So I had a week before surgery, just enough time for a quick trip to see the Perfect Grandchildren (still so very Perfect) before Steve drove me to the hospital for my big morning. They make you get there forever early, but before I entirely gave up hope, I was called to pre-op. The nurse there asked if I knew what procedure I was having done.
“A lumpectomy with removal of the sentinel lymph nodes.”
The next nurse asked. The anesthesiologist’s assistant asked. The anesthesiologist asked.
My surgeon asked. Then she told me I was going to do great. Really? All I was gonna do was lie there unconscious. Yeah, I guess I can do that pretty well.
The person who was in charge of wheeling me to the operating theater asked.
“Don't you people know yet what you’re doing to me?”
Unfortunately this person didn't realize I was kidding (yeah, sometimes I should watch my sense of humor). She explained -- rather at length -- why they asked everyone. She told me I’d have to answer again when I got to the operating room.
Maybe they asked when I got there, maybe not. I can’t say. The anesthesiologist or perhaps her assistant -- I wasn't taking notes -- gave me something so I wouldn't get anxious. People were praying for me. Candles were being lighted. There was a shamanic healing group going, and I’m pretty sure a drum circle had convened. There’s a kid who’s doing a breast cancer run and is including my name. Go, kid, go! I figured all my bases were covered, plus I had complete confidence in my surgeon. Was I supposed to be anxious?
She fed my IV anyway and wheeled me out of my cubical. It was just like being on an episode of “House”! I lifted my head from the gurney to see pre-op rooms slide by. Big double doors opened before us, and we turned down a hall, and then, and then I definitely wasn't anxious; I wasn't conscious.
My nurse friend says, no I was conscious, and I would have answered what my procedure was. I would have gotten myself off the gurney and up onto the operation table. Okay. If she says so, but I have no recollection of any of it. It makes me wonder, though, what do they do if you can't answer your question? Are you sent to a remedial pre-op study group for slow patients? Do you have to have your operation after regular school hours?
I guess I answered okay, because I woke up in my same cubical. The surgeon reviewed procedure (lumpectomy and removal of the sentinel lymph nodes already!) and told me how well I’d done. Well, she did well. Thanks to a nurse dosing my IV, the surgical wounds troubled me very little.
Before I was sent home, the nurse gave me a little rectangular pink pillow. “Some people like to hold it under their arm,” she said. I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d ever seen. Why would I want to hold a little pink pillow under my arm?
Let me tell you, I LOVE my little pink pillow. Even after a month, the scars occasionally smart rather like a mild rug burn, and that little pink pillow can be placed to change the pressure points. I love it almost as much as I loved the stuffed elephant my father brought me when I was seven after I had my tonsils removed. I used to burrow my nose into it to block out the smell of the ether. (Yeah, ether. I know, right?) I slept with that elephant for years, and I foresee a long, comforting future with my little pink pillow.
The two main things to know about post- surgery are that (1) people brought food. They brought a lot of food. They brought really good food. Hey, the damn operation was almost worth it. (2) I am not a person who is good at being tired, but I found myself lying on the couch every afternoon, too weary to think. Thank goodness for junk TV which was all I was able to attend to.
Ten days later, I went for my follow-up appointment. My surgeon told me how well I’d done. (Again, didn't do nothin’.) She cautioned me I’d be tired for from four to six WEEKS!!! She reminded me to see the medical oncologist. I’d forgotten entirely about the oncologist, the fellow who would prescribe either an estrogen blocker (like tamoxifen) or an estrogen inhibitor to ward off future breast cancer. He was a busy fellow, but I scored an appointment two and a half weeks off. Oncologist for meds in the morning, radiologist to set up my radiation simulation in the afternoon. Check everything off my list in one day.
Except when I saw the oncologist, I learned that the tumor held a nasty secret.