After the
The mastectomy went so smoothly I didn't suffer even one minute of pain, which was a shame because I'd been looking forward to needing to relieve the pain with a nice narcotic. During labor I was given morphine and in one instant completely understood why people become drug addicts. The pain was still there, but I just didn't care because I was busy being warm and happy. Filthy crack houses, cockroaches, and societal scorn --- all the bugaboos of being a junkie --- seemed like a fair trade for the joyous rapture I felt when the nurse plunged the opiate into my IV drip.

It had been over a year since I experienced that level of pleasure and I was jonesing to feel so blank and cozy again. Only this time, unfortunately, there was no pain. I was sore, of course, but this was nothing like the twenty hours of contractions and the C-section I'd suffered through with Lucas. Eight hundred milligrams of Tylenol could have set me right. Nevertheless, I lobbied for the real drugs. The nurse administered it and I almost cried from disappointment.

Not only was I not enveloped in the warm embrace of a drug-induced high, the disappointment was dampening the natural high I was already experiencing from having my husband and ex-fiancé and ex-boyfriend all visiting at the same time. There I sat on a mechanical, Posturepedic dais, bald and one-titted, while the two exes rushed to fluff my pillows and Thibault studied my appearance, wondering if he had in fact won or lost. I should have been luxuriating in it, but instead I sat, frantically pumping the dosage button and worrying that my drainage bag would fall out of my gown and expose the bulb full of serum and lymph.

I stayed in the hospital for three days even though they said I could leave the day of the surgery. This was the first chance I'd had to be by myself since the diagnosis, and to sleep alone, no husband stealing the covers, no baby kicking me in the neck, since getting married. I felt like I was really on a vacation. I wasn't even encouraged to go out and play golf or swing on a trapeze. I could just stay in the room, read, watch television, and sleep. My nurses brought me food and changed my dressings and linens. My bed sat me up and laid me down. I had a nice, private room with a lovely view of the city. I didn't even have to be pleasant and chat up some roommate. It was blissful.

When I explained to the nurses that I didn't ever want to leave they looked at me like my labor-and-delivery nurse had when it was time to remove my catheter. I'd had it in for three days after my Cesarean and had grown to love it. It seems odd to adore a tube hanging from your crotch, attached to a plastic bag filled with warm urine, but I did. I'd spent the previous nine months running to the toilet every twenty minutes, day and night. The last two months I ran to the toilet and still peed on myself when I stood up afterward. It drove me crazy. Urinating effortlessly and at my leisure into a bag was down-right luxurious. I didn't even have to empty the reservoir. It was hidden under my sheets and I completely forgot about it until the nurses came to whisk it away...

Sunday morning, my last day in the hospital, Dr. Ree swung by to change my dressing. She had on yoga clothes and a backpack and looked about sixteen years old. She seemed very nervous and kept touching my shoulder. "Are you ready to do this?"

"Hell yeah!" I loved stitches ever since I was a kid and my father taught me how to take out my cat's. "Let's get a mirror!"

"Are you sure, Meredith? Sometimes people get upset."

"Whatever. There's a mirror in here." I led her into the little bathroom. She unswaddled my rib cage slowly. Finally, there it was. On the left side sat my smashed flat, deflated boob, and on the right side, nothing, just a thin line of steri-strip tape over the actual incision. Flat as a wall. There were no black stitches, no gruesome scar. It was just gone.

"You are a freaking magician! I so should have gone to medical school." I looked at it from every angle. Thibault had been lingering in the background but I pulled him in front of the mirror. "Look," I said. He looked perplexed, like it was some sort of smoke-and-mirrors trick.

We were both expecting a horror show, bear mauling, or something. But this was so tidy that it was hard to believe a breast had ever been there. Then she wrapped me back up and left. I was officially eligible to join the Amazon archery club.

--- From Lopsided: How Having
Breast Cancer Can Be
Really Distracting

Meredith Norton
©2008 Viking/Penguin