Mastectomy #8D: When disaster strikes (Part 4) … nerve tests

Preface – Why I write about my mastectomy. 

Mastectomy T-shirt1

Yep, been there … done that …

Before my mastectomy, in the search for reassurance, I scoured the internet for first person experiences.  

Some of the posts I read left me reeling, and thinking “there but for the Grace of God …”.  

And yet I read on, devouring the suffering (just as passers-by rubber-neck a traffic accident), because it was strangely addictive, a bit like porn (except no one deliberately goes through a mastectomy to make money!)

[I never thought that I would someday join this group of exclusive women in providing my own personal horror story.]

My readership figures dip whenever I publish one of these posts.  Maybe the internet is over-saturated with mastectomy blog porn and readers have become desensitised to mastectomy disasters, a bit like how the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones makes every other violent scene on TV a pastiche.

Perhaps readers find it embarassing to have someone air her dirty medical laundry, and prefer to skip such posts, the way people avert their eyes from mothers who whip out their breasts and feed their babies in public. Or maybe it’s just boring, because all my readers have been there, done that and got the Mastectomy T-Shirt and it would take something really sensational, like Angelina Jolie, to grab their interest.

Nevertheless, regardless of readership figures, I continue to post about my experience because it puts the rest of my blog (and my approaches to cancer treatments) in context.  I admit that it’s also cathartic, as is most personal blogging and akin to the confessional – a trouble shared is a trouble halved.


I’ve often wondered whether I’m being indulgent in airing my laundry so publicly, but I remember desperately searching through the internet for anyone who had gone through the same, and realising that if even if they had, they hadn’t shared their experiences.   So I continue to write in the hope that perhaps one day, someone who wakes up from her mastectomy with a paralysed arm, will find my posts, and companionship and hope.

[Believe it or not, I’m actually a very private person.  I am no Angelina Jolie.  My mastectomy posts are like one of those dreams where I’m walking down the street when I suddenly realize that I am … stark naked]

Thank you for reading.


Day 2 post-mastectomy:

A neurophysiological muscle test called an electromyography was conducted 2 days after the mastectomy to see if there was any nerve function or whether the nerves were dead.

Red Hot Poker

I should have guessed what was in store when the neurophysiologist wheeled in his electronic equipment, then proceeded to unwrap a series of fine needles.

One needle is connected to an electrode and inserted into a muscle in the arm or shoulder, sometimes a second one is inserted a small distance way.  A current is passed through the needle and a reading is obtained.  If no reading is detected, either the current was turned up or the needle wriggled around the same muscle to see if there is a response elsewhere.  Basically it was a test to see if the nerves were working – if they did, I would feel pain.

The pain when it came, was unexpected, uncontrolled and shocking in its intensity.

I wanted to run screaming from the room.  But there was no choice.  I had to sit there, very still, with tears pouring down my face, while the neurophysiologist dug into my shoulder and arm muscles.  Every time he stabbed the needle in and turned on the current, it felt like a searing hot poker.   (little wonder months down the road I’m becoming needle-phobic).  I literally broke out in a cold sweat from the agony.

Which sane person would sit and submit themselves to pain?  But I was not sane … just desperate for answers.

image credit: follet

Just add neurophysiologist …

The neurophysiologist was a softly-spoken man, who thanked me courteously after each horrendous procedure, as if I’d conferred on him a knighthood. His apologetic manner each time I flinched and cried and swore, added a surreal touch to the whole session.  If it hadn’t been medically-sanctioned, the procedure would have been classed as torture.  What man can stand to do a job where his patients are subjected to such torture?

On one of the US websites, it said that the procedure would cause some muscle soreness, and recommended painkillers after the test.  Soreness?  I wonder which deluded medical propagandist psychotic masochist wrote the copy for the website.  I noticed how they’d skipped the actual description of the sensations during the procedure.  And as for painkillers, I didn’t get given any.  This is stiff-upper-lip Britain after all, where they’d probably hack off a leg without anaesthesia and call it “slight discomfort”!!!

The official report was that there was some nerve function [i.e. whenever I felt pain], but not in the C5/C6 branches of my brachial plexus, i.e. not enough for my arm to work.  (Thank you – I could have told him that without the “slight discomfort” of the test.)  And after the agony of the test, my arm was still paralysed.


The breast surgeon claimed to be just as shocked by what had happened.  In all his 15 years and 5000 mastectomies, this was the second or third such instance of arm paralysis, and never once damage to the brachial plexus.  This risk wasn’t even in the waiver he’d made me sign before surgery because it wasn’t suppose to happen.

I wasn’t comforted by knowing that I was a rarity. I don’t know if I trusted what he said, but he did seem genuinely upset.

I don’t think I was angry with him per se.  Just very sad.  And depressed.  And numb as my arm felt.

I’d thought I’d been doing the right thing in getting the mastectomy.

For two years I’d fought against using conventional methods to deal with the cancer.  I was fit and healthy (apart from the cancer), I was lifting 20kg weights and out-doing the boys in push-ups during yoga class.

Now I’d placed my faith in medical science.  And lost the use of my left arm.


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