Thank you for your patience while I was away.
I’ll be honest, although I had every intention of doing so, I really haven’t journaled about my reconstructive surgery. I haven’t even talked about it much, except to Justin who is living it with me.
I have jotted down a few notes here and there, but give myself a chance to really process all this?
No. Not at all.
So when I sat down to write this post, I quickly realized after filling page after page after page that this story was longer than one blog post.
Below is part one of three posts on my reconstructive breast surgery.
In the days leading up to surgery I made massive to-do lists and packed too much into my schedule. I looked for anything to take my mind off the upcoming surgery. I was sometimes scared, sometimes excited, all the time just ready to quit looking at it on a calendar.
At a pre-op appointment I found out one of my surgeons is the same age I am. She looked at my chart and asked, “You’ve been coming to us since you were thirty four?” She sounded surprised.
“Yep,” I said. I sat on the exam table wrapped in a white robe the nurse had handed me before leaving me with the orders everything off from the waist up. As if I didn’t know that by now.
My surgeon peered closer at my chart. “We both just had birthdays, too. We’re the same age.”
“Thirty six?” I asked.
“Yep, thirty six.”
I laughed politely. I know she meant it to be friendly but she unintentionally highlighted how long this journey process nightmare has been going on. And, even though she sees cancer patients all the time, I still felt the gulf between our different life experiences.
Surgery day went as surgery days do. The morning of surgery I was under caffeinated and full of nerves. It isn’t pain that gets me. Once I’m in it, I can handle pain. The anticipation of pain is my undoing.
At the hospital a few tears slid down my face when the nurse inserted the IV into the back of my left hand. On my right arm another nurse had written “NO N/BP RIGHT ARM” in black Sharpie marker.
I made them write that when they took my vitals. These nurses and doctors are top notch but everyone makes mistakes and I didn’t want to take any chances. I can’t have needle sticks (N) or blood pressure cuffs (BP) on my right arm because there are no lymph nodes on that side and my arm would swell horribly.
Everyone who entered my pre-op room made me repeat in my own words why I was there.
“A lift on the left breast, replace the tissue expander with a saline implant on the right breast and remove the port.” I touched each body part as I spoke. They’d all nodded as though I’d passed a test. Which, I suppose, I had.
Out of that list I was most excited about having the port removed. I’ve lived with that thing long enough. Its eviction notice was Sharpied on my chest in the shape of a big circle with starburst lines around the port’s location. My surgeon laughed when he drew it. I laughed, too, but I would have taken the marker and drawn it for him.
A nurse gave me three pills in a cup. Then what seemed like a few minutes later (but, thank you drugs, may have actually been longer) the anesthesiologist injected what she called ‘the good stuff’ into my IV. I entered a deeper drugged haze with more than a little gratitude. Tom Petty had it right. Waiting is absolutely the hardest part.
I remember the entire bed being wheeled to the operating room with me in it. The OR was smaller than I thought it would be. More like a large doctor’s exam room than the big theatrical ORs I’ve seen on television. I remember being helped from the wheeled bed onto a heated operating table. Someone asked me if I was claustrophobic. I shook my head ‘no’ and a plastic mask was placed over my mouth and nose.
Everything is black after that.
I woke up gradually. It was hard to wake up. Like trying drag a saturated quilt out of a swimming pool.
I came up once and heard my surgeon talking to Justin in the recovery room before I sunk back under again. I woke up again when a nurse gave Justin directions to the pharmacy on another floor so he could pick up my pain medication prescription. The third time I woke up I looked to my left.
Justin sat in a chair playing a video game on his phone. I learned later he found a game called Clash of Clans when I was wheeled away. He said it was the only thing that kept him sane while waiting. He’s since downloaded the game to my son’s tablet and they have wars and destroy each other’s castles.
Once awake enough, I was loaded into a wheelchair and pushed out to the car. The nurse’s assistant who pushed my chair chattered the whole ride.
He was a tall, thin black man with a deeply soothing voice. I was still pretty high and don’t remember his exact words. I do remember him saying he’d been a patient at the same hospital. He was diagnosed with a rare and vicious bone cancer that kills a staggering 95% of its victims. He was among the small 5% who’d lived.
He told me this story in jovial tones, marveling at the grace of God for having been allowed to pull through. I squeezed his hand and told him thank you. I meant it, too. As much for the story as for the wheel chair ride.
We made it home around seven that night. Justin’s aunt greeted us at the door. She stayed with us a few days to help with the kids. I’d nodded off in the car a few times on the way home and went to bed immediately when we got there.
Before falling asleep I peeked inside the surgical vest I’d been sent home in. A drain tube snaked out of my right side, the bottom suction bulb safety pinned to the bottom of the vest. I grimaced at the drain. It wouldn’t come out, the nurse said, until the fluid it collected was below 25 mL all day for two days.
I settled back into the pillows that surrounded me and fell asleep propped up.
I don’t remember much more. I do, however, remember an overwhelming sense of relief that the surgery was finally over.
Ps. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for Part 2 of the story next week!