Thanks for sticking with me. I like to do a special post on the last day of the challenge, sort of a celebration of my personal accomplishment, and a 'thank you' to those that have been reading along.
I thought I'd share the Prologue I wrote for my novel.
I should warn you, this is a long post. And there are no pictures for my visual friends. But it's the start of what I hope I will be able to write and finish, and finally share with everyone.
Every woman remembers the time in her life when she was at her thinnest. Maybe it was her wedding day. Or when she first moved into her own place and was living on ramen. Or perhaps it was when she was dating the guy with all the tattoos who survived on black coffee and cigarettes.
For me, I was at my thinnest in December of 2004.
I was coming off a week-long recovery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Seriously, if you’re ever looking to lose those last few pesky pounds, a stint in a hospital works wonders.
Without boring you with the details (I’ll do that later, I promise), I had discovered in October that I had cancer, and I opted for a radical surgical treatment that would hopefully eliminate the need for chemotherapy or radiation.
Prior to entering the hospital, I was in decent shape and at a normal weight. I had kicked up my workout routine over the summer as part of Operation: Wedding Prep. After all, I had to don a fancy white dress and stand up in front of everyone and recite vows in just eight short months.
My diet in the hospital consisted mostly of English Muffins, cranberry juice and a morphine drip. I spent a week wearing the uncomfortable mesh underwear that they give you (and that you can take home because who doesn’t want mesh granny panties to wear at their leisure?), and an unfashionable hospital gown 3 sizes too big. I didn’t see my reflection in a mirror for an entire week, and only stole glances at my body when the nurses forced me to go through the excruciatingly painful process of taking a shower; and even then, my eyes were usually clamped shut because I was doubled-over wincing.
On the afternoon before I was being discharged, my fiancé Rob and I were watching what felt like our 137th hour of HGTV. I was sitting up in my adjustable bed on top of the covers like a princess. I was marveling at how long my leg hair had gotten, when I took a good look at the two pasty white sticks poking out from my hospital gown. I started to massage my thigh just above my right kneecap.
“I feel like I’ve been in this bed forever,” I whined to Rob. “Do you think my muscles are going to atrophy? All that hard work I put in at the gym, then one week here and POOF, my legs stop working.”
From the love seat-turned-cot that had served as his (uncomfortable) bed for the week, Rob raised an eyebrow at me. It’s the same look he gives me when he discovers I’ve shoved over-sized items in our trash can. Or when I pretend to know anything about geography. “Um, no. I do not think your muscles are going to atrophy.”
In response I hold up one leg in the air, “Look at my calf! It’s like my skin is hanging off the bone. My muscles shrank. I may finally have skinny legs!”
I should note, that my body was not made to ever be skinny, no matter how much time and effort I put into exercise and dieting. My Italian heritage has always kept me short and curvy, especially around the hips. Prior to my surgery, I had gotten myself down to a size 4, a size I hadn’t seen since high school. So could I be thin? Sure. But I will never have a standing thigh gap.
Atrophied legs or not, the next day they sent me home with a catheter (oh what fun!) and heavy duty pain meds, and the promise that my appetite would be back soon. Oh, I could eat cheese again? And can’t exercise for 8 weeks? Nice knowing you, size 4.
My first week home was challenging, even with my senior-citizen dosage of medications I was taking every day. I was in pain in the hospital, but I had my trusty morphine drip and nurses at my beck and call. God I missed my morphine drip. We had some good times together.
Apparently when they cut your abdomen open and sew you back up, every little thing you do afterwards hurts. Sharp, excruciating pains would shoot through my body whenever I coughed, sneezed, sighed, laughed, breathed or blinked.
Three weeks into my medical leave – all of which consisted of me trying to win Ellen’s amazing holiday gift giveaways, taking short walks up and down our small street, and coming to terms with the fact that I was toting around my own urine everywhere I went – we were invited to a holiday party by one of Rob’s coworkers.
Rob looked at me expectantly. “You up to going?”
Though I was still in pain, I was moving around much better these days. Plus, the thought of hanging around with people other than myself was rather enticing.
“I have just the catheter for this party!” I exclaimed, pointing to the bag on the floor. When I left the hospital they gave me a ‘travel’ catheter that I could use if I was going to leave the house. You do a simple switcheroo with the tubes from the main catheter to this pint-sized one and then strap it to your leg and voila! Party ready.
In the last month my wardrobe consisted mainly of old sweatshirts and pajama pants –namely Rob’s pajama pants, because I could pull the tubes of my catheter through the fly hole (was I sexy or what???).
I spent an hour seated in front of my closet, reviewing what I had that would fit me. I felt festive in a red sweater (which accentuated my protruding collar bones, btw) and a new pair of winter white pants, that with my recent weight loss were baggy enough to conceal the plastic bag of urine that was strapped to my thigh. I’m not going to lie, I loved this new thinner – albeit slightly medicated – me.
We didn’t know many people at the party, which was actually a blessing because it meant just a handful of folks knew I had just undergone a radical surgery. And, thankfully, no one knew that I was secretly toting bodily fluids under my clothing.
I’m sure the party was a blast, but I had trouble letting myself enjoy it because 1. I was drinking cranberry juice and seltzer (liquor and meds don’t mix well) and 2. I was paranoid that my travel catheter was going to leak. I felt like the 13 year-old girl who had her period for the first time and was wearing white pants. I could see it now: I’m complementing the hostess, “Wow, these canapés are fantastic!” completely oblivious to the face that urine was dripping down my leg and pooling onto their hardwood floors.
After the first hour, I started to relax. I snacked on appetizers, chatted with other party goers, and felt more like myself than I had in a long time.
At some point, the party hosts’ big black lab, Sadie, made her way over to us, wiggling her tail and her whole back end, excited to meet new people.
“Well, hello, you!” I exclaimed, scratching her head and back. “Who’s a good girl?!”
Suddenly Sadie stopped wiggling, whipped her head around, gave a big sniff to the air, and shoved her snout right into the middle of my right thigh! I tried to gently push her away, and shift my body, but she persistent. This dog had found something better than the crotch of the guy next to me.
“Oh my god! She smells my pee!” I whisper-hissed at Rob. “Get her away from me! She’s going to knock the tubes loose!” I put my hands on her big black head and pushed her to the side. But Sadie’s snout came right back. “What if she pees on my leg to mark her territory?" I started to freak out a bit. She’s.so.strong!” I managed, giving her head one final shove.
Rob, sensing a code red, immediately thanked our hosts, got our coats and ushered me out the door.
When we got into the car we burst out laughing. It hurt like hell to do, but I couldn’t stop once I started. Who would ever believe that a dog outted me and my concealed bag of urine?
As I watched the city streets whiz by in a blur of lights, I smiled. I was beyond exhausted. I hadn’t stood, walked, or stayed awake that long since before my surgery. But it was the first night I had felt like myself in a while. And let’s not forget how thin I was! My pants were baggy enough to conceal bodily fluids. That felt good. Weird, but good.
Rob held my hand the whole way home, and helped me into the house. I switched back to my trusty catheter, pulled on Rob’s pajama pants, and settled in on the couch. I was asleep before Rob could cover me with a blanket.
That December, I learned that laughter can truly be the best medicine.
I learned that while being thin is nice, being healthy is most important.
I learned what unconditional love was, and to appreciate my future husband for the amazing person that he was.
And, I learned that no matter how much you try to hide it, dogs can always smell pee.