“Nae bother hen.”- to quote the great Kevin Campbell (one of our Directors) in my get well soon card from work. And he’s right….it is nae bother. At least, it has been since the operation’s been done.
The Morning of the Operation
We were up bright and early at 5:30 am so that I could drink the high-carbohydrate drinks I’d been given at the pre-operative assessment before the 6:30 am deadline. We’d been told to get ourselves to the Plastics ward at the Lister Hospital by 7:15 am. Here’s my little greeting as we made our way there:
It’s the day of my surgery and I’m on my way to the Lister in Stevenage for my double mastectomy.., https://t.co/2AVL5YlmV1
— Gemma__e ????? (@gemziebeth) July 7, 2018
When we got to the hospital my parents were there, waiting for us. There was no bed available yet, but there were patients going home that day so it wouldn’t be a problem. I got changed into my sexy hospital gown and we waited in the Day Room on the ward.
Presently, one of the ward sisters, Giada, came to get me ready for the operation in the dressings clinic and we had to leave my mum and dad for a while. They were nervous – their child’s body was about to be spoilt by this big operation. I felt my dad was struggling a little bit – anger and worry – “why has this even happened?”. As a parent myself, I can imagine how tough it must have been for them both.
Giada had come to work on her day off to watch my surgery. She said the operation I was having, a double mastectomy with DIEP flap reconstruction, presented an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often so she was keen to help in some way. I was absolutely thrilled to be helping someone progress their career; when Mr Ridha came in later I told him that too.
There were a few forms to fill out, labels to print and bracelets to be applied, so as Giada busied herself with that, I had a nosy through my clinical notes. I was pleasantly surprised to find my maternity notes were in there from Mollie’s birth in 2012, so I had a read through my labour notes and they kept me intrigued for quite a while!
Soon, Mr Ridha came in (in his jeans – he was giving up his Saturday!) to take some “before” photos and mark me up for surgery. With his tape measure and black marker in hand, he drew lots of lines on my body to indicate the central line down my body and to give guidance as to where my incisions would be made. He was pretty adept with a camera; making sure the light was right as he took reference photos of my body. I cheekily asked him to “perk them up a bit” and hear the response that he would do his best – then some thoughts out loud on how he’d manage it. Then I looked in the mirror and again tried to choke back the tears, as the reality of what I was about to have done hit me. Luckily it was only momentary; Chris smiled and gave me the thumbs up and I remembered that by the end of that day, the tumour would be gone.
Once I was marked up, Mr Ridha said I’d be going down “soon”, so he had a quick chat with Chris about being my primary contact and I briefly introduced him to my parents before I said “see you later”, even though I totally wouldn’t!
The final visit was from the anaesthetist, who asked me the standard questions about loose fillings, caps or crowns, then when she had finished, it was time to go. Off we traipsed towards the lifts that took us to the operating theatres, which are on the fourth floor. Mum, Dad and Chris came along but had to leave me at the door, so we said our goodbyes with hugs, cheeky inappropriate comments about new boobs and kisses, followed by some naughty gestures through the window at my husband. That at least kept the anaesthetist amused!
Off to Sleep
Giada went off to get changed into her scrubs while I followed the anaesthetist into the “knock-out” room. I looked around at the machines, masks and drugs everywhere then got comfy on the bed. I remember chatting for a little while as they cannulated me and then the doors opened – in came a lovely man with a kind face, then Giada was there too at the top of my bed.
I asked him if he was the guy with the hammer – he chuckled and said yes if the drugs don’t work, he was the anaesthetist who would be looking after me. I said “just don’t let me wake up” – he assured me he wouldn’t. Then I was fitted with some heart monitors on my chest and back and then I started to feel woozy as he injected some clear fluid into the cannula on my hand – antibiotics.
He was asking me what I did for a living as he prepared the Propofol (the white drug that sends you off to sleep). I said “I work for a company called IBM – have you heard of it?” more chuckling from the team as he said “No, what do they do?”. As he started to inject the white medicine, I think I just said “Computers and shit….I’ll have to tell you later because I’m a bit busy going to sleep now.”. It was around 9am.
Chris got hold of my phone and entertained the Twitterverse with some live tweeting of the long day they spent waiting for me to come out. It really had me laughing when I was well enough to read it all.
After the Operation
Chris had a phone call at 6:30pm from Mr Ridha to tell him the surgery had gone well, that I was in Recovery and I should be back on the ward within a couple of hours. My family eagerly piled into their cars and headed for Stevenage – only to have to sit and wait for 4 hours before I emerged from Recovery.
There isn’t much I remember (apart from the beautiful Kerry Townsend’s visit) from the hours after the operation – at least, not till the following evening. Just pain – so much PAIN. I had a PCA pump (patient controlled analgesia) with 100 doses of IV morphine available to me. I think I used most of it that day but it also made me just sleepy and useless. I didn’t really get much of a look at it until I saw this photo – and then I was shocked to see how they lock the morphine away inside the unit (which, of course, makes perfect sense!!).
I also had drains (one for each side) to collect the fluid produced as a result of the mastectomies. Those were a bit minging. I also had a urinary catheter and that was weird – convenient, but weird. My body forgot how to wee for about 3 days after it was removed.
Mr Ridha came to see me at midnight the following day. He said everything was healing well; the flap was taking to its new home and he wanted to see me up and walking the next day (my face: ?). True to form though, having considered this for a few hours in the night as I fought through my morphine-induced headache, the next day, I was up – determined to get mobile and battle through the pain.
It absolutely sucked, but we did it.