August 18, 2014 Thyroid Cancer Surgery No. 1

My surgery is today, 8-18-14.


I stopped drinking water at midnight and was a thirsty, mad, nervous, really thirsty woman wandering around my condo collecting Legos, popping them into a giant green container shaped like a giant Lego block. My mom slept over and I was coveting her coffee and drunk off the warm aroma hanging in the air. And I never wanted a sip of Capri Sun more in my life as I watched Jack suck back the tropical flavored goodness. I swished water around my mouth and spit. Crunched on chips of ice chips. 

I ducked into my bedroom, thinking, hmmm, what will I want after Thyroid Cancer surgery? I’ll want leopard PJ pants, Toms slip-ons, soft V-neck T-shirts, my long, light, so comfy emerald green sweater from Anthropology my best friend, Katie, gave me years ago (I think in 2007), undies! … I picked through some more comfy clothes at random, those overpriced PINK! sweatpants (the best!), then folded them neatly, adding them to a row of perfect piles on my bed, assessing like I was going on a fantastic trip before placing them with care into my overnight bag.

In the bathroom, I filled a clear makeup case with mineral powder, Nars Orgasm blush, lip gloss (because obviously I would be putting makeup on at some point), Yes to Cucumbers facial wipes (they are so freakin refreshing and delicious-smelling and I figured easy access if I needed to cleanup in my bed), mouthwash, toothpaste/toothbrush, tweezers (always bring tweezers everywhere), brush, dry shampoo, Dove bar soap and my favorite summertime perfume DKNY Be Delicious by Donna Karen. I zipped the bag and my eyes darted all around making sure I packed all the right things.

The front door swung open. Lucy went running and her tags jingle-jangled. “Uncle BRIIIII!” Jack yelled in delight! “Look what level I got to on Roblox!” I turned the shower on.

Behind the curtain, hot water streamed down my face, neck and body. I pressed my forehead and palms on the tiles, steadying myself for a moment. I willed it to be a normal day. I was going to NYC, or to write in a coffee shop, or maybe I took the day off to chase Jack around a pop-up spray park, then the diner for burgers. I spread my palms up my face, ran my fingers through my long, tangled hair and took a deep breath. Steam and lavender all around. Eyes closed, my fingers reached for and found the soap.

I washed my palm over the mirror, creating a rainbow shape and saw myself briefly before it fogged up again. I didn’t look sick. Cancer, you sneaky, bitch. Fog all over again.

I combed my hair, admiring the pretty blond streaks from the recent ombre treatment … Patted my face with serum that smelled like grass and smeared some Vaseline on my lips. In my closet, I ran my finger across a row of hangers, ripping a long striped skirt off one. I pulled a loose tank top over my head and opened my bedroom door. I heard cartoon voices and Brian’s deep voice talking about something irrelevant: aliens, or grass-fed beef, another bear he saw by his apartment complex.

It was time to say goodbye to Jack. I called him into my room and heard the thundery-thump of his bare feet on the carpet. Lucy came jingle-jangling in, passing him and effortlessly hopped onto my bed, pushing her cold, wet nose into mine. Jack smelled like a buttery corn muffin and shampoo. It was fantastic. I will never forget that warm, sweet smell when I pulled him into my chest and buried my nose into his floppy, sunny, blond hair. He is perfect.

I kept it short and sweet. We kissed. We hugged. I said all the things and then I watched him run out of my room. “Bye Moooooooo-om!” My brother, Brian, came in and told me I’d be fine and kissed me gently on the cheek. When I heard the door close, I knew I could melt into a puddle on my bed and I did. Staring up at the ceiling, with hair spilled all around me, arms stretched, I surrendered. I laid there until my mom called for me. “Your father is outside, Chris …” I pushed myself up and piled my hair into a bun, not looking in the mirror.

I grabbed my purse, crossing it over my body and the overnight bag. Lucy’s butt wiggled uncontrollably behind the gate in the kitchen. I kissed her on the nose. “Bye sweet girl. Take care of Jack.”

My dad had his serious, dramatic face on. The car smelled like spicy, minty cologne as usual. The drive was quiet. The air was on and my window was open as usual. The stretch of 287S passed quickly. The trees were dressed in all green. Soon it would be Fall and they would be washed in bright orange, yellow and red watercolors.

I pushed through a round revolving door.

Glass. Silver. Dizzying. Light. Sunspots. A whoosh of air conditioning. People. Talking. Elevators dinging. 

I was in the lobby of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Morristown Medical Center and my older brother, Carlo was waiting for me. We exchanged hellos. I led my family around the bend to the elevator so we could ride downstairs to “Surgery.” It’s what the nurse who called me said to do. When the elevator doors slid open I hesitated to get off, but I managed to—to walk past a waiting room dotted with people waiting to check in for procedures or waiting to hear about their people having procedures. 

The rug was mint green. The chairs were the color of salmon. I sat still and quiet until I heard my name. Check-in was easy since I was pre-certified. All I had to do was scan my palm and poof! All of my info came up. 

“Christine Coppa. Your birthday is 12-19-80. You’re here for a partial thyroidectomy/possible full. You’re Dr. Cohen’s patient.” The guy in green scrubs kept saying things and I kept saying, yes, yes, until he secured an ID bracelet around my wrist. He told my family to take a seat and led me through two double doors.

My eyes raced around, acknowledging curtained-off areas with beds. Some with patients. Some empty. Which one was mine? This one. He handed me a plastic bag: Everything off and your nurse will be right over. Good luck!” he pulled the curtain. Rattle. Swoosh!

I stripped. Shoved my clothes and shoes into the bag. I ignored the shower cap and booties, poking my arms through the blue paper gown and adjusting it at my shoulders. I slipped under the crisp white sheet and blanket. It was freezing. My teeth were chattering and I was stiffening up. Was I imagining this? My nurse came in.

“You poor thing,” she said. “It’s supposed to be freezing in here,” she said, “Don’t worry!” and she hooked my gown up to a tube that puffed it up with warm air. It was wonderful and wacky at the same time. I was becoming a balloon of hot air, bigger and bigger like Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Maybe I would float, or roll (ha!) away. She started my IV and it burned. And my teeth were still chattering. And there were goosebumps on my arms. All of these things cleared everything up: I was not dreaming.

My mom and Carlo rounded the curtain. Rattle. Swoosh! I don’t remember what we talked about. I just remember them standing over me. They stayed for a while. My mom kissed me goodbye and smelled like spearmint gum and perfume-y hairspray. Carlo wanted a sandwich. I watched their backs until I couldn’t see them anymore. And now my dad was standing next to me. Silver hair. Suit. A presence. A presence I’ve known my whole life. That feeling I’m taken care of or everything will be OK. Or that I’m where I’m supposed to be. Or that … this sucks, we’ll get through it.

The anesthesiologist came in and introduced himself. We talked about the meds he would give me. And then Michael Jackson’s death came up. And then we were talking about the Yankees. He wanted to know if I drank beer at the game. “I sure did! Just enough.” 

“Good for you!” he said. “But nothing after midnight?”

“No, sir. And I’m so freaking thirsty. I want a cherry coke so bad. I haven’t had one innnnnnn … I can’t remember how long,” I said.

“I’ll have a cherry coke waiting for you in your room, Christine,” my dad intervened, so seriously. Oh dad. 

My surgeon, Dr. Erik Cohen came in next. My dad gave him a firm handshake and a solid stare.

We talked about the “straight forward procedure” and how I’d “do great.” My dad swept a kiss on my cheek. Spicy, minty cologne. He always smells like the men’s fragrance department at Macy’s, but in a good, not overwhelming way. And I can always tell when Jack has spent ample time with him because he comes home smelling like a 65-year-old man. My dad kissed the top of my head. “I love you, Chrissy.”

“I love you, Dad. Take care of Jack,” I said. The bed started moving. I just looked straight ahead. I was ready. White walls. Bright lights. Creeky, not squeaky wheels. Moving. Moving slow.

My anesthesiologist was back. “I’m going to give you something now to make you a little sleepy. You’ll feel calm,” he said. “Just relax.” 

A wave of warmth spread through me. I felt giggly. My eyelids got heavy and blink-y. We were in the operating room now. The lights were brighter. There were trays of … of shine. Of Pure Shine. People in green or blue with masks on were moving around. My bed was parked next to the narrow operating table.

Dr. Cohen was standing over me, in a mask.

“We’ll take good care of you, Christine.”

I felt a tug on the sheet under me.

The lights went off.



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