – of to do community work! Sob), I mad some cookie monster cupcakes to say goodbye to her:

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I also hung out with friends, and ate excellent Dim Sum (which I have not found since I left the UK!):

Mmmmm.... Dim Sum...

Mmmmm…. Dim Sum…

So… it has been a time of just processing and chilling, and looking after my son and myself. In that time, little Samuel has turned 4 months! So, I will write a post on that next.

Sorry for the brain dump. Feels good though.

Some clouds have platinum linings

Bed day survival kit: toys, Jaffa cakes, magazines, board books and pic n mix!

Bed day survival kit: toys, Jaffa cakes, magazines, board books and pic n mix!

So, the last couple of days have not been rockstar, ending in (minor) surgery as they did. Today I was disappointed that I would ‘lose’ my whole weekend by being bed ridden, to recover. I was looking forward to crafting, sorting my room out, maybe taking Sam shopping. Bed was really not on the cards.

But it seemed that bed was my only option, so I said to Wes that he might as well take a day of freedom, and I would look after Sam. Not that he doesn’t love Sam, and love looking after him. But I am very sympathetic to the view that as a parent you so rarely get free time: you’re always conscious of your child, what they are doing, how long you have completing a certain activity before they wake / make a fuss / need feeding. Let me repeat: we love being parents, and adore Sam, but I do know how much I appreciate those few stolen moments when you don’t have to think about anything or anyone but yourself and your activities.

So, Wes made bullets while I settled into my second choice day: a day stuck in bed, in pain, albeit with the best boy ever.

Greatest. Day. Ever.

sleeping baby

It started when I got Sam into my bed at about 5 am. As Wes had done the 2 am feed I was really rested and I couldn’t sleep, but wasn’t tired. I just sat and watched Sam. Watched him sleep. It has been 3 months since I got to do that. Since going to back to work at ~3 weeks postpartum nighttime is always a rush to either spend time with Wes, or get my work finished, and the morning is a chance to cram in extra sleep, or a rush to get up and get pumping so I can get to work. I have forgotten how my son sleeps, or at least, it has changed since we I last saw it. It is deeper than it used to be, but his movements are different, less jerky, and much stronger.

Then we got up and had breakfast. Me, a LaraBar and Sam: a bottle of formula. I never get to feed Sam breakfast! My morning pump is the longest (sometimes an hour) and so Wes gives Sam his bottle. Morning is Sam’s best time, and he was so awake. He watched me with sparkling eyes and kept breaking away from the bottle just to grin at me, and then latched himself back on. It was so much fun!

Is that your monster, Sam?

Is that your monster, Sam?

Then we settled in to play together. I picked up a book and started to read it to Sam. He loved it! All my previous attempts at reading to him had fallen on deaf ears and blind eyes. But he really locked onto the first book. So I got out another… and another. Sam had a definite favorite: ‘That’s not my monster’. He was not interested in feeling the pages, but just looked at the pictures and listened. About 5 times. The other books he would have once or twice, but this one: over and over again he was enraptured.

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When I could stand it no more, we sang songs until he got grizzly. I put him in my arms and sang him to sleep in about 2 minutes. He liked ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ way more than ‘Mr Moon’, or ‘Twinkle Twinkle’. We napped together until 10 am when Wes woke up. While I watched Grey’s Anatomy, Wes went and got me an egg biscuit and 2 crafting magazines, and Sam slept on.

An angel in my arms

An angel in my arms

The day passed like this. I just got to know my son. I play peek-a-boo with him most days, and he has never loved it. I learned he doesn’t really like a big, surprise ‘boo’, he likes to watch you slowly peek around a teddy and smile at him. I already knew what his favorite toys are, and I held one of them up for him. I got to watch how much he has changed: he no longer just stares at toys, but engages and anticipates where they will go. He is no longer just ‘not bored’ by them, but engaged and stimulated. It was so much fun watching him.

One of his favorite toys

One of his favorite toys

I read him to sleep again (more ‘That’s Not my Monster’).

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I did what I usually and do and imitated his noises back at him.

I let him lie in his ‘pack n play’ and giggle. I leaned over the pack n play and chatted to him.

In his pack n play, chatting to me

In his pack n play, chatting to me

I sat and read my magazine, while he watched Sesame Street.

We don't mind a little structured TV time if Sam is enjoying it

We don’t mind a little structured TV time if Sam is enjoying it

In truth, I mostly did what I always do with him. But, instead of doing it for 10 minutes before we went to the grocery store, or for 15 minutes before we got dressed for lunch, or doing it while reading a manuscript or at arm’s length while pumping, or my eyes on my email, I did it all with the luxury of time. I did it as if it was the only thing in the world that mattered.

Is THIS your monster, Sam?

Is THIS your monster, Sam?

And you know what? To Sam, it is the only thing that matters.

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We had a fabulous day. We got to know each other so much more. Sam is such an easy, happy baby, it is easy to take him for granted. It is easy to take all those we know for granted. I am so grateful that at the end of a scary and painful experience, I got this: a day learning about the new little person in our house. The best gift I could have asked for.

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We have not been very successful at putting Sam to sleep. In truth, I had a grant due Jan 31st, and another one yesterday (got an extension – phew!). So, I have always bathed with Sam, played with him, fed him while we ate dinner and got Wes to put him to bed. Sam gets wound up and Wes uses the swing to make him sleepy most nights. It’s a battle of Sam fussing, and frustration, and eventually swinging. I remembered that before going back to work full time, I put Sam to bed every night, without a problem.

Tonight, I took the time. I left my unfinished grant (due Monday) and took Sam,a book, and some milk into his room. I read to him, fed him, and sang to him (more ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’) until he was sleepy, laid him down in his crib and patted him to sleep. When he woke 10 min later, I fed him again, and sang him back to sleep in his crib.

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I forgot that we already knew each other inside and out. We just needed to have a chance to show it.

A fantastic reminder of what is important in my life right now.

A little bit o’ surgery to brighten my day…

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Beh. That’s for when ‘meh’ doesn’t quite cut it. Like for the following story.

About 2 weeks ago I made my nightly 3 am trip to the kitchen to drop off some post-feed expressed milk (<—- pumping at 3 am after being up for breast feeding is the definition of a labor of love I think). I am, as you may expect, not at my sharpest at this particular point of the day. So, when I looked down and saw a little whitehead on my hip, and thought it was an ingrowing hair, when I popped it and it didn’t seem quite ‘right’ you’ll understand why I promptly forgot about it and moved on.

The pesky thing formed a lump. A fairly painful lump, tiz true, but I paid scant more attention to it. Until at a point this week, when I noticed the lump was about the size of a lemon. ‘Hmmmm’, I thought, ‘that’s not good’ and made an appointment with the doctor.

That was Tuesday and the first appointment they could give me was Thursday afternoon, which seemed fine to me.

On Wednesday, I started antibiotics and noticed that the lump had cellulitis (hot, inflamed skin) for a handspan’s width around it, and the pain was enough to bring me to tears. It was also making me limp as the little act of stepping caused vibrations that added to the pain. ‘Hmmmmm’ I thought, ‘very not good’. I called the doctor and asked for an appointment that day, but it wasn’t possible. So, I carried on my work day and tried my best to ignore it. The drive home was horrendous. The seatbelt was placed right on the lump and I entered the house crying my eyes out. Wes looked after me that night, and 1/3 a bottle of wine later I managed to get some sleep (I pumped FIRST, people).

Now that I write it out, it seems crazy-bad. But at the time of going to doctors on Thursday, I was still concerned they would think I was being a hypocondriac, roll their eyes and reluctantly write me a prescription for antibiotics (I think this is a hangover from my days in the hands of the skeptical NHS). It was not the case. As soon as the nurse saw it she said “Oh, that is bad, bad, bad” and went and got Dr. Goodpastor.

I actually had several things to tell Dr. Goodpastor about, but as soon as she saw the lump, any mention of my sciatica and potential yeast (er… sorry…) went out of her head. She gently looked at it, while I yelled in agony. She was super concerned with how deep into my flesh it was, and how close to my hip bone. She was pretty sure it was MRSA and although she mentioned antibiotics, she felt it needed to be opened to drain. The problem was that it was so deep that she couldn’t get the local anesthetic in to really numb it. She was reluctant, but to mess with it, but with my encouragment (I REALLY wanted relief) a very sympathetic Dr. Goodpastor got lidocaine into the top layer (no stranger to pain, I swear that was as painful as anything that happened with the birth of Sam), while I yelled and sweated so much the bed was drenched. But, it didn’t numb the darn thing. As she lightly cut the top with a scalpel, all the inflamed bottom layers felt like someone was holding a burning cigarette relentlessly to my skin.

I figured she would send me home with anti biotics and try again later, but as she looked at it closely she noticed grey, purple and black patches and said ‘I am sending you to a surgeon’.

I was dumbfounded. I needed several rounds of ‘really?’ and ‘yes’ before it sunk in. The surgeon was closed right then (more rounds of ‘really? It is that urgent?’ and ‘yes’) and Dr Goodpastor was tempted to send me to ER. I persuaded her to give me one more night to see if the super antibiotics and anti inflammatories would work, so she booked me in for 10 the next day.

The saddest part of the whole thing was that I can’t breastfeed for a whole 2 weeks 😦 The drugs are not good for Sam. It’s not so much the formula (although with MRSA around, I really would like Sam to be getting breast milk), but it is that 4-7 am stretch where Sam and I curl up together and he feeds from me on and off, which is so special to me. It is my absolute favorite time, and I know Sam will find it a hard adjustment losing that, and I hate that for him. He always wakes me with the biggest smile and I hate that we’ll miss it for a while. Plus, I HATE that to keep my supply up, I’ll have to pump and dump for a while. Pumping is the worst, but it keeps me going as it allows me to do those night feeds. Boo to all that wasted effort!

So sad to pump and dump this. SO SAD.

So sad to pump and dump this. SO SAD.

Sad to say that one very painful night later, it all looked just the same in the morning. So, off to Dr. Appel, a surgeon, I went. When he saw it, he too pulled a face and said that basically, the infection was drilling down and down (not working its way up and out) and killing tissue on the way, so that no antibiotics could reach it. Gross. He had to remove the infection and the dead fat all around it. Double gross.

On the plus side, he fast tracked me to St. Luke’s Hospital, where I immediately had a minor surgery (just over an hour) that went well. I did have a minor freak out about the procedure – not because I didn’t recognize that this was the most minor of operations, but because everything spiraled so crazily from a routine induction with Sam, the memory still haunts me a bit. I remember wanting to fight the anesthetic because they didn’t know if I would wake up, and that time (a split second really) thinking about Sam being left without a Mum, and how I wouldn’t know he had been, or see him, or be able to help him, and that deep sadness it made me feel remains with me. So, I wasn’t best pleased for a general. But, on the plus side, I think I am now over my fear of hospitals and procedures because this one went so well! I have been reminded that everything can go swimmingly! Although it still hurts, the pain is somehow less upsetting. It’s as if my body knew the last pain was a bad pain, and this is a healing pain, if that makes sense? I don’t fight this pain (although, they did also give me some pretty gnarly drugs, so we’ll see how I feel when those wear off 😉  ).

Workin' that hospital gown

Workin’ that hospital gown

St. Luke’s were super sweet. They let Sam sit on the gurney with me while I was wheeled from the prep room to the OR waiting room 1 floor up. He loved it! Everyone waved at him, and he was looking around, quite fascinated by the experience. It was like taking a little fairground ride with him. And of course, when they wheeled me to the recovery room, Sam was waiting for me with Wes, and both had huge smiles.

Sam loving his gurney ride

Sam loving his gurney ride

It’s all good now. I am in a fair amount of pain, which I guess you would expect when doctors dig out lumps of you for an hour or so, but in good spirits. I go for a check-up on Monday, and am optimistic that that will be the end of this whole sorry tale!

Thanks to everyone for their kind words and wishes 🙂