It was supposed to be routine surgery. I was supposed to go home that afternoon. But surgery that was supposed to last for 30 minutes went on for hours. My gallbladder was so “diseased” — the surgeon’s word — that it was breaking apart during surgery. He said I could have died from sepsis.
I was recovering from the surgery Sunday afternoon — still assuming everything had gone normally — when the surgeon came to visit me and explain how lucky I had been.
Nurses and doctors told me I should take a couple of weeks to recover because of the unexpected complexity of the surgery, but I was back at work before the week was over. Others who had had the same surgery warned me that it would take months — maybe up to a year — before I felt right.
What nobody prepared me for was the emotional effect it had on me.
While I was making trips to the emergency room in late 2017 and then being admitted for emergency surgery that first week of January 2018, I was too focused on the practical things that had to be done to allow myself to feel much. In the months that followed, though, I felt a lot of things.
Mostly, the entire experience made me feel deathly alone.
Yes, there were people who cared about me. I had calls and visits at the hospital. People were offering to do things for me. I really don’t mean to imply that I was literally alone in the world. I had good friends who did good things for me.
But that’s not what I mean. Emotionally, I was alone. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as alone as I was then. The entire experience just crystallized what I already knew — that I desperately needed the right partner.
I don’t mean that I simply wanted someone around to do things for me. I’m at least as interested in doing things for someone else, probably more. But having someone with you when you go through a time of trouble — emotionally with you, invested in you, loving you — is something for which there’s no substitute.
In the months after the surgery, I slowly started feeling more like myself physically. I’ll never be able to eat exactly the same ways again without feeling terrible, but that’s not really a bad thing. It turns out that the things which bother me are the very things which I already knew I shouldn’t eat. Over a year or so, those things slowly worked themselves out.
But the emotional recovery was much longer. I can’t say it’s really over — or that it can be over — unless I find the right partner. Not really. In a way, I’ve always felt a bit invincible, but this experience makes me hate living alone more than ever. It makes me wish for someone there — someone who cared as much for me as I cared about her.
I decided a few months into the recovery that I was going to give myself a year to deal with the fallout from this. I’ve cut myself some slack on some things. I’ve let myself take a lot of things more slowly than I had planned. I gave myself permission to go slowly for a year.
That year is up and it’s time to move back to a more normal pace.
I have a lot to get done, but the practical things are fairly easy to deal with. It’s getting them done without falling into that emotional hole that’s so difficult.
The writer Edna St. Vincent Millay would know what I’m talking about. In one of her letters, she wrote, “Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”
I’m exhausted from falling into that hole, but I don’t yet know how to make it go away. Still, life has to go on. And it’s time.