Several hours after the mastectomy, I woke up, disoriented, and discovered I couldn’t move my left arm.
My arm felt very very heavy, and my shoulder was frozen. I tried to flex my fingers, and I couldn’t feel them.
I realised that this. Was. Not. Normal.
Then came the damning moment: I had the toe-curling sensation of standing on the extreme edge of a precipice, on the verge of toppling into a very deep ravine. It took me back to the time when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt as if I was marooned in the middle of a merry-go-round whizzing round me while I couldn’t move.
Time stood still.
It is at moments like this that our life pivots. I knew that something horrific was happening. My mind kept sliding down some dark valley. I was helpless and alone.
Trying not to panic, I knew I had to do something or go crazy – surely it couldn’t be what I thought it was? I beeped the nurse who paged the night house doctor. She examined me and because there was still some movement in the fingers, she refused to call the surgeon. It was a case of watch-and-wait. I was stunned by her verdict. I was in a living nightmare, but she didn’t seem to care.
I willed my arm to move, tears pouring down my face. If only mental power was enough, I could have moved mountains that night.
About an hour later, I gave up. I was desperate for help and reassurance. I buzzed the nurse again. The night doctor arrived. She made another examination. Because the symptoms weren’t getting any worse, she refused to call the surgeon again even though I begged her to.
[Lessons learned: I just want to say that I hope that house doctor will someday go through what I went through if only for compassion-training – if someone has lost use of their arm, it is a fucking emergency!
Don’t try to give stupid reassurances – it’s my arm that was affected, not my brain!!!
Someone who was well-versed in the ways of hospitals, told me I should have screamed and kicked up a fuss – she would have called the surgeon then. House doctors are sheep trained not to disturb senior consultants unless it is an emergency.
What constitutes an emergency to a doctor? Death? What on earth is happening to the medical profession? Where is compassion in the face of a patient’s anguish? My theory is that doctors, especially young ones like that house doctor, have technical knowledge, but no experience of life or how to deal with sadness and terror – they have isolated themselves in their white coats and titles and so-called professional demeanour. They have failed us through their fear and indifference. They do not deserve the title “doctor” or “healer”.]
Thanks to my company’s private health insurance, I had a room to myself. It meant I could cry to my heart’s content without disturbing anyone else. The nurses tried to comfort me, but all they could do was repeat what the night house doctor had told me, more platitudes, more lies.
Time and time again I stroked the fingers of my right hand over my left arm, feeling that strange juncture where living flesh suddenly became rubbery and unfeeling.
Somehow I made it through the night. Maybe there was the faintest of hopes that it would all turn out well. I prayed as I never had before. But God was angry and silent.
I scoured the breast cancer forums and read about women who suffered from stiffness of arms from scar tissue (or axillary lymph node dissection or lymphoedema) and how they had to do exercises to increase mobility. If only it was that easy.
In my case, it was total paralysis of my left arm. Period. No amount of exercising would bring it back. Not a single forum had any case like what I was going through. I was the rare 0.0001% complication that no one had ever heard of.
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