Every morning around seven the nurses shift change came and I braced myself for the small gloved and gowned army that would march into my room. Dressing changes were done each morning and I required strength and many hands. I lay on a thick white pad that began at my shoulders and stopped at the end of my spine. There was gauze around my arms, gauze around what was left of my legs, gauze around my torso only leaving room for a colostomy bag that sat smack dab in the middle of my belly. The pad and gauze were slathered in medicinal ointments the consistency of butter. The ointments dried through the day and night though the gauze fixing itself to my skin. Debridement was the term used when nurses ripped all of the material off taking healing skin with it. You tear away old skin to make way for new skin. An evil necessity.
They could do it slowly or quickly. It didn’t matter. Either way I was in pain. It wasn’t like ripping off a band-aid. I wasn’t a little girl with a scrape on my knee, my mom crouching soothing me with promises of it’s just a quick tear and it only hurts for a second. It wasn’t like that at all.
Softly, “Breathe, Heidi.”
My body is rigid. My teeth are clamped down on the insides of my cheeks.
“In and out. Breathe.”
I give in. My breath escapes in short, sharp bursts.
Rip. Pull. Rip. Pull.
How I came to love morphine even if it did make my nose perpetually itchy. I had a button I could push to top me up at six minute intervals. My very own bonus button. As soon as the pump allowed me to my thumb was on that button a faint beep letting me know help was on the way. Me and morphine were tight.
After debridement a new back pad was settled into place, new gauze wound around me. The nurses would turn and adjust me until I felt comfortable. Comfortable was a relative word here, a fast and loose word I couldn’t put any stock into. It was not a simple task. I was not a simple task. I often wondered if they dreaded coming into my room, drew straws to see who got me today. I felt like Humpty Dumpty cracked open everybody scrambling to make the pieces fit. They were gentle and kind, always encouraging, but I’m sure they had to suck in their breath, as much as I had to suck in mine, when they opened the door to my room steadying themselves for what lay ahead.