The next bit of the story………….
My memories of the days following the surgery are fairly random.
I was so sure that the surgery would be radical since the Friday evening tests and meeting with the Dr, that I don’t recall being shocked. I do recall being surrounded by my various “accoutrements” – two drains and the IV drip which pretty much kept me from me from running up and down the corridor. That and what is pleasantly called “the wound”.
What I hadn’t expected was the pain and discomfort from the lymph node manoeuvres. The surgeon had told me that a number of lymph nodes had been removed and this left a pain, stiffness and really odd sensation of numbness and incredible sensitivity up and down my arm, under my arm and even in odd places like my left cheek and ear! I persuaded the staff to let me go the bathroom and it was like an excursion with all the helpers taking my accoutrements and helping me and my stubbornness a few feet across the room. I felt much better being able to get up, though had a wobbly moment when I saw my reflection in the mirror and realised how much swelling there was.
I was unable to move either hand and had great fun trying to eat. I ended up having soup through a straw and being fed the solids like a baby for the first day or so.
The biggest thing on my mind was waiting for further pathology results following the surgery. Dr S told me that we needed to find out how many lymph nodes had been affected and what strain the cancer was, as well as results on oestrogen receptors etc. These results would shape the treatment plan and indicate my prognosis. They would tell us how aggressive the cancer was, and whether it had spread beyond the lymph nodes.
There was a regular stream of folks coming in and out of the room – nurses checking vital signs, bringing all the medications I had been prescribed and making sure I was comfortable, staff bringing and removing meals, visitors passing through or based in Bangkok and a daily visit from the doctor to check on “the wound”, changing dressings and checking on the drains. I was allowed to use my mobile phone after a while, and took a number of calls which was really comforting. We had a phone in the room too, though it only seemed to ring when I was on my own, and I couldn’t reach the wretched thing so I still have no idea who phoned! We also had a TV and internet in the room and I have a clear recollection of the film channel showing “The Bucket List” on a loop – needless to say, I was in no mood to watch that and was much happier when it was replaced by “Mamma Mia”!
Later in the week I started venturing a bit further, and headed with J down to the lower ground floor of the hospital. It is a bit like an airport with two levels, one for arrivals and one for departures. The hospital had a ground floor level with the Counters (mainly out patient clinics) and a classy foyer with a grand piano. (A pianist plays every evening and Sunday afternoon, for patients of the night clinic who are nursing aches, pains and anxieties). Then an escalator takes you to the lower level which has a small supermarket, bookshop, a couple of clothes shops, like 70s boutiques, a food court with every type of cuisine, a bank, a hairdressing salon and Starbucks! It was very odd walking around what felt like a shopping centre in hospital pyjamas and my drains in a neat little bag. The nursing staff gave me the little bag as they said the drains did not look beautiful!
On Thursday, Dr S told me that some of the results were back from the pathology. He explained that 12 lymph nodes had been sent for analysis and that 3 showed cancerous cells. The results which would inform what strain the cancer was and the other information would come later. When all the results are available the surgeon, pathologist, oncologist and other specialists would get together to identify the treatment plan at a “tumour conference”. I am not sure if the spaceship was also allowed to attend. J
I was pretty relieved that only 3 out of 12 lymph nodes were affected and was focusing more and more on trying to get the left arm moving a bit more. The Dr said I should be able to hold it above my head – but there was not a chance of that. A gentle supported lift could not lift it very high without the arm twanging alarmingly – hence twang arm came into being.
I was never good at maths though, and what I hadn’t realised was that the 12 nodes which were removed and sent for analysis, were in addition to the initial 3 which had been sent for frozen section. I learned a few days later, that this meant that 6 out of 15 nodes were affected. Not so much of a relief.
Amongst my assortment of drugs was a mild sedative to help me sleep at night. I am not used to sleeping pills so I decided after a few days that I would try and do without, so that I didn’t get too used to them. I had thought that sleeping pills gave you weird dreams, and this is something I am normally very good at. So I was really surprised when I had vivid serial weird dreams all night long. This included a visit to North Korea and staying in a cottage with some colleagues, which was built on a reconstructed dinosaur skeleton. Enough of that and straight back on to the sleeping pills!!
Perhaps that is why I was discharged? I was lucky in that the first drain was removed around 5 days after surgery and the second a couple of days after that. So when I was discharged, it was just a case of snipping the hospital ID tag and trying to get proper clothes on to face the outside world and move to the studio flat which was going to be home for the coming weeks and days. Clutching a bag bulging full of different medications and appointment cards for the different Doctors I stepped outside into the warm night air and into another phase in this new and different world.