Swollen up

I may have an infection in my fibula flap. I started on antibiotics this morning. We are waiting for a call from Dr P, via my local GP, to see if I should get scans today or just wait to see him tomorrow.

Let me backtrack for a moment.

Each morning, I wake with pain. I take stronger pain medications* overnight but, by morning, the effect has long worn off. Darren gets my morning pain medications ready on my bedside table each night, so that I can take them as soon as I wake. The pain subsides fairly quickly, in 15 minutes perhaps, and I get on with my day.

You do get used to it. The pain is manageable and you just manage it. People deal with far worse and, while I know it might sound trite, that keeps it all in perspective for me. I find the burden on Darren far harder to deal with. He is happy to do what he can, even though I can see how tired he is between balancing work commitments and caring for Alannah and me. He often works late into the night and, for the past week or so, has been getting up to Alannah during the night. It is unusual for her to wake in the night, but there hasn’t been much “usual” about her life in the last month. Monday marked three weeks since my surgery and one month since her birthday.

Yesterday morning, however, I woke up feeling like the left side of my face had doubled in size. Darren too noticed the swelling, particularly under my eye. We checked for the symptoms of infection: redness on the cheek or around the lips, fever, feeling unwell. No, only the swelling.

We decided to watch and wait. I iced my swollen jaw, slept again in the early afternoon, and iced my jaw again in the late afternoon. When the swelling had not subsided by early evening, we called the nurses on the hospital ward. We had been told to call if we had any concerns with my recovery after discharge. I still did not have the signs we’d been told to look for, but we opted for the better-to-be-safe-than-sorry route. The nurses called Dr P, my oral and maxillofacial surgeon. He wasn’t too concerned, but said I should start on a course of antibiotics and he would see me on Friday.

Sooner was better than later, we thought. There is a doctor home visit service in our area and a late night pharmacy at Bondi Beach (we would never have known all this a year ago, how things change when you become a parent). However, after more than 15 minutes on hold, we decided to wait until our local GP clinic opened in the morning.

This morning the swelling was worse than yesterday. Darren somehow managed to make it all happen. He is always on the go nowadays. He got Alannah dressed, fed, changed (more than the usual number of nappy changes I gather, just to keep him on his toes) and down to day care. He arranged an urgent appointment for me and delayed his work commitment by half an hour. He got me showered and my wounds dressed on the double. He helped me hobble down to the clinic, stayed with me for the appointment, dashed to the chemist, settled me at home on the couch with everything I might need for the next few hours, and headed off to work.

The GP examined me and looked through the GP copy of my discharge papers that we’d taken with us. She was happy to prescribe the antibiotics that Dr P had requested, but felt a scan was probably in order to be sure what was going on. She left a message for Dr P to see if he’d like her to arrange the scan today. The weekend is fast approaching and, if more than antibiotics are required, it means they can act on it tomorrow. I liked her thinking.

She will call us either way, she said. So we wait. At least, I wait until Darren gets home and we decide whether to follow up.

In the meantime, I am reading Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. If I need a shot of perspective, her memoir has it by the bucket load. (Yes, the mixed metaphor is appalling but all I have right now, Shaun, before you comment!)

Sadly, this episode also means I will miss my Great Uncle Gordon’s funeral. He passed away on Sunday just three-and-a-half months after his younger brother, my grandfather, my mother’s father, who himself passed away on the morning I was diagnosed with this tumour.

Great Uncle Gordon was the last of the siblings, the other two having passed away much younger. I know he was a much beloved husband, father and grandfather and will be sadly missed. I will be thinking of them today even though I won’t be there.

It occurs to me as I write this that it is the second funeral I will have missed in the past year. My grandmother, my father’s mother, passed away on 25 July last year, just three days after Alannah was born. I contemplated flying to Perth with a ten-day-old baby, but ultimately realised she would have been horrified by the thought.

A friend said that your world becomes very small when you face poor health, in his case the big C. I used to read the paper every day. I tried to remember and ask after the big things that were happening in other people’s lives. My world is now so very small. Doctor appointments, time with Alannah, updating this blog, responding (belatedly) to texts and emails, medications, dressing of wounds, care of scars, eating, sleeping often 12 hours a day.

What I am trying to say is that I find it frustrating how self-centred my world becomes. This blog contributes to that, I know, but it also helps me to get my head around it all and keep on keeping on.

And I am glad I did reach out because your support has helped so much. I can’t thank you enough. It’s so lovely to have you hanging in here with me over this long haul, three-and-a-half months so far.

Darren just called as I was writing. No need for a scan, the GP called to say. Dr P is happy to wait until he sees me tomorrow. A few phone calls later and Darren has arranged the earliest appointment he can get with Dr P at the hospital clinic tomorrow morning. As we hung up, he was off to rearrange his entire day so he can take me.

It just reminds me how lucky I am. Even though my world might be so very small for the moment and I might just be taking it day by day, it does not pass me by how lucky I am. I just wanted to tell you all that, in case it ever seemed otherwise.

*By day, I take dissolvable panadeine. By night, I take a double dose of Pain Stop. It’s a children’s medication, hence the double dose, but adult medications rarely come in a liquid or dissolvable form that you can take with a wired jaw.



  1. Thank god for good husbands!
    You’re right – your world really does shrink up when serious illness hits.
    I suppose that’s just natural.
    And you’re right too about thinking how lucky you are – I remember really sick
    people in hospital who had no one to visit them or care for them – not just old people either
    – that was a real eye-opener.
    When you have love, you have everything.

    Can you take liquid morphine or doesn’t that agree with you?

    Sorry to hear about your Uncle Gordon.
    Your whole family has had a fairly tough time of it lately.

  2. Oh Kirsten, sorry to hear about the infection. Hopefully you’ll feel better with those antibiotics. I hope all goes well with the appointment today, Matthew recovered within a couple of days after his infection (once they got on top of it!).
    I’m sure with your strong spirit, you’ll be on top of it soon.
    That man of yours deserves a gold star!
    This time next year, this will all be a distant memory.
    Stay strong, all of you.

  3. Sorry to read about the infection and your family’s loss. You’ve had a run fo bad luck lately. Time for it to change. Good luck today. Hang in there.

  4. Hi! I have been away on a short holiday and just catching up with all your updates. It is great to see things are going so well, in general, and that Darren is being a Gold Star Husband.
    I was struck by your comment about how the world becomes small when you are ill. When I was caring for Jane, I found that extremely hard. Yes, I watched the news etc but it seemed like the world was happening outside our house and we weren’t part of it. Frequently it was the only thing I talked about to people, simply because it was all I was busy with: Jane, cancer, Jane, brain tumour and more Jane. Not much has changed really but I am actively trying to open myself up the world again, if anything so that I have something to talk about with people:)

    Don’t worry, you are not self-centred because you are a self-centred person. I think it is our brain’s contribution to our physical demands. You need to focus on your self in order to heal better. If your brain kept focussing on all the things it would normally do, as well as help you heal, it would just be too much for you to deal with. And so it makes your world a little smaller, to make it easier for you to deal with. Sorry, I am not explaining that very well but I hope you catch my drift: your brain helps your body by focussing on what matters most: you.

  5. Letty, I can still take the oxynorm (opiate). I do still have some. I just don’t want to when I can get away with panadeine during the day and my kiddy painkillers at night. Like J did, I celebrate every like step towards independence – not having opiates, not having tubes. I can’t wait to add crutches and trachey dressings to that list. They say if you have your health, you have everything. Health and love I reckon.

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