Second Laparoscopy: Day 30 post-op

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I would like to share a life profile about a co-worker, but first, I need to provide you with background:

In September, 2009, I began working my first school year as a co-teacher in the new Outdoor Classroom. I was also enrolled in a college-level intensive teacher training class for “Practical Life” curriculum every other Saturday. From the moment I began the Fall Semester, I began to get chronically sick. I fought upper respiratory infection after infection, which turned into a full on lung infection by February. It was hard to pin-point at first what the cause of my illness was, because in August I had gotten new foam pillows and a foam bed, gotten my home sprayed (on the inside) to take care of massive ant invasions (they were even coming up through the foundation!), and I had started working outside five days a week. I was by this time using an inhaler for the first time in my life. My doctor decided to pull me from the Outdoor Classroom and said I had to work indoors for three months, to see if my lung infection cleared up. (It did – so the result is that the outdoor classroom is toxic to me).

But that is only the background info – here is the real story I want to share:

At the beginning of March, 2010, I was placed in Ms. Wendy’s 1st & 2nd grade classroom while she was on a three-month leave of absense for a medical reason, which at that time, was not publicly available.

Wendy’s co-teacher Janelle became the head teacher, and I became the assistant. While working in Ms. Wendy’s room, I kept in email contact with her. At one point, I wrote back to her to let her know I had to go home early because of endometriosis pain.
Wendy wrote back to me, saying, “I know how painful it can be. I had it in my twenties and had the laparoscopy. I went on a wheat, dairy and sugar free diet for 6-12 months and that did it for me.”

This was the second teacher in my school to let me know that she had battled endometriosis. The first teacher, Ms. Kim, who worked in one of the pre-kindergarten classrooms, was diagnosed during laparoscopic surgery for fibroids if I remember correctly. She told me that up til that point, she never even knew she had endo, because she was never in the kind of pain that I exhibit. She said apparently she has a bad case of endo, but it doesn’t bother her. She didn’t even know that the stuff grows back after surgery.

So I am teacher #3 with endometriosis in that school – and two out of three said they either manage it well or are not symptomatic.

I began to wonder about Ms. Wendy’s condition, though. She had managed her endometriosis, but what else was going on? Nobody would tell me.

In May, 2010, Wendy returned to her classroom – frail but determined. She looked like she’d been run through chemotherapy, and her fingertips were often blue and cracking.
I finished out the school year as a floater and substitute assistant teacher.

Over the summer, I did not see Wendy for two reasons – not all head teachers wish to work in the summer months, although all employees get the option to work summer daycare classes if they want to, and I had also taken the summer off to finish up the teacher training courses that I had begun in August, 2009.

When we all returned to school for the Autumn 2010 school year, Ms. Wendy had taken a position as head teacher for the 3rd/4th/5th grade classroom, and I was assigned to one of the pre-kindergarten rooms. Every year it seems, teachers can be moved around to gain the widest possible experience (Ms. Janelle stayed on as the 1st/2nd grade teacher, and Ms. Kim took the Kindergarten head teaching position)

By November, however, Ms. Wendy’s health had faltered again, and she once again went on medical leave. It was at this point that the mood of the whole school administration could be easily read – Ms. Wendy was dying. Although information about her condition was still kept secret, rumours leaked that Wendy had in fact battled cancer.

On Tuesday, November 9, while I and another co-worker were enjoying lunch in the break room, the financial director walked in and was teary-eyed. I asked her could she please tell us what is going on with Wendy. She informed us that Wendy came back for a visit, and that this would be our last chance to see her, and that she had chosen not to take any further medical treatments. It came to light that yes, Wendy had cancer, but that was a long time ago. The financial director didn’t know or didn’t want to say any more than that. So we turned to the secretary, who told us that Wendy has something going on with her lungs, that it’s not cancer, but that it is terminal, because she’s chosen not to continue treatment. My co-worker, who I’d been eating lunch with, just lost it at that point as tears ran from her eyes. She sat silently but said she didn’t know if she could compose herself in time to go say goodbye to Ms. Wendy. I gave her a few minutes. This co-worker had grown up in that school and had had Ms. Wendy as a teacher. Incidentally, Ms. Kim, who also has endometriosis, is this co-worker’s mother.

After she composed herself, we walked across the street to the auxilliary classroom to find Wendy exiting the building. We caught her just in time to give gentle hugs and say goodbye. Ms. Wendy asked me how I was doing with my condition. I told her I would be having surgery the next month and that hopefully I would see beneficial results like she had. I told her we are fighters. She smiled, and we watched her get into the car with her family and support network, and drive off.

After that, the school secretary told me without my prompting about an online community that Wendy had organised for people who want to send love and good thoughts to her. Two days later, the secretary emailed me the link, and I sent a request to join. I was approved the same day.

The same day as my surgery, on December 17, 2010, an email went out to the parents of the school, and all of the school staff was copied on the email:

December 17, 2010
Dear Elementary Parents.

It is with great sadness that we have some news to share with you.

We are giving you an update on Ms. Wendy’s condition. Wendy recently informed us that she is now under hospice care for the terminal condition, Pulmonary Hypertension with complications. This means that the constriction of her blood vessels has become a strain on her heart.

So I finally learned what the deal was – the thing that is taking her down is called Pulmonary Hypertension. That explains why her fingers are always blue, and I guess explains how skeletal she’s become.

By being part of Wendy’s online community, that’s how I was invited to a beautiful celebration of life ceremony on Day 30 post-op, Sunday, January 16, 2011.

I had already had an emotional day on January 15, dealing with the loss of babies from two endo sisters. I had spent that day listening to Dead Can Dance and Lisa Gerrard, and the album Duality by Lisa Gerrard stuck in my head and made perfect sense for me to give to Wendy. So before we left to go see Wendy, I burned a copy of the Duality album to gift Wendy with.

My husband drove me because my car’s brakes are in bad shape. I was also cramping because my period was due the next day. I had called my doctor the previous day and asked about my high eosinophil white cell count – I wanted to make sure I was not highly contagious or anything like that. My doctor told me to just wash my hands really well, and that if I were contagious, it would be through contact with my hands. I must have washed my hands five times while at Wendy’s life celebration, because I had repeatedly mopped my eyes and nose. I tried to keep from crying, but the beautiful things that people said to Wendy, who sat at the front of the room in a wheelchair with her husband next to her – it just moved me to tears.

During the two hour event, chanting, thankfulness and love filled the room. We did meditations, and I sent out a blanket of love to enfold the entire room. Literal hearts popping in the air above the blanket of love. It was a very powerful group meditation.
The people who had organised Wendy’s life celebration had printed out lyrics to the chants, and that’s how I found out that Wendy’s belief system is through her Siddha Yoga family. According to wikipedia, “Siddha Yoga is a spiritual path (or new religious movement) based on the Hindu spiritual traditions of Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism.”

When I was in college, I studied world religions, trying to find a new spiritual path for myself. I remember studying Hindu, and it almost gelled for me, but not quite. Then I discovered Buddhism, and it clicked with me in a way that Hinduism could not. I was seeking to get away from the idea of monotheism or an ultimate creator, and Buddhism allowed that for me, and still does. I became attached to Tibetan Buddhism in 1995, and have always held that close to my heart, even when for years I was a practicing Wiccan, then in general a Pagan.

To give you an idea of the similarities and differences of Hinduism and Buddhism, I found this site for you.

During Wendy’s life ceremony, as I said, I shed tears. The emotional power in that room that day overwhelmed me, and my cramps set back in. I had to take my last Ibuprofen and a half Tylenol 3 while sitting there in the audience. I left a half hour before the end of the service, but my husband had not returned yet, so I stood by the door to the room and watched the rest of the service. When Wendy and her husband Madhu bid the crowd goodbye and began to make their way out, I set the CD I had burned for Wendy on a gift table, and quietly left the building. I did not want to chance me being contagious as causing any further immune problems for Wendy. As it was, on the last chant before they left, Wendy was clutching her chest and wincing at times from the pain. And yet she was also so happy to be there in that loving cloud of people chanting with her. It was definitely addictive.

I met my husband in the parking lot, and saw Ms. Kim coming towards her car, so I said hello. We talked for a moment about our endometriosis and I told her how I was doing after surgery, and that I’d be back to work on January 24th. I told Ms. Kim that I’ll be adopting her, “nope, I don’t have endo, there’s nothing wrong with me, must be mistaken!” attitude that she has had since her surgery, and we giggled.

Here are some photos from Wendy’s Life Celebration. All photos courtesy Libby Pink:

Madhu and Wendy

Madhu and Wendy

Live instruments and chanting for Wendy

Live instruments and chanting for Wendy

Madhu, Wendy & Durga, chanting

Madhu, Wendy & Durga, chanting

Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

We went from the celebration of life ceremony straight to another friend’s birthday party that day.
When we walked in, my friend, yet another sufferer of endometriosis, came to me from across the room and said, “Well hello, floaty!” I told her I’m always amazed at how quickly she can recognise my drugged or emotional state, hehe. I told her about the ceremony we’d just come from, and how I was a bit discombobulated. I sat there next to my friend and just listened to conversation for a bit, until I was ready to fully be present in the room.

During the course of the birthday gathering, which was thankfully mellow, I took another half Tylenol 3 for the pain, and had a forbidden glass of red wine to help further calm myself from all that I had experienced that day.

We got home by midnight, and I’m pretty sure I just went right to bed.

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