I was a woman on the verge.
I was quite literally sick and tired all of the time. My wound — still there, still draining — was taking a physical and mental toll. It was a painful reminder that all was not well.
I was still going to the clinic three times a week, where I would drop my pants while a student nurse did the work while the supervising nurse commented.
See how she has hypergranulation around the site?
I felt like an experiment. Since I was the first rectal wound most of these nurses had seen before, maybe I was.
Meanwhile, Dr. J and I were at an impasse. Our bi-weekly appointments became tense standoffs. I told him something was off. My wound, which at one point looked like it was ready to heal for good, was draining yellow again. Once again, I would come home to find wound drainage had leaked through my jeans. Why? (Also, how many people noticed my wet ass and didn’t tell me?)
He showed me MRI results and reports that said there was no definitive answer why that was. Therefore, he couldn’t do anything about it. Are you making sure they’re packing the wound tightly at the clinic?
Again, it fell on me. I didn’t perform the surgery, but it was my responsibility to heal the wound.
I finished out my first year of law school in a zombie state. I had stopped socializing — save for the time I went to formal, but became so overwhelmed and anxious that I left early and spent most of the time crying in the hotel lobby. I left an unopened can of beer in the suite some of my classmates had rented out for the night. I hope someone enjoyed it after I did my Irish exit.
I kept my head down. I wrote my exams in a separate room, because I was worried I would have to get up to change my underwear in the middle of one. When the term was finally over and my marks came back, I was defeated but not surprised. I had been foolish enough to start school when I wasn’t well. I probably deserved what came after.
At least I had a job. Not a legal job, but a job that paid well and was a few blocks away from the hospital where I saw Dr. J. Except now I wasn’t just seeing Dr. J.
Dr. J had the idea to refer me to the wound care department. A full year after I started seeing him again for the wound, and nearly two years after I first met with him for my consultation.
I went into my wound care appointment with a mission. I wanted another wound vac. Not the giant, mid-’90s monstrosity from before. There was a smaller one on the market — the apparatus was the size of an iPhone, the tubes were thin and opaque and the wound dressing was smaller and presumably, less prone to smelling like a dead body.
It was called a Pico, and in my mind the Pico was my magic bullet.
I had brought it up to Dr. J several times, and was dismissed each time in turn. The science isn’t proven, he would say. They released it to the market without really testing it. I don’t think it really works.
I was ready to state my case to wound care. They were on board with it, and said they could convince Dr. J to order one. Success.
This next part is the reason why I’ve been putting off writing this. Why I’ve written year-end recaps and Disney hot takes instead of the series I’ve been working on for the better part of nine months.
I still can’t make sense of this.
But, I’ll try.
I had my Pico. I wore it to work, and my colleagues didn’t notice. It was uncomfortable, but since discomfort was a relative concept, it wasn’t that bad. I could do two weeks with this. Hell, I could do three.
Except on day two, I called in sick to work. The dressing smelled like an animal carcass left in the trash, which also describes how I felt wearing said dressing. I stayed in bed, because that’s what you do when you smell/feel like death. Not quite chained to the bed, but pretty damn close.
That evening, I couldn’t take it anymore. Screw being healed. I wanted out. I wanted to feel clean again and scrub every inch of my body until my skin shed off.
I tore it off. What I found underneath it, however.
I need to explain a few things before we go further. In February, things had been pretty good. My wound was improving, and Dr. J had prescribed a different packing material to close it for good. It looked like a blue foam tube. Clinic visits had become mercifully short. Fine by me. Give me all the blue foam tubes.
Then, I got the flu. The stomach flu. The kind where you see your life flash before your eyes as you’re certain that someone will find you dead, hunched over the toilet bowl and probably in your underwear. The kind that makes you lose those ten pounds, only because you can’t even keep water down. That flu.
I did not leave the house. Thrice-weekly clinic visits weren’t on the table. And around this time, things get a bit blurry.
Once I recovered from the flu, the wound got worse. I thought it was because my body had gotten weaker, my immune system was trying so hard to fight the stomach bug that it forgot about my wound.
“It’s possible,” they all said.
Blue foam tubes weren’t effective anymore. We were back to the big guns. Long, uncomfortable, sandpaper-rough strips of fabric coated in iodine and tightly shoved up my ass with the pointy end of a q-tip. Clinic visits were now a good 30 minutes.
This is when I got the MRIs, the wound care referrals, all the things that indicated that no, I was not almost healed.
That flu must have really done a number on me.
Which brings us to June, the night I’m tearing off my Pico dressing. Under the dressing was a foam tube. No longer blue.
It was never about the flu.
First, I laughed. Only me, amirite? It’s like an episode of Broad City up in here!
Then I realized that this kind of thing isn’t really funny. And actually, there are entire classes at my school dedicated to this kind of thing. I took a picture of it. I got mad.
A piece of medical debris was left inside my body for five months. A piece of medical debris that was not caught by the MRI. The Pico sucked it out. It would have been left in there even longer if Dr. J had continued to refuse one. I don’t want to think about what could have happened if it had been left in there longer.
See what I mean when I say I can’t make sense of it?
It was at that point that my trust in Dr. J eroded completely. Between him and the clinic, nobody wanted to claim responsibility for what happened. I can’t blame them, but I also feel cheated. Over five months of pain, embarrassment and misery with no explanation. Five months of being gaslit.
All Dr. J had to say was “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
It happened. To me.
I’m sorry too.