14. Surgery and a Short Walk 2

This is the fourteenth post of a series which begins here and is the second part of Surgery and A Short Walk post.

July 2017

‘Hey, I know you! We were at school together,’ I said, looking up as the anaesthetist approached.

‘Sorry Sarah, I thought the name was familiar, but I didn’t recognise you with your hair like that,’ he replied. I touched my baldy head and felt the ugliness of cancer tug at me inside.

The anaesthetist spoke nicely to me, but of course I remembered that he’d been one of the decent lads at school, not part of the gang of boys who teased me for being flat chested. Bloody boobs blighting my life!

‘So, come with me and we’ll get you ready for surgery,’ he said as he stood up to lead the way.

It was comforting to know I was going to be looked after by someone familiar to me. A wee room adjoined to theatre where I lay myself on the trolley bed. ‘Is there any chance you can give me a couple minutes of morphine joy before you put me out cold?’ I asked cheekily as sticky circles and wires were attached to my skin.

‘Oh I think we can do better than that,’ my old school pal said. But I barely registered his words because as I’d said mine I realised that to be ‘put out cold’ I’d need to have a cannula inserted into a vein for the anaesthetic to be delivered into my bloodstream. Alarm caused an immediate unpleasant tickly sensation in every bit of my body.

‘My veins are all collapsed after the chemotherapy I’ve had, what if you can’t get the cannula in? What if the anaesthetic doesn’t work?’

I couldn’t look, but felt the familiar sting as the cannula was pushed into the back of my hand.

‘Ohhh dear, Sarah. Yes, I can see your veins have had enough,’ my friend said sympathetically. ‘It hasn’t worked. We’ll try your wrist.’

Tears welled and my heart raced. Another man present in the room stroked my upper arm, his hand felt warm on my skin so I tried hard to focus on that instead of crying because I was scared.

‘We’re in and I’m happy with it,’ the anaesthetist said to the sound of surgical tape ripping then pressing sorely across my wrist. ‘Now you just chill out there.’

‘Chill out? I’m freaking out!’

‘I’m gonna give you some of that nice stuff now so you lie back and enjoy. Pop this oxygen mask on.’

I thought he’d been kidding me earlier when he’d agreed to my morphine joy request. ‘Oh maaaaaaan, you are the beeeeeest anaesthetist in the hospitalllll…no, you’re the beeeeeeest anaesthetist in all of the whoooohle of the world…’ I drawled. My head felt giddy and the sensations so pleasant that any fears I’d had about the vein not working were entirely forgotten…

‘Ok Sarah, I’m going to send you to sleep now. This’ll feel cold, okay.’

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Sarah…Sarah…

Bright yellow lights…People moving…Noise…

I burst into tears. ‘Nobody loves Leon like I do. I worry for him,’ I wailed. Looking up I focused on the blurry figure standing over me and in the same moment I realised it wasn’t my friend the anaesthetist, and I understood where I was.

‘You’re all right. You’ve had your operation. Everything is fine,’ the man in green said gently. ‘We’ll get you back down to the ward now okay.’

As I was wheeled away I felt a right idiot for the involuntary outburst of tears in front of that stranger. I just wanted to see Paul.

He was waiting for me in the corridor and I was glad he was there.

I didn’t get home till after five o’clock that evening, not until the surgeon had come to see me. ‘There was no farting,’ he’d said as he stuck his head around the door, laughed and came in. ‘Everything went really well. Two of your lymph nodes showed up so we took them out. They’ll be sent off to pathology along with the tissue we took out from the site of the tumour in your breast. We’ll get the results back and see you in about two weeks.’

‘Didn’t you say you were going to take three nodes?’ I asked.

‘Yes, if three had shown up we’d have taken them, but two is fine.’

‘Cool. Thank you,’ I said.

‘Look after yourself, don’t be overdoing things…no mountains!’

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The road I travelled on my ‘short’ walk.

‘You’re off your head!’ my friend at the accountants said when I finally turned up. ‘It’s a bloody fourteen mile round trip from Ardersier to Nairn, are you meant to be doing that?’

‘I was told no mountains; nobody said anything about not walking,’ I laughed…

But I was laughing on the other side of my face by the time I got home and I wasn’t feeling such the hero. My legs were in extreme agony. ‘I’ll be fine by morning,’ I told myself as I crawled into the living room and then lay absolutely fucked on the sofa.

Next: D-day: Results

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13. Surgery and a Short Walk 1

This is the thirteenth post of a series which starts here.

July – August 2017

Fuck you!’’ I yelled as a speeding car forced me up onto the grassy verge. Even though I put all my effort and energy into the manoeuvre it bothered me that my legs still felt so heavy that I couldn’t make them lift quickly. ‘Brilliant,’ I muttered, ‘how ironic would it be to survive chemotherapy and surgery only to get taken out by a fucking maniac driver.’

After being under the shade of trees I left the smell of damp earth and musky leaf mould behind and stepped into the warm and welcome embrace of the sun’s brightness. The tarmac beneath my blue trail shoes radiated heat that appeared in the distance as a shimmering haze, and from the farmers’ fields each side of the long stretch of road a few ravens took to the skies.

Other than the fleeting rage I’d had toward the driver of the fast car I was happy to be out and walking, grateful to be here, to be alive, but anxious about the uncertainty of what my future held – or if I even had much future ahead.

‘Chemotherapy had almost been easy. All you think about is getting to the end…I spent all my time keeping up with exercise and getting out for hill days, and then got so engrossed in writing blogs that I didn’t really think about surgery. It wasn’t such a daunting prospect…and the surgery wasn’t a problem…But the results of it are. What if I only get a couple years more, like Mum? It’s not enough. Time passes too quickly…’

I progressed towards Nairn. The quiet conversation I was having with myself was only randomly interrupted by real-time concerns that I might not make it to the accountants before they closed for lunch. A friend worked there so I text to let her know I might be a little late. That sorted I allowed my mind to wander back to the previous week, to churn over the details of the latest phase of my treatment.

It was only two days after completing the Great Glen Way when I’d gone into hospital for my operation – a lumpectomy, and sentinel lymph node biopsy.

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The day before surgery gamma radiation was injected into my breast (the lymph nodes take up the radiation which helps the surgeon to locate them). I had fantastic visions of turning into a sexy bodied, hairy headed Incredible Hulk (I didn’t turn green either).

On the morning of the operation the surgeon came to my room on the ward. He explained the procedure again (that he’d be removing tissue from where the tumour had been in my breast and taking three lymph nodes from my armpit) and asked me to sign consent forms. ‘Do you have any questions?’ he asked.

‘Yeah, I do actually,’ I answered. ‘Do people fart when they’re under anaesthetic because I’m worried I’ll fart. If I fart, you’ll get a fright, slice off my nipple and it’ll go flying across the theatre.’

‘People don’t tend to fart,’ my surgeon chuckled.

‘That’s all right then,’ I said.

‘When you get into theatre we’ll inject the blue dye into your breast so don’t be alarmed when you wake up and see your boob is discoloured, it’s not bruising from your nipple being sliced off! You’re second on my list, so I’ll see you soon.’ And off he disappeared with his clipboard.

‘I’d forgotten about the blue dye business,’ I said to Paul. ‘I can’t wait to see my pee and my blue tears, you’ll have to hurt me to make me cry.’ Paul laughed, but typically said very little…it’s probably why we work well together: I’m fire he’s water and when the flames get out of hand he controls the blaze.

A nurse came to take me to the ultrasound room. Here a doctor injected local anaesthetic before inserting wires into my breast (these wires guide the surgeon to the site where the tumour had been, the chemotherapy having worked so well the surgeon wouldn’t otherwise know where to make the cuts).Two other women were also ‘being done’ the same day as me and it was quite nice to have a chat with each of them while we waited to be taken back to the ward.

Shortly after midday it was my turn on the list and I was taken up to the waiting area outside theatre.

As I sat on one of several chairs that had been partially screened off my mind entertained me with idiotic thoughts about the surgeon – like hoping he wouldn’t do a rush job so that he could get away for lunch, chat about the football or about what he was doing on the weekend. This was my breast and I wanted his full attention on not making any mistakes. I wanted any cancer left inside me to be fully chopped out. ‘Miss Douglas?’ I looked up. ‘I’m your anaesthetist.’

Game on.

Next: Surgery and A Short Walk 2

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