As most of you know, I travelled to Mayo Clinic on June 25th for surgery. I had the advantage of knowing ahead of time (because Mayo is so organized) the exact dates and times of the procedures leading up to the surgery, the details of the surgery itself, and the after-effects to expect. I worked out the logistics for driving out to Rochester, Minnesota, the plan for after my discharge from the hospital and remaining stay, and the expected schedule for my return drive to Arlington, Virginia. While I needed to be flexible, I had enough information to have a good sense of my schedule. I knew that I would need all of July and most of August for surgery and recovery.
After Memorial Day weekend, I instituted a “hard stop” in my schedule. I refrained from making social plans, work commitments or anything else outside of yoga, reading, resting, and general tasks necessary to prepare for the trip. I did my best to get the maximum amount of sleep, ate as healthy as I could, and focused on getting in shape for major colostomy surgery. I wanted to do everything in my power to set myself up for as much success as possible. Overall, I was comfortable in this frame of mind. I love to read, and I enjoy watching my favorite television shows; I found it to be a treat to go to multiple yoga classes a week, and because I was struggling with my health, the extra slee
p was necessary. About a week and a half before it was time to leave, I started feeling antsy. I wanted to get the show on the road. I was tired of waiting. I felt like I was in a holding pattern. I was in limbo.
One of the common definitions of “in limbo” is that you are “in an uncertain or undecided state or condition.” That aptly describes my frame of mind. I was getting bored. I wasn’t used to a routine that was not filled with activity. Sometimes I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do because the options were limited. And the uncertainty of what was ahead of me lingered in the back of my mind. Would the surgery be successful? How long was I going to be in Minnesota? Was my recovery going to take 6 to 8 weeks? The days felt very long. I did not complain, but I felt uncomfortable and uncertain. This was not the way I was used to living my life.
Fast-forward to July 3rd. Things are in motion and I am no longer in limbo. I am discharged from the hospital after successful surgery. As planned, I am back in my hotel across the street waiting for my July 5th post-op appointment. I have made the logistical plans for the drive home. A routine develops. Each day I get up in the late morning; eat brunch/lunch with my husband, sister and personal assistant; spend the early afternoon either reading, going for coffee or doing a little bit of shopping in the area. Then, I’d take a late afternoon rest and get up feeling refreshed. We’d all go to dinner and then return to the hotel, so I could get to bed. While this lasted only a few days, it became a comfortable routine.
On July 6th, I took my first post-surgery drive in my van. We drove an hour up to Minneapolis to drop my sister and husband off at the airport. We immediately returned to Rochester, so I was able to see how I felt after a two- hour drive. My assistant Amy and I both napped and then we went out for dinner, going to bed at about 8 pm so we could begin our journey home. Starting Saturday morning, we developed another comfortable routine. Each day we travelled 3 to 4 hours. We got up at approximately 7:30 am; ate breakfast at the hotel; drove straight to our destination; checked into our hotel; headed out for a late lunch/early dinner; returned to the hotel; did some reading and relaxing; and then went to bed. We did that for four days until we arrived back in Virginia.
I then began a period of total rest. I was tired. Three weeks of no computer or social media. My time was spent reading, eating, sleeping, and going to follow-up medical appointments. I was also learning about my colostomy. What foods should I be eating? What colostomy products worked the best? Lots of adjustments to be made. Without much else to do, these major life changes were not stressful. I knew that this was part of my recovery.
After about five weeks, I started once again feeling like I was in limbo. I was not ready to go back to a full schedule. But I needed more. I was getting antsy. For someone usually operating on a regular schedule, I was not sure how to best add activities without doing too much. Is one lunch date doable? And if I add a coffee date the next day will I get too tired? And what about going through my email? Was I going to tire myself out if I spent more than an hour or two? I was able to monitor my limits and figure out when I needed to stop, but a week or two after that, it wasn’t so clear. Again, I felt uncertain and uncomfortable. I didn’t have a routine. It seemed as if my life was completely off-balance.
Today I am exactly eight weeks post-surgery. I’m not completely back to my normal schedule, but I am getting there. I’ve had to be patient with myself. I realized that it was necessary and okay to decline social engagements for a longer time than I expected and I’m still going slow in that regard. I was able to go back to yoga relaxation classes two weeks ago and that was a treat. Last week, I went to my first active yoga class. It felt so good to move my body. But I still need a long nap in the afternoon. I’m asleep long before my husband comes to bed. And after dinner I’m not up that long and I usually want to read and go right back to bed. I don’t get my usual second wind after a nap.
What have I learned though all of this? Why is it helpful for me to recount my comfort with routine and my discomfort with uncertainty? I have realized that there are going to be times in life when I will be “in limbo” and I must be patient and go with the flow. There are not always going to be clear lines and a set timeframe for recovery from surgery or downtime needed after other major life events. It is necessary to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
We are headed to the beach in eight days. We will be there for a week. I have no doubt that I will enjoy every minute. But I have a sneaking suspicion that when we return I will once again be in limbo. Not the same in limbo that I was in before and after surgery. But in limbo adjusting from a completely relaxed vacation back to the realities of daily life. Piles of paperwork, errands to be done, work to accomplish, and social activities on the calendar. But I’m hoping that my experience of becoming comfortable with uncertainty will make everything a little bit easier.