Alert – lots of gory detail!
We arrived at the Hospital in plenty of time and were met by a porter cum bell boy in a green smart uniform, and with his micro microphone in his ear and his peak cap. He put our luggage on his trolley and followed us to Counter no 5 – it was totally surreal.
We waited there for a few minutes, signed a few documents, including one waiving my right to retain two breasts, and then started on the path which would lead eventually towards the operating theatre.
A few painless and easy things first, weight, pulse, temperature and blood pressure (sky high). I was allowed to take my regular BP medication with half a drop of water. Then the needles started as they took me to another room and put in the IV line. Next was the ultrasound room where I had more drawings (7 o’clock and 12 o’clock apparently) for the biopsy. Then I had an ECG to make sure I was physically up to major surgery. I then saw another doctor who looked into the overall results and assessed (and authorised) my fitness for the operation. She was concerned about the blood pressure but unsurprised given the anxiety and stress of the upcoming surgery and she gave me some magic potions and a patch to keep it down and reduce the anxiety. The anxiety thing was wonderful – it made me sleepy and quite chilled and worked pretty quickly. I could do with some of that for other occasions too! I learned that the surgery would take 1 – 2 hours for biopsy and results and if more surgery required it would probably take a total of 3 hours or so.
Finally I was pronounced fit to cut and I returned to Counter No 5 and our luggage and bell boy. We then headed to the ward and I was installed in my room. I have never been in a hospital before which has a TV (and internet), phone, kettle, cups, microwave, mini bar (with sprite) and a room service menu in case you don’t like the food or get hungry between meal times! So that was a good time to put the “nil by mouth” sign above my bed!
We then had to wait as the surgery was scheduled for 2 pm. The time seemed to pass quite quickly, perhaps because of the magic anti anxiety mix and also because there was a succession of visitor including the smiley anaesthetist. I shared some concerns I had from previous surgery and he said would make sure that I had a med to counteract this effect again.
Then at 1.30 pm the door opened, nurses and a porter came in and they announced they had come for me! TERROR! Not yet, please not yet…………. They transferred me onto a trolley bed to take me to theatre. All extras (glasses, watch and nose stud) had been removed and I was wheeled along the corridor towards the lift with a really weird view of the world. Unsurprisingly the chittering started again and I could feel tears welling as we got in the lift and down towards theatre. J was allowed to come too, up until we got the entrance of the theatre complex. Then I was wheeled into through the swing doors and the bright lights of the operating theatre. I was transferred onto what felt like an ironing board, so narrow my arms kept flopping down unless I placed them across my stomach. I lay there surrounded by the bright lights, shiny clattery instruments and that unmistakable medical smell, all the time staring at the ceiling I hate that part – and I hate being conscious for it. The anaesthetist arrived and I told him I was scared – well he had such a kind face! He said he would give me a pre med and he tipped it into the IV system which was now looking a bit like a spaghetti formation. I have had pre meds before and had not found them to make much difference and they certainly didn’t make me sleepy. But this one was lovely. It made me a bit drowsy and I decided to close my eyes and shut out the bright lights and rattling instruments, just for a few minutes until they administered the general anaesthetic…………………………………..
The next thing I was aware of was some vivid dream, and then a voice from somewhere saying, “wake up, your operation is over now”.
Over? Oh thank goodness! My throat was really hurting, but I opened my mouth and asked what time it was! A strange question perhaps, but when I heard the answer (just after 7.30 pm) the underlying question was answered. The surgery had lasted nearly 6 hours and had therefore been radical – so the spaceship had indeed been cancer and was now gone, probably with rather a lot of the surrounding area. In other words, I knew at that point I had had a mastectomy.
I had my weird very short sighted, bird’s eye in reverse view of the world. J was there – I think I was already in the recovery room, the surgeons were there and Dr W was speaking to family in the UK to explain everything. Dr S, who had worked with Dr W and who would be looking after me while he was away, was beside me. He introduced himself (a rather odd moment as he had been working on my surgery for the past 6 hours) and told me that the lump had been cancer, as was a second much smaller lump. He also told me that they had removed 3 lymph nodes which also came back as positive for cancer cells and therefore they had taken more for further biopsy. He told me he would be looking after me and that the surgery had indeed been a mastectomy.
Anaesthetic is great for numbing more than the pain and I dozed off and on, asking for ice in between to counteract the pain and dryness in my throat. They kept me in the recovery room until around 9.30 pm, topping up various drugs for pain, nausea and antibiotics. I seemed to be wired everywhere and was unable to move. They did a neat little trick back in the ward, lifting me in the sheet and putting me gently on the bed, before rearranging all my wiring around me.
Along with the nurses checking vital signs, giving me water, replenishing the IV and topping up drugs, J was also on duty all night looking after me. It had been a long and tough day for me, but it had been a much, much longer and tougher day for him.