Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I Woke Up in the Maternity Ward

Surgery went fine.  I woke up in the maternity ward.  I was expecting that.  My breast cancer navigator had informed me that they did that because of the privacy in that ward.  I would automatically have a private room and it would be comfortable.  I liked the idea, and it worked particularly well in my case, because I was the only patient in the ward.  There were no babies at the time, so I had a whole nursing staff to myself.  I felt special.

I had been told about the Lidocaine and the drain, but it didn't really prepare me for it.  The thing that I find when it comes to surgery is that no matter how much research you do, and no matter how much information you have; it's still full of surprises.  I had a drain out my side with a little plastic bulb that needed to be drained periodically.  It was awkward and it reminded me of an old Katherine Helmond movie called Brazil.  You'd have to see it to understand.  You can find it on Amazon and probably Netflix if you want to check it out.  I also had a pouch with a ball in it that connected to the surgical area with a tube of some kind for the Lidocaine.  There were massaging cuffs on my legs so that I didn't get blood clots.  I had an IV for fluid levels.  Oh yeah, and I was missing a boob.

I didn't really know what to think of my current status.  The staff told me that everything went well.  I thought that they should know.  They had the experience in the situation.  I'd never been through it before.  I felt a little mechanical, considering how many things I was hooked up to.  The one thing that I noticed was that I didn't hurt at all.  I had been extremely worried about the pain, and nothing hurt.  I was excited.  This wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  Amazing.

Now, I know what you're thinking.  I've had surgery.  I know full well that the anesthesia hangs on for 24 hours, and that you don't feel the pain right away because of Lidocaine, mental blocks, anesthesia and shock.  I still was happy that I was alert and didn't feel pain.  Lidocaine is something that was previously used for joint surgery pain.  It is fairly recent that it's being used for mastectomies.  I can tell you after my experience that it's a great idea.  Good job surgeons for coming up with that.  I hate pain killers because they make me sick and cause me to feel wasted.  Lidocaine is great.

The wound was completely covered.  I had a bandage that started in the middle of my chest and went all the way around to my side under my armpit.  The nurses told me that it was over 20 centimeters.  I don't know much about the metric system, but that's large.

The nurses asked me how I was feeling.  I was actually feeling pretty good, all things considered.  I was happy that I woke up and there was no catheter.  I normally go in for surgery on parts related to the urinary tract, and I wake up peeing blood or having a catheter or a stent to deal with.  This was a different scenario for once, and I liked it.  You would have to deal with as many urinary tract problems as I have to appreciate the relief that you feel when you wake up and you can pee normally.  It's a matter of convenience that most people take for granted.

So, I ate and drank normally.  I had some bland food to start off with just in case, but there were no digestion issues.  It wasn't long before I got up and went to the bathroom with a little help.  I nearly did it all by myself right away though.  It was amazing how easy things were after a major surgery.  I did need help getting the massaging cuffs off and on my legs though.  Those things were tricky.

My husband was there.  He sat with me.  He was so very worried about me, and he noticeably relaxed as he saw me feeling way better than expected.  He eventually went home and brought my son back for a visit.  I think that everyone felt a little better after seeing that I was all right.  I hate thinking that I've caused my family any grief.  I can recuperate easier if I don't worry about them.  I'm a wife and mother.  It's who I am.

Here's the amazing thing.  I tend to just deal with my situation.  I don't live in denial and I don't avoid any subjects.  I just don't like to focus on the inconvenient or bad stuff that I have to deal with and there's no way to avoid.  I just deal and try to focus on something else.  So that evening, my something else was that I actually had CBS on the television, because the hospital has satellite.  I hadn't been able to watch Man With a Plan, Scorpion, or The Odd Couple for weeks  because the cable company is a pain in the ass.  So, little bit of happy in the middle of major surgery.

So, first night after surgery.  Great nursing staff, whole ward to myself, up and walking a bit, had a nice dinner, visited with my family, read a little, watched some TV and went to sleep.  Considering the fact that I had only cured one of my potential cancers, and that I had a long recovery road ahead, and that I hadn't gotten a pathology report telling me that this event was officially solved; everything was going pretty well.  I had been so worried, and at that moment I wondered why.

So, if anyone takes something away from this post, I hope it's that it wasn't as bad as I imagined.  I will continue to tell the story, so hopefully it will help someone.  

Monday, April 10, 2017

And The Day of Surgery Drags On

My surgeon showed up shortly after I was placed in pre op following my trip to nuclear medicine.  This time my husband and I were in the area where we could at least watch television.  There were other patients on either side of us awaiting their various procedures.  This is the part of the situation that tends to be very public.  You are sitting there with the curtains somewhat dividing you, but not really, and you can hear everything that is going on around you.  The nurses and orderlies come and go and check on your fluids and so forth. I always feel like I'm on some kind of assembly line in that phase of the operation (pun intended).

Let me pause here to say that my husband works in HVAC and he tends to know almost as many people as I do after all of my years at Walmart when we are out.  The day of my surgery was no different.  A few people asked where they knew me from, and I said Walmart.  But my husband knew the volunteer that was in the area from one of his on site jobs.  He was a nice older man and he volunteered at the hospital sometimes since he'd retired.  He was there helping make sure that we were all comfortable.  He came and had friendly conversations with everyone and got us a blanket or a drink of water or whatever he could do to make out wait more comfortable.  I think the fact that he and my husband were acquainted helped make my husband a little less tense.  He was nice, and it was a pleasant experience.

My surgeon came over and told us that there was one other person waiting and then we would be all set at 10 am or so, just as I was told.  That was good.  We talked and watched TV.  I got up and dragged my IV to the bathroom with me.  There's nothing on morning television, but at least they had Channel 3.  That was during the cable/CBS argument that lasted about two months this year in which I missed football playoffs, Man With a Plan, The Odd Couple, Scorpion, The Big Bang Theory, Live With Kelly, and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.  I was excited that while I was in the hospital, I would get to see some of my shows.  I actually believed that in pre op.

Anyway, when it was time to go for surgery, my surgeon came and told me that he had to go and do an emergency appendectomy. What could I say?  It was an emergency.  So, we waited some more.  While we were waiting at some point, I'm  not sure when, the lady who was designated as my breast cancer navigator came by.  She's a really nice lady and she does great work for people who really have no idea what's happening to them.  She came to see how I was doing and make sure that I hadn't died of anxiety.  She always had a calming effect.

The thing that none of us counted on was that there was another cancer patient in pre op.  She was waiting for her husband to go to surgery, but she'd been down my road before.  She came over to talk to me when they took her husband in. My husband had stepped away at the moment.  She was very polite and said that she didn't want to bother me, but she'd seen my navigator.  We talked a moment, and the woman asked me if I would mind if she said a prayer for me.  I accepted her offer.  I'm not normally spiritual, but it seemed as though there was a reason for everything that was happening to me, and I didn't want to question or reject it.  It didn't seem productive to refuse a prayer.  The lady said a lovely prayer for me and then she went to the waiting room.

Eventually, the appendectomy was over and the surgeon said that it was my turn.  He'd come by and asked me if it was all right for him to push me back and do the emergency surgery.  He'd come back to see how I was doing again before my surgery and asked me if I was ready.  I don't know if anyone is ever really ready for surgery, but he is a nice man and has a great bed side manner for a doctor of the modern era.  I'm still very glad that he was my doctor.  There are some nasty ones out there, and I felt lucky with the one I got.

I went to the hospital that day scared, anxious, uncertain, and tired.  No matter how much research I'd done, no matter how many blogs and forums and articles I'd read; nothing could really prepare me for what I was about to go through.  There were support groups for survivors.  There were navigators to help you through everything.  I'd been in that operating room for a few things over the years, and I had never been treated with kid gloves the way that I had been with breast cancer.  And it wasn't even actual cancer yet.  It was still DCIS.

I was scared that my life was going to be ruined.  I was scared that something else was going to be wrong.  I was scared that there was more cancer lurking somewhere in my body.  I was scared that after  the mastectomy I would end up having to have a hysterectomy too.  It was a lot to deal with.  There was nothing that I could read or listen to or watch that would help with what I was feeling.  There didn't seem to be anyone that could tell me something helpful.  I felt alone, even with my husband and an entire staff around me.  I  had no realistic idea of what to expect when I woke up after the surgery.

They finally rolled me into the operating room.  They told me the usual, that they were about to knock me out.  They don't say much in an operating room.  Those guys aren't there to talk.  They are there to do the cutting.  In my case they were there to do the extraction.  They were about to extract an entire breast and a sentinel node.  I was about to be deformed intentionally for a disease that wasn't making me feel sick.

Having surgery when you feel fine is something that totally goes against my sense of logic.  I lost 48 pounds last year and got in shape.  I felt better than I'd felt in years.  I couldn't tell I had cancer.  I had no symptoms that made me feel sick.  I was having a boob lopped off to save my life and I felt fine.  It made no sense to me, but there I was in the operating room having it done.  My baser instinct told me to get up and run and that there was nothing that bad wrong with me.  I hated surgery.  This was not my first rodeo in an operating room.  My mind told me to run.  My heart told me to run.  My husband told me that he couldn't lose me and that I had to live to raise our son.

The anesthesiologist came and told me it was time.  I had to be there for my family.  I smiled and let them knock me out.

No one can prepare you for surgery.  No one can prepare you for what cancer and it's solutions put your mind through.  If I help anyone with my words, it will be to let everyone know that we all have to deal with it.  It doesn't make sense.  It causes more fear than most things medical.  There are no good answers for your feelings.  It defies all logic.  It makes you want to fight and give up at the same time.  Denial is the strongest feeling you will have.  When your family tells you they don't want to lose you, it will feel like a guilt trip.  You get sad, angry, and confused.  You're scared, frustrated, panicky, and mentally exhausted all the way through it.  No one can alleviate that.  No one can cure that.  You will go through all of the thoughts.  You will probably go through a phase where you just want to hurt somebody, but there's no one to hurt.  You'll want to yell.  Every time that you sit around and someone is complaining about their life, you'll want to strangle them.  It's all part of the process. 

Some of the things that I can tell you are about my feelings since this started.  I reached several points in my mental phases.  I reached points where I didn't want to talk about cancer anymore, I didn't want to discuss treatments anymore, I didn't want to wait anymore, I didn't want to talk about my feelings anymore, I didn't want to ever see a doctor again,  and above all; I didn't want to talk about my missing boob anymore.  After a while, everyone's good intentions and their trying to assure me that everything is all right just smothers me.  Sometimes I just want to be treated like nothing ever happened.  I want to be treated like a perfectly normal person.  I hope that someday I get to feel normal again.  That would be nice.

So, you won't feel normal.  I wish I could say that there was a magic spell or potion that would make your life seem normal again, but there's not.  I know that there are support groups to help you adjust, but I swear that I think sometimes talking about it keeps it too fresh.  I don't live in denial, but I do get sick of trying to discuss it to make me feel better.  So, make sure that you know what kind of person you are.  Let everyone around you know what kind of person you are.  You will be doing everyone a favor.

I hope that somehow this helps people.  Once again, I didn't learn the things that I thought I would from my experience.  I learned a whole bunch of things that I'd never anticipated.  Expect the unexpected.  It's your best defense.  And listen to your doctor.  Your mind will tell you that your doctor is nuts.  The doctor is not nuts.  Your defenses are trying to fool you.  Have the surgery.  Save your life.  It really is your only option.