I write about what you---
women, wives and moms---
about your family, faith and future.
I write about what's hard, what helps and what heals.
I show you how it's done. And not done.
I hold your hand as you find what matters to the Savior.
And let go of those things that mattered to you, but not to Him.
I write about what Him.
               Sonya Contreras

​When Life Is Awful

Back in March of 2018, I called Joey at work (a rare thing) and told him I "didn't feel right." I had been having nondescript symptoms.
He asked if I was having shortness of breath. 
I guess I could imagine that I was, but that’s not how I would describe it.
He wanted me to go to the doctor right then.
They ran a blood test, (after poking me three times), said I had 7 iron, ran an EKG and sent me home telling me to double my iron.
Joey said a 7 iron reading should be admitted to the hospital. And he couldn't understand why the doctor hadn't.
Maybe that explains why I felt “off” and had shortness of breath?
He was going to army drill that weekend, and was concerned to leave me alone.
We went to the ER that night. They re-did my tests—said my iron was fine. EKG was fine...and basically told me "don't be anxious." So I thought, I've joined all the "anxious-ridden" women in the nation and decided not to ask Joey any questions about my health.

After several stressful family events, the stress (or so I thought) made my system "run". When I asked Joey (I forgot about my resolution not to ask him about my health), if it was normal to have black, tar-like stools, (I had them for 3-4 months) he took me to the doctor the next day. (Different doctor.)
She immediately referred me to a GI doctor for an upper GI bleed.

I pestered the GI doctor's office to "find my records" and "make an appointment." A month and a half later, I had an endoscopy. They found no bleed, but something big was pushing on my stomach from the outside. Big meaning 7-8 cm.

Another month or so later, they scheduled a CT scan for the abdominal and pelvic region. At the follow-up appointment, the GI doctor said the baseball-sized cyst was pushing against my stomach and diaphragm which explains why I can't eat without hurting (it's like having that surgery that takes out half your stomach) and why I can't get a deep breath—because it hinders my diaphragm from lowering.

The GI doctor described a pill-sized camera if internal bleeding was indicated. I would swallow it, and the pictures would be read on an outside monitor. I asked what they did with the camera after it went through. He said they didn’t want it back. (What a waste! no pun intended.)
The GI doctor referred me to a liver doctor since the cyst was attached to my liver and scheduled a MRI.
RE MRI: Why do they give you head phones to listen to music and then tell you not to move. How do you not move when there’s a beat! Then the sound of the machine sounds like a fire alarm, and I thought they left me while the fire roared around me. (Where do you put your imagination when you are suppose to be still?)
More blood work ruled out cancer and iron deficiency (which would indicate a bleed somewhere, which started us on this investigation).
I waited for the GI staff to refer me to the liver doctor on their own sweet time.
After calling three times, and being told all three times they sent the paperwork which the liver doctor’s office never received, I called the liver doctor crying, “How am I suppose to get you my information for this appointment?”
She took my information and called the GI doctor’s staff.
The soonest appointment was a month later.

When I told Joey, THOSE were the symptoms I was having back in March—that pressure, "off" feeling, something wasn't right... that started us on this road. He said, they did protocol—when you see a hoof, you think "Horse", thus the EKG but I had a zebra’s hoof, which they weren't looking for. Who would have thought cyst the size of a baseball that hinders your breathing?
Only when I doubled the iron and showed more “tangible” symptoms were they able to diagnose the real problem.

The liver doctor described the procedure as in-and-out in one day with “no pain” before, during or after.
I questioned that one.
He was reassuring.
I still doubted.

(The white globs are the cysts. The sliver beside the biggest on the left picture is my stomach, my diaphragm is smashed against the upper part of the right picture.)

He showed a picture of the cysts. He thought one for sure needed to come out. I told him those three neededto come out. He said, “We’ll see.”
I was ready to be able to breath without gasping after standing and panting after moving laundry. 
I was ready for a night’s rest that wouldn’t be interrupted by feelings of “fullness” because I ate dinner after 4 PM and it sat in my stomach like a compression knot. 
I was ready to eat a lot and enjoy it again.
I was ready for my heart not to be poked. and my bowels not not be smashed into not working.

So the pre-surgery preparations included a colon clean (never fun), extensive drinking of pre-surgery protein drinks and sterilizing showers.

The morning of surgery, my husband and I were talking about life. I told him, “I could die today.” (My timing was not the best.) He told me not to tell him that. I laughed and said, “This day could be anyone’s day to die. And I’m just anyone.” He wasn’t ready to hear that. 

After being told by the nurses not to leave post-op without addressing any pain issues, and after the surgical nurse told me “You do not want to spend the night. Hospitals are for sick people and the food is awful.”

The doctor, in the pre-surgery prep-talk , told me, “You will be spending the night.” I reminded him that he had told me it would be in-and-out. He said, “You’re an hour away from the hospital…I’m 90% sure you’ll be staying the night.”
I was 90% sure I was going home. But had that dragging dread of existing in the “dreaded hospital for one night.”

Surgery went well. But the doctor lied to me. So much for no pain. He was testing a new patch that “should” control pain for 48 hours. It didn’t work.
The post-nurse gave me all the medicine she was allowed. And sent me to dismissal still very much in pain.

When I couldn’t raise my arm without pain, I asked the nurse. He said the “gas they pump in your gut dissipates through your body and focuses in your shoulder and back. Most of the time it happens the next day, but in your rare case, it came now.”
Glad I asked, otherwise, I’d wonder why I can’t lift my arm or shoulder, or breath without shoulder pain.

Still I asked Joey if he thought they could have dropped me when they transferred me from the surgery bed to the hospital bed. It sure felt like they had.

In recovery, I chewed ice chips and try not to move, although I’m suppose to breath deeply, which makes me feel all my incisions. Shifting my shoulder brings intense pain.
But like the doctor said, “NO PAIN.”

The doctor did tell my husband he needed to take out all three cysts. All  caused the symptoms. One of them very deep. He told him with a smile.
He did send me home that day, said I did “Swimmingly.” Maybe my good behavior is when I’m under drugs and out.

Breathing is painful. Don’t make me laugh. I pray I don’t have to cough, and throwing up feels like it twists my gut inside out and shoves me beyond tomorrow’s pain.
I count down the minutes before I can take the next pain pill, and wonder how you don’t get addicted to these things when pain pounds in your body for longer periods than I will know.
If I don’t curb my “no pain” before I see him, I may just kick him and say that shouldn’t hurt either.
I am suppose to walk, take ten deep breathes every waking hour and not lift anything over 10 lbs for two weeks. 
I wander around aimlessly, but being unable to do anything but walk defeats the purpose of why I walk. And I don’t even thinkabout lifting anything, forget the 10 lb limit. Reaching, bending and sitting makes me wonder how to do it creatively so as not to feel pain. (Can you sit without bending?)

Some day soon, pain aside, I will breath better and eat more (well, maybe that’s not a good thing), sleep better, and have the energy I had prior to this experience. 
I have lost that pregnant look—where I can’t see my toes because my gut is sticking out so far, so that should be encouraging.
I can hear one son unloading the dishwasher without my asking, bless him—for the bending makes me wince, groan, and wonder why this should be so hard. The boys have all chipped in with flowers, lifting, cleaning, laundry, reaching…
I’m grateful for them and my husband, who holds my hand when I cry because sitting is such an effort. Who would have thought?

Remembering this past year, I can remember the frustrations of waiting, of not breathing, eating, and sleeping.
But these things were minor compared to life happening around me.

One son got married, another was engaged, two more have found women they are starting to know as their best friends, our married sons have their own struggles and joys. That doesn’t include what happened at our house, a whirlwind of activity.
Life went on around me, regardless of my health.

Was life awful? No, life isn’t awful. It’s just very full.
Full of pain and joy.
Sunshine and rain.
Knowing pain makes me appreciate comfort.
Struggling to breathe gives not thinking about it a sort of ecstasy.
Even eating is not taken for granted, at least for a little bit. 
Waiting brought a dependence on God.
My pain was only physical, where surgery fixes and healing answers. It’s nothing compared to other pains. Hurts of the heart, where no knife but God’s can fix and where He alone must heal. 
That’s life too. 
Your trust in God is tested on a deeper level.
You survive on His strength.
You learn He is reliable and trustworthy.
My pain will go away, not as soon as I want, but as soon I need.
But with it, I hope I can still remember to appreciate the little, important things—
like breathing, eating, sitting, doing nothing but holding my husband’s hand, and trusting God.
‘Cause life isn’t so awful after all.    

Displaying all 3 comments

I'm so, so sorry! You are very dear.

Thank you for telling us your story, even in the midst of all the pain.

God bless you and heal you!

I cried so hard I could not finish the letter. Your friendship means so much to me. Please don't ever use the word die and your name in the same sentence. You are so needed in this world. You bring us all balance and hope.

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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