Updated 1 January 2014 re. Bad Press about Hospital and Bad Timing for surgery
Once I signed on the surgical dotted-line, I found myself on a treadmill in the days leading up to the mastectomy. It wasn’t just a matter of turning up and hoping for the best, there was a list of things I had to complete before The Day. It was all designed to keep me distracted and nervous as I ran around like a hamster on a wheel, trying to complete the mastectomy obstacle course.
To show you how stressful it was, a tooth abcess (a health condition that always flares up when I’m under undue pressure) developed the week before surgery. My cheeks even started resembling the proverbial hamster’s. I was hoping the bacterial infection would mean I could postpone surgery, but alas, no such luck – it cleared up a few days before surgery.
1. Pre-assessment visit
Before you go into hospital for any surgery, there is a pre-assessment visit which involves a blood type test in case you need a transfusion, a urine test, and a test for MRSA. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterium responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections in humans. If the test is positive for MRSA, it is too dangerous for surgery, you are sent away with industrial-strength antibiotics for several weeks and surgery is rescheduled.
When I went in for my pre-assessment, I was both hopeful and yet dreading that I would test positive for MRSA, because that would mean a delay to surgery. No such luck.
To show you how nervous and apprehensive I was about everything, when it came to the urine test, I was given the container for the sample, and told to drink loads of water and then go to the loo to collect the sample. I obediently drank loads of water and went to the loo … phew, what a relief! Only to realise … doh, I hadn’t collected the sample!
2. Pre-surgery shopping list
Bring two sports bras (without underwiring), the list from the hospital read. I dutifully went out and bought two new bras. In the end I never used them. If you don’t use bras, don’t bother getting any for post-mastectomy wear.
I also bought cough sweets for any sore throats after surgery. Wet wipes in case I couldn’t wash. I never used any of them.
I got my underarms waxed. I don’t know why I bothered – I don’t think the surgeon would have stopped operating if he’d seen a hairy underarm. It must be a girly thing.
3. Bad Press about the Hospital – I tempt Fate
I almost forgot … the week when the surgery was due, a damning article turned up in the press about mistakes (chaotic and dangerous care) that had been made in the hospital.
I didn’t know what to do: pull out of surgery?
I read the article and it didn’t have anything to do with mastectomies. I’d also spoken to 5 people about my surgeon and they all praised him and said he was one of the best in South-East England. So I decided that the bad press was a blip. If only I’d listened to my misgivings!
It didn’t help that a friend of mine who’s an astrologer pointed out that there was an eclipse a few days after surgery, and the eclipse’s Mars was on my Ascendant, which is not a good thing as Mars is a malefic.
I threw my hands up in despair – if it hadn’t been for the fact that I had to have the surgery within six weeks of the trans-arterial chemoembolisation, I may well have rescheduled surgery for a more propitious time. But I made the decision to go ahead.
You probably think I’m bonkers and supersititious, but in view of the disaster that happened, my recommendation to anyone with eclipse Mars on natal Ascendant, and shown an article on problems in the hospital, is don’t. Don’t tempt fate. The Universe may be trying to tell you something.
[you’re probably thinking: but loads of people had surgery on that day, how come it was OK for them? Answer: because Mars wasn’t on their Ascendant, and an eclipse Mars at that]
I was beginning to feel as if the cards were stacked against me, but having spent two years trying to get rid of the tumour and not succeeding, I felt I didn’t have any choice in what to do next. I was on a roller-coaster and couldn’t get off. Maybe it just goes to show: we try to control our futures, but in the end we are in the hand of Fate.
[I’m not even sure if this post comes under the heading of TMI, reading this must be like watching a car accident about to happen. For those who are about to have a mastectomy, don’t worry, most people get through it without any problems – mine was a very rare case. For those who don’t have cancer, I hope reading this blog has been informative. I guess for you it’s a case of: there but for the Grace of God … .]
4. What’s in fashion for surgical wear
I was kitted out with a pair of compression socks in fetching dark green, designed to prevent blood clots. They were so tight I thought my eyes would pop. And they were put on me by one of the male nurses.
I was told I could keep my knickers on for the surgery. You mean some people don’t? Perhaps they were Scottish?
5. The anaesthesia
The anaesthetist visited me the morning of the surgery. I told him that I was a nervous patient with some bad experiences of minor surgical procedures and that I had BAD VEINS and was slightly needle-phobic. He assured me he knew what he was doing.
When it came to the time for surgery, they wanted to pop me down in the wheelchair, but I refused being made to feel an invalid anymore than I was, and walked down to the theatre.
Just in front of the operating theatre was a small receiving room, with a trolley. By everyone’s pointed glances, I was supposed to lie down on it. I shot a look at the exit and gauged how far I could run before I was rugby-tackled, and decided there was no escaping the mastectomy. The moment had come.
The anaesthetist took one look at my veins, and even though I protested, chose a little one that had never been used before, on the back of my hand. Now, the back of the hand is a very sensitive place for needles. The best practitioners with needles have been nurses or phlebotomists, not doctors, because doctors just don’t have the experience, so I dithered on the verge of asking for a nurse to do the deed. The needle he held was the size of a drinking straw. Before I could pull away, he had the needle in, in one smooth gesture, and it was almost painless. I realised then I was in the hands of a genius with needles.
“What’s that you’re injecting?” I asked, breathing again.
“A painkiller. And this is the anaesthetic to knock you out,” he said, pressing down on a syringe filled with milky fluid (the sort they use in movies to knock out elephants). “You might feel a little discomfort and heat.”
“Ah. If that’s the anaesthetic, how come I’m still talking to you?” I asked nervously, after most of the white fluid had emptied itself into me.
What if I was the rare individual who didn’t succumb to the anaesthetic?
“That’s because it takes about two circulations around the body before it works.”
“Oh, really? Ah, I s … .”