Chapter 26 – Wrap Star

Chapter 26 – Wrap Star

January 18

Just call me Costanzia the Wrap Star! At last … fame is on my doorstep! If only I could answer the door.

I’m here to tell you that just when you think life can’t do anything more to aggravate you…

Voila! More is on the way!

In my case, it turns out that in the course of removing various bits and pieces of my innards last spring, the surgeon also removed a few of those little tiny mysterious lymph node thingies for testing.

The good news … no cancer was found so my prognosis is very positive.

The bad news … I have now developed Edema in my left leg … too few of the little lymph node buggers to keep up with the filtering process. Hence fluid collects, and the leg swells. The condition is correctly known as lymphedema of the lower extremity.

Oh joy! Oh joy! Oh joy!

On the list of things, I could live without, lymphedema is right up there! And, just like all the other snarky aggravations that have resulted from my year of living with the Big C … I am getting used to it.

The challenge is to keep the swelling under control. This has involved much trial and error with various compression stockings, tights, leggings, Spanx and oh so many, many, more undergarments. Who knew there were so many ways to be uncomfortable!

As part of the therapy, I have become expert at wrapping my leg in compression bandages. A new skill that involves not only the wrapping process … but the washing and folding and rocking and rolling and care and feeding of miles and miles and miles and miles and miles of boringly uniform blah beige bandages.

Yawn city! Yet another reason I was never drawn to nursing.

The wrapping helps to bring down the swelling, but because the lymphedema is in the left leg only, it means that I resemble only a quarter of the Michelin Man … ole Bibendum himself … sort of like one tire … the spare, maybe? And when the wrappings start to unravel it is a bit like Imitation Zombie Time. Or perhaps it is more like what’s-her-face in Great Expectations, you know … the one where she is drifting around in old shredded bits from her closet. Or maybe … I don’t know … a giant toilet paper roll …

I guess that I have an entire repertoire of new identities to choose from. Who knew I would end up as a stand up and limp comic?

Then too, I can now add the bandages and the wrappings and the compression garments and the Spanx to the pile of dreck that I will be traveling with.

Sigh. Every day is a new adventure in construction and constriction.

The good news is the swelling is in the left leg only, and makes my right leg look positively svelte and lovely in comparison.

Life is so strange and ironic.


 Lymphedema proved to be a huge stumbling block on the road to my recovery.

The removal of the lymph nodes from my abdomen meant that my body no longer drained lymphatic fluid from my leg efficiently. Instead the fluid needed to be encouraged to move upward past the abdomen to the drainage system located in the underarm area. This was, and will continue to be no small feat of therapeutic engineering. Gravity is an enormous obstacle to overcome. The lymphatic system is designed to carry waste material up and out of the legs through a central clearing station located in the groin area. By removing those lymph nodes during surgery, one is left with fluid that has nowhere to go. So, it stops moving and collects just under the skin.

Left untreated the collected fluid hardens and prevents normal blood flow to the skin, causing a whole range of nasty side effects. It is irreversible, and incurable, and is not a disease but a condition, and as such is not considered by the insurance world as anything more than an aggravation. So, you are pretty much on your own financially when treating the condition.

Since November I had been going to physical therapy and learning how to deal with the condition. My therapist Ruth had trained me to control the swelling using massage techniques. She demonstrated how to wrap my leg to reduce the swelling using specialized short stretch compression bandages. And, we had experimented with various types of compression stockings, and discovered that roll on body glue really helped to keep things in place.

It would appear that my days of getting up and making a perfect cup of coffee, lazing around and reading the paper before taking a nice morning shower were at an end. Now my mornings involved getting up and putting on a compression stocking, peeing and flushing my pouch, before finally staggering to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. And, as it turns out, the glue that holds up my stocking also sticks to the bedsheets, so I now had to shower at night to prevent serious sheet shambles every time I turned over.

The fact that my left shoe needed to be bigger than the right, that my closet was full of black slacks no that longer slid over my left leg, and that my left leg is bigger than my right … well, all that is imperceptible to the rest of the world. Now it had become a question of getting control of my worry about it.

However, so far, I had been lucky.

I was lucky to be under the care of a surgeon who recognized the condition early and sent me for treatment before it became critical and irreversible. Not everyone is so fortunate.

I was lucky to find an outstanding professional to provide treatment and instruction. It turns out that there is a shortage of therapist able to deal with lymphedema in the lower body.

I was lucky the swelling in my leg goes down as I sleep, so I have no need to wear bulky compression garments overnight.

And I am really, really lucky to have money in the bank to pay for all the bandages and stockings and other dreck that one needs to treat lymphedema, because insurance does not cover anything other than physical therapy, and that only on a limited basis.

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