Thursday, January 7, 2010

Surgery Day

SO, the following entry is every little detail of my day at the hospital that I can remember!!! It's really long and you might not want to read it! :) I have really written it for myself... I don't know, writing everything out in great detail like this helps me process things. And I am fascinated by the fact that there are lots of things about the day that I don't remember, or have really skewed memories of. Because in general, I have an excellent memory. And I know it's normal that my memories of Tuesday are distorted, and that it's due to stress, pain meds, anesthesia, Percoset, ETC... but I find it fascinating that reality might be vastly different from my memories in some places, and when people who were actually there that day, or who talked to me that day, tell me what REALLY happened, and it's so different from what I remember... it's just wild! Like, Andee says she talked with me on the phone that night about how awesome it was that the cancerous tumor was out of my body and apparently I responded with a total lack of enthusiasm, like 'yeah, whatever.' HAAA! Don't remember that at ALL!!
Anyway. Even though the following novel-length post is more for me than you, I don't MIND if you read it, which is why I'm posting it.

7:00 am: My cell phone alarm wakes me up. As I reach for it, I notice that it's still dark outside, which means that it's early, and I wonder, why would I want to get up now?? I almost turn the alarm off and go back to sleep. And then I remember, oh, right, I have surgery today. It seems ridiculous.
7:30 am: Mom, John, and I leave for the 90-min drive to the hospital. I sit in the backseat, quietly, obsessively sticking the thermometer in my mouth every 20 mins or so to make sure I don't have a fever anymore. I hold my comforting objects, and listen to the Sigor Ros meditation song on my MP3 player. I make a shopping list of items I'll need post-surgery, in case one or more of my family members gets restless during the hours and hours of waiting around the hospital while I'm in surgery and needs a task. Ginger tea, canned soup, Arnica.
8:50 am: We arrive at the hospital, park, enter the building, and promptly get lost. We're simultaneously looking for my dad, and reception area 3S, where I'm supposed to check in. Suddenly, I accidentally bite my lip, which is already chapped, and it starts bleeding and won't stop. I dab at it with a tissue and it just keeps bleeding, and I can taste it, and it's making me mad.
9 am: We find my dad, and we all go to 3S, the mammography department. I check in while still holding a bloody tissue against my mouth and it's embarrassing and annoying.
9:10: The nurse (or maybe she was the mammography person? There were so many people...) calls me into a small side room. She closes the door, snaps a hospital bracelet on my wrist, looks me earnestly in the face, and asks me my name and what procedure I'm in the hospital for today. I tell her, "I'm having a lumpectomy," and she asks me where. "Uh, my left breast," I reply, feeling like I'm in the Twilight Zone - does she not know why I'm there? She must, or else she wouldn't be part of my team right now. Is she checking to make sure I'm mentally with it? Is this some kind of trick question? WHAT? She leaves me alone to put a gown on, and then goes to get my mom. There's a knock on the door as I'm doing the snaps on the gown, and I say "Come in," thinking it's my mom, but it's a male doctor I haven't met, and a female med student. He asks if it's okay with me if she's there, and it is - I'd rather HE leave. My mom comes in, too. He - I don't even remember his name - explains the procedure that's about to happen, with the wires and mammo and ultrasound and stuff, and I start to cry, mostly because I don't want him doing it. Then another male doctor enters the room, tells me his name (which I forget) and shakes my hand, and sits down next to the first guy, and asks if I have any other questions. I had too many but couldn't think of any polite ones, and ended up bluntly asking, "And what is YOUR role?" Meaning, who the hell are you and why are you here? Why are there TWO of you male doctors? He hedged - "I'll be overseeing the procedure, helping with it, doing it..." It turns out HE was the doctor in charge, and the first guy, who explained it all to me, was the resident who was assisting. This was confusing to me, and it seems like it should have been the other way around - the doctor in charge should have been the one to explain the procedure to me and then the resident should have been introduced as the assistant. Or at least they should have been both meeting with me together, instead of having the doctor in charge just breeze into the room at the last minute like an afterthought. Maybe most women wouldn't have a problem with that. But I had already explained during my surgical consultation the month before that I am very uncomfortable with male doctors and would like to have female doctors as much as possible, or at least be prepared in advance for the male doctors. At some point during all this, someone asks for my name and birthdate again.
Unknown time that felt like an eternity: the awful wire-insertion processes with mammo and ultrasound, as already described in a previous entry. Someone makes me repeat my name and birthdate again, despite the fact that I'm crying and can barely squeak it out. Then my mom and I returned to the mammo waiting room, where my dad, stepdad, and now also brother, sister-in-law, and niece were waiting for me. I gently hugged people, feeling fragile with the wires protruding from my breast. How to explain the wires? They were not thin like acupuncture needles, as had been my dad's hope. They were more the thickness of the kind of staples that come out of a normal desk stapler.
Approximately 10 am? 10:30?: All 7 of us stumble and fumble our way up to 4W, the Same Day Program Area. I check in at the desk, and have to answer the same batch of questions I've already answered, beginning with, yes, my name and birthdate. The receptionist also asks if I want to give visiting clergy permission to visit my room. UH, NO. My family chuckles behind me. I feel funny sitting in the chair answering the in-take questions with an entourage of family members there. Then we all go sit in the pre-surgery waiting room. I'm glad to have another annoying form to fill out (updating my list of medications and supplements), so I don't have to think about what to think about while I'm there waiting. A nurse calls my name from the doorway, and I get up and go to her. She makes me spell my last name and recite my birthdate before we go down the hall. I start to get nervous - what's happening now? Is this it? Do I get to say goodbye to my family first? She assures me I'll be in a pre-op room for a while and that my family members can take turns coming in to see me one last time before surgery.
11 or 11:30? Who knows?: A nurse hands me a gown and tells me how to put it on, then leaves, letting my mom in on her way out. There is no door, just a curtain. I promptly forget what she says about the gown, and put it on but can't figure out where the heck the ties tie together. It leaves big gaps in front and I have to awkwardly hold the gown closed. I open the curtain to signal that I have the gown on (sort of!), and then lots of nurses, it seems like, are in and out of my little room doing stuff. It's possible that it was only one or two nurses, but everything is blurring together at this point. A nurse asks me for my name and birthdate, and I dutifully recite the info, but this time ask WHY. She tells me it's their policy to be extra extra careful about making sure they have the right patient and right procedure at all times. Even when it seems silly, they have to ask these questions over and over. Someone tells me I should go to the bathroom. I say okay but then they keep going with other stuff. The anesthesiologist comes in and starts asking me questions, at the same time as a nurse is trying to start an IV in my arm, and it's hard for me to focus on both at once. I ask if I should go to the bathroom before getting the IV in, and the nurse says no, I can just bring the IV bag in with me when I go to the bathroom in a few minutes. The anesthesiologist asks me to take a deep breath and then blow out, pretending like I'm blowing out birthday candles. I do that, and it's absurd, like pretending to blow out birthday candles is the "next step" after being asked to recite my birthdate a million times. He asks me when the last time I ate was, and I say, last night at 7 pm. Another nurse asks me what procedure I'm having done and on what breast, and I start to giggle uncontrollably, asking if she wants to see the wires and magic marker Xs all over my breast herself. She asks when I last ate, and I practically shout, "I had egg foo young! At 7 pm last night!" and my mom and I are giggling out of control now. A nurse takes my BP and it's elevated, thanks to the laughing fits. I intuitively turn to look at the curtain, several seconds before K pokes her head through it, smiles at me, pokes her head back out. I ask a nurse if I can keep my own socks on, or if I really have to wear those hospital socks that were given to me with the gown, and he replies with a touch of amusement, that believe it or not, I have to wear the hospital's socks with the no-skid rubber pads on both sides, for liability purposes. So I don't slip. I giggle more. I'm lying in a bed. How could I slip? I can't wear my own socks? K comes in, and I'm so loopy. I think the first thing I say is, "K, I put the gown on backwards!" and she laughs at me. Then she starts talking about my blog and I'm shocked that she reads it. I don't even remember giving her the URL. I don't remember all of what she says or what we talked about, but I remember being glad to just see her comforting face. I grin and ask her if she wants me to tell her my name and birthdate and why I'm there, joking that for a while I thought everyone kept asking me that to make sure that I was okay in the head. She laughed and said something about how she wishes I could be conscious during surgery so I could keep talking to her. Haha, I would've been glad to keep chatting with her, but I'd prefer it to be over lattes, instead of while she was slicing into my boob! She has me sign a consent form I think I already signed earlier. In the middle of signing, I pause to blurt out, "OH, you wanna know something funny?!", and she must think I'm nuts. "The nurse on the phone yesterday told me not to wear deoderant because the alcohol in it makes it a fire hazard in the OR!! Can you imagine if my armpits burst into flames in the middle of surgery?!" She laughs with me, and says she's never heard them saying that before, and she'll have to look into that! Ha! I think I say something about being glad surgery didn't have to be post-poned, and K nods in agreement, saying she's glad I'm there. "Well, not really REALLY glad you're here," she amends with a sympathetic smile, and I know she means she wishes I didn't have cancer so I didn't have to be there with her at all. And then it's a good thing I put the gown on backwards, because before she leaves me, K has to reach in and quickly feel the wire to make sure it's okay. And yup, it is.
When K left, a nurse told me she'd go get my family to come see me before I went to the OR, but I reminded her that I was supposed to pee first...it was awkward timing, me trying to go to the bathroom while hooked up to the IV with the IV bag hanging on the door, while my family waited in the hall for me to be back in the bed so they could come in. It would have made MUCH more sense in the following order:
1. Britta pees
2. Britta gets the IV put in
3. Britta's family comes in to say goodbye.
I don't see what the problem with that would have been?? Anyway...
Then everything blurs together even more. I remember someone, probably the anesthesiologist, saying he'd "give me a little squirt of something" in the IV to start relaxing me on the way into the OR. I think this is when I lay back against the half-reclined stretcher, had the poofy hat thing put on my head (it has a simple name - why can't I remember it?), and then my family came a couple at a time to say goodbye before I went into the OR. I have vague memories of them coming over to kiss me one at a time, and standing around my bed, and I felt kind of like Dorothy gazing dopily at her family when she goes "And YOU were there, and YOU..." I remember being wheeled down the hall in the stretcher and it felt so weird, like something in a movie. I made the effort to smile and wave at my family members lining the hallway. Then I was in the OR and I was surprised by how much stuff was in there - it's not like on TV. I was expecting a big, mostly empty room, with a table in the middle and some surgical instruments or something. Instead, there were lots of lights and stuff on the walls and I don't know, just STUFF. I couldn't look around much, but it just felt surprisingly cluttered to me. I remember K's face. And I remember having to scoot, with assistance, from the stretcher to another bed or whatever. I think K asked me what kind of music I wanted to listen to, and I think I laughed and replied that I wasn't going to be able to hear music for very long. I don't remember when, but at some point, I heard someone say in amusement, "I haven't even given her anything yet!", so I assume I was giggling. And I THINK I remember someone telling me to think of a nice place to go to, or something like that... and then I tried to do that but... that's all I remember!! Weird, no one said anything like "Okay, count down from 10," or "Here comes the anesthesia"... There was no transition like that. My memories of the OR just suddenly stop there.

1:15-ish??:
I am suddenly aware of my surroundings again. Or at least, aware of my own consciousness again. Sort of. I seem to be back in the very same place that I started, the room where I was before they wheeled me into the OR, but it was really the "post-op" area in an entirely different place and just LOOKED like the pre-op area. My head felt heavy, I was dizzy and woozy, and I was shivering under the blankets that were wrapped around me. I don't think I was babbling like an idiot. I think I asked normal questions like "How did it go?" (Very well!) Oh, and I asked if I still had my underwear on! And yes, I did! Hilarious. I probably do not remember much about this time, or about how long it lasted. I remember lots of people talking to me, but I don't remember what they were saying.

3:00-ish??: I'm allowed to get up, get dressed, and sit in a wheelchair to be wheeled out of the hospital! Mom tells me that Finnie is down the hall, eagerly waiting to see me to give me a picture she drew, and very much looking forward to seeing me in a wheelchair. HAHAHAAAA! She gives me a receipt that she scribbled on the back of, and tells me it's a picture of the windy roads so that the foxes can't eat the people. Something like that.

I'm happy to go home.

1 comment:

  1. Brit, I'm so glad you posted this. As I was reading I laughed...then cried...then laughed. You are just so freakin' amazing. I honestly have no words. I love you and I'm so glad that the surgery is behind you. You are so strong. xo -T

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