21 June 2013

Private Room

I didn’t want to come home from the hospital. Especially after being moved to a private room.

DIEP Surgery
My Happy Place
My first room, post ICU, was shared with a 19-yr old recovering from thyroid cancer. You’d think a giant wound across her throat, plus three drainage tubes would keep her quiet, but it seems that no matter how sick you are, you can't miss ‘Keeping Up with the Kardishians’.

When she would finally fall asleep, her family would curl up on her comatose body, crank up the volume, and settle down for a night of TV. Occasionally there’d be a ‘knock’ on the curtain, and her mother’s face would poke through offering us some Coke-flavoured jujubes, or sweet potato chips. (No thank you).  Jim thought they were just one Hibachi away from a family reunion, so it was with great relief when I could pack up my belongings, and shuffle down the hall towards the quiet luxury of a private room.

Liquid Lunch
And it was good. By that time I’d lost the IV and catheter – so was relatively comfortable with just my four drainage tubes. The compression stockings, they insisted, stayed on. But I had started walking, and was pretty comfortable propped up in bed, watching movies on my ipad, and eating the gelato which my family kept bringing up form the Gelateria in the lobby downstairs.

My mobility dictated when I was to be sent home. And by day four I was starting to feel pretty good. In fact, I liked the whole set-up. The bed could be adjusted for a minimum amount of work. The patients had their own kitchen, where we could store our non-hospital foods, and we’d meet there at three in the morning,  hanging on to our IV stands and walkers, eager to satisfy late night cravings with coconut ice-cream or  Jell-O.

The hospital food was atrocious – but as I was on a liquid diet, I observed it like something from a science experiment, placed in front of me for my entertainment.

So when the doctors asked how I was doing, I’d feign a little extra weariness. ‘OK…I guess.’ (Please don’t send me home)
Surgery Pedicure
A Good Pedicure Never Goes to Waste

And then one afternoon, sister Sue & cousin/friend Marilyn came to visit. We were going for a short stroll and I told them not to have too much fun when we passed the nurses stand, because I didn’t want to look too happy.

I didn’t have to work too hard to fake the effort that came from walking. My belly hurt, and felt like I’d just received a 200-yard pass from a giant burning-hot lead football going at 300 miles and hour that got lodged in my stomach. My drains dangled around me, with the drain-balls pinned to my gown like the Christmas lights on a Charlie Brown christmas tree. Also I couldn’t stand up straight – and my shoulders hurt from the weight of the world.

As we passed the nurses station, talk turned to my flat stomach. It was definitely flatter, but other parts of my body were swollen. Sue suggested cheerily that I was starting to look like Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Of course we started laughing. And by the time we passed the nurses station we were chuckling merrily like three ladies  coming back from a day at the spa.

Shortly after I got sent home.  For being on good behavior.

19 June 2013

Dr. No-Show

I did everything in my power to get ready for my surgery, right down to the pedicure. My core was fit, my roots were touched up, I purchased post surgery clothing and shower chair, and took a leave of absence from work.  I was meditated, medicated and ready to go.

The morning of the surgery, I was sitting up on a hospital bed, amidst a row of other hospital beds, all waiting to roll into the OR.  Mom, Sue, and Jim were by my side, as they have been all along, making great sacrifices and commitments to get me that point of where I was that day. Belleruth Naparstak was also with me, speaking to me in hushed tones through my headphones, and guiding me into a state of relaxation and trust. My ‘magical friends and allies’ were also on board (thanks to Belleruth) and were waiting to surround me with love and approval.

Every time a member of the medical team would approach the bed, I’d remove the headphones, and listen attentively. My admissions nurse walked me through my day and complimented the colour of my toes. They were a nice contrast to the compression stockings that she put on my legs, and would have to wear for five days. Next was Dr H’s team, talented Micro-Surgeons who would assist in turning belly into beasts, once the mastectomy was complete.

Next, the Anesthesiologist went over our game plan, and gave me the dose of ativan that I’d been asking for since I entered the hospital. I wanted to ask for a dose for each of my magical friends, but it seemed that one dose was the limit.

The final act was Dr H himself, kind and polite.  Looking fresh as a daisy he got out his measuring tape and his Sharpie, and kneeling in front of me, drew on my breasts, my abdomen and everywhere in between. He asked if I’d gained weight and I nodded proudly. My belly, after all, was hitting him in the face.


I was wheeled down the long hallways on my gurney, headphones still on. The nurse had kindly offered to walk with us, so that she could take off my headset, and return it to Jim. It was above the call of duty for her, and I was grateful. Within moments I was staring into operating room lights, and being introduced to the surgical nurses  - all wearing colourful OR scrubs. An IV was stuck in my arm.  I remained eerily calm.

‘We’ve done it!’  I thought to myself 24 hours later, as I sat propped up uncomfortably in a hospital chair. I was proud of myself, my family, my nurses, my doctors, and everyone involved in the procedure. It had been two years since I’d stepped foot in the hospital to meet with Dr Escargot, my Breast Surgeon, and now some of these people were as familiar as family.

‘How are you?’ said an unfamiliar figure standing in front of me. He was tall, Asian,  chubby, and I was pretty sure I’d never seen him before in my life. ‘I’m doctor L,’ he said, ‘I performed your mastectomy.’

Already hunched over and covered with tubes, my mouth was probably hanging open, but it dropped even more. ‘Huh?’

He smiled kindly, ‘I performed your mastectomy yesterday. It went very well.’

At that point I might have said, ‘Who the f*ck are you?’  or ‘What the f*ck are you saying?’ I’m not really sure. I was high on morphine and accept no responsibility for my actions.  I remember thinking that Dr Escargot, my Breast Surgeon, has a Spanish accent. Dr L is of Chinese descent, and has no accent at all.   So it is unlikely they are the same person. Something was amiss.

Dr L. explained that due to extenuating circumstances, Dr Escargot was unable to perform the surgery, so he was called in at the last minute. I wanted to know why I wasn’t asked for my consent. He didn’t seem to want to get into details, and instead asked how I was feeling. Confused, dizzy & sore seemed to sum it up quite nicely.

So in a nutshell:

Partway through the surgery Dr H came out to tell my family that things were going very smoothly, but Dr Escargot hadn’t shown up. Details are sketchy. Apparrently he was in Germany. And once realizing that Escargot was a no-show I was already under anesthetic, so Dr H managed to get two top breast surgeons to drop everything (golf clubs) and join the party. Due to this, the surgery went quickly. Nine hours, in total.

Details have yet to emerge. I don’t know why Escargot was in Germany. I don’t know why his absence wasn’t noted until I was put under.  His nurse came to see me and told me he’d explain things when he got back. I asked if it was a family emergency, and she said ‘no’. I do know that Escargot is the surgeon who has been with me since day one. He performed two surgeries. He handpicked the ‘team’. He encouraged me to consider the mastectomy. He and I have had many appointments, and dozens of conversations. He has seen me at my worst, and I have cried on his shoulder.

I waited a year for this operation. Then comes the big day and after going into marathon training I even got a pedicure. And Dr Escargot doesn’t bother to show up.

He doesn't even call.