A double mastectomy is major surgery of a type that I had been fortunate to avoid for all of my 50 years on the planet, if you don’t count an appendectomy at 19 which I don’t because it doesn’t take two months to recover from having an infected quasi-mysterious possible filtration organ removed from one’s body.
I was having my surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, or “The Brig,” nicknamed thusly because that’s how Boston shows it cares. Whether you’re an institution or an individual, around here if you have a vague feeling that you might actually be the butt of the joke? That’s how you know it’s love.
In fact, if you can’t appreciate the irony of how much we love kvetching about: the winters/living in the city/commuting to the city/fighting traffic in the city/parking in the city/traffic circles/parking tickets on Newbury Street/the summers/how slow the T has become/how high Sox tickets are now/how bad our allergies are this spring (extra points if you do this on the very first nice day of the season)/how Facebook left Boston for Silicon Valley/how one of the Jordan’s furniture guys went Hollywood/anything about NY/how the autumn leaves aren’t as pretty as when we were kids…with how equally passionately we also bristle when anyone who is just visiting or who used to live here complains about the same, then you don’t understand that what we’re actually saying is that we think New England is the best place in the world to live by any standard or stretch of the imagination. Our love for the region is so expansive and generous we can afford to be wickedly audacious about it.
That’s why I was strangely comforted by the idea of having my surgery/being incarcerated in a hospital/prison that’s so gigantic it’s practically its own city.
As we got closer to my surgery date, an entire village of friends and family (including so many people volunteering to help there were some I wasn’t sure I actually knew) scurried to organize lists and schedules for all the things I would need help with post-op — meals, rides for my kids, rides for me down to Boston for follow-ups, grocery shopping, laundry, even “Sooz sitting” (which would include things like keeping me company, washing my hair, helping me with surgical drains and most importantly making sure I didn’t try to make a break for it insisting I was ready to go back to work early), I felt a strange, burgeoning sense of calm infusing my thinking most days. Part of it was my gratitude for being so well cared for, which still moves me to tears when I remember how this tribe, my tribe, felt their tremendous fear and sadness about what was happening to us again, but just rolled up their sleeves anyway and got to work.
But another part of it was a daily download I was getting intuitively that indicated I would recover well from surgery, and that the scientific unknowns (would the final pathology results indicate I’d need chemo? Would reconstruction go well? Would I struggle with the side effects of endocrine therapy?) were going to bank in my favor. There was a teeny tiny light at the end of the tunnel, and I was beginning to feel confident that it wasn’t the Downeaster.
But really, the main sign I took that everything was going to be ok for me and my children as we wound through the second part of a season of loss, was when I arrived for my afternoon of pre-op appointments and discovered there was a Starbucks in The Brig.
Because way to go Brigham and Women’s, nothing broadcasts health and wellness than a corporate menu offering as many ridiculous sugar and caffeine combinations as you could possibly imagine, the pinnacle of which is an over-sized, over-priced coffee milkshake rebranded into a sophisticated form of blended refreshment… for people with serious health conditions and their families, not to mention all the medical professionals and staff. Because you just knew we couldn’t wait to drink a fucking Frappacino in a fucking major medical center, Guy!