A conversation I had over the last few days about the feelings you have after an operation got me thinking about my thymectomy. While there are a range of emotions you go through, my thoughts were focused on the disappointment you feel if it isn’t an instant success. I thought I’d blog about that nearly two years after my operation.
You go into hospital with high hopes when having a thymectomy – you read that’s there a 30% chance it’ll make your MG vanish. You try to remember that’s still 70% of people who continue to live with it, but your mind says ‘be positive’. You think your consultant and surgeon have pushed this on you for a reason, right? I mean, it was practically from your first MG appointment that you were encouraged to have a thymectomy.
Then, as happens for the majority, you have the operation and your symptoms are still there. In fact they may flare up because of the stress your body’s under post- operation. It’s spoken about or assumed by the medical team that you’re not one of the 30%. The good teams will tell you that it takes time for many people to feel the full impact of the thymectomy. Your loved ones will either be too polite to say anything or they’ll be straight up with you – they’ll remind you that hope isn’t gone. But once you’re strong enough to want more than basic comfort, you’ll begin to feel the loss of something you only ever had a slim chance of getting. An easy cure. That’s when you might hit a wall.
That wall will look different depending on the way your mind works and how you react to the thymectomy – for me, it looked like a mountain blocking my path. That I couldn’t hope to climb. Instead I sat down and looked up at the mountain – studied its sharp crags, the rain lashing down around it, the mist lingering at its peak, the broken path leading up at an angle I could hardly fathom. I sat still in the silence of the mountain’s valley and asked myself ‘why did I bother trying’. How deluded was I to think I’d be one of the ‘special ones’.
As I sat stewing in that anger and frustration, I missed the initial changes.
I barely recognised the stable state I found myself in. Months past and all I had was ptosis and a bit of fatigue. No sign of double vision, slurred speech, difficulties swallowing or weak limbs. I woke from my silent trance to see that the mountain had transformed into a jagged cliff edge with gentle clouds over head and a calm sea lapping away. It was much more manageable now – everything was. While I went for little strolls, I didn’t stray too far. I was scared to try the path just yet for fear that it would shape shift before my eyes back into the terrifying rock face. Or that a surprise landslide would throw me into the sea and my legs would seize up. I didn’t believe the change was real or would last.
The symptoms stayed consistent and I found I was able to challenge myself more with work, with the blog and fitness. I began to feel stronger than I had for years – the only thing that remained of my MG was the fatigue when I overdid it and the ptosis. By the time it came to the year anniversary, I looked to the spot where the mountain had turned into a cliff and saw a rolling hill. The sun was peaking through the clouds now and illuminating a meandering path. This made me smile from my heart outwards and for the first time I considered that the mountain might not come back at all if I was careful. I went for further strolls now – roaming, seeking, testing myself.
It’ll be two years in September since I had my thymectomy and when I find myself in that valley now, I see only that. A peaceful valley with mountains and cliffs and hills in the backdrop. I walk around safe in knowledge that I won’t fall or find myself scrambling on my hands and knees (unless I choose to).
When I think about the first few months after the operation, I realise that the dark feelings I had are still there deep down. Like I’ve stored them away so I always remember. But I can look at them from a safe distance and know that accepting them and waiting for them to pass was the best thing I could have done. They probably won’t ever leave me because they were part of the journey of acceptance and because I think of them every time I see my ever fading scar.
The majority of us won’t have that thymectomy miracle and while it’s good to be hopeful, it’s not the end of the story if it doesn’t happen. Even if it might feel that way at the time.
Be patient, listen to your body and your mind, embrace what you’re feeling rather than trying to shut it out and pay close attention to the little changes. You might find yourself in that valley with me someday.