”My friend’s son has a girlfriend with epilepsy. I know it’s not a nice thing to say, but I wouldn’t want my sons marrying any type of diseased girl you know?…Why are you going to the hospital?”
”I have cancer.”
Up until this point, I was quite enjoying my journey to The London Clinic with taxi driver ”just call me Teddy”. He’d told me how much he was looking forward to Christmas with his family, and that he used to have a different woman in his bed each week. Then he met his wife and proposed to her after 2 weeks of dating. Oh, and that it’s unacceptable for a woman to think a man will be faithful to her, but if a woman cheats, then she has ruined herself. Double standards Teddy, double standards. I should have just pretended to be asleep.
It’s taken me over a month to write this piece, and I don’t know why. I haven’t gone back to work yet, and am now not in much pain at all. Each day passes by so quickly, it falls into the next and that turns into a week, then a fortnight and so on. I thought I would be in a ‘seize the day’ mindset now, but that is proving more difficult than what I’d anticipated.
Anyway, as per my last blog, I had a radical trachelectomy on the 9th of December. Teddy dropped me off outside the hospital and asked if he could play himself in the film that he’d decided I would be making about my cancer fiasco. ”Of course you can!” Mum and Dad met me in the foyer, and we were shown to my room, 508. My Dad has recently had a hip replacement replacement (the 1st one in 2010 went a bit wrong) so the poor porter didn’t know whether or not to help the man with the walking sticks or the patient with cancer.
Fishcake turned up with homemade biscuits and lovely roses from the wonderful people at DbyD – a company that I temped for last year.
I’d had my pre-operation consultation with Mr Ind on the previous Saturday. I had to sign the consent form and had left the appointment feeling a tad on edge. He’d said ”the amount of things that can go wrong with your operation won’t fit on this form.” Great. In fairness, it’s his duty to say that. Severe complications are rare, but not non existent, so he has to warn all patients, just in case. Surgical procedures can be put on a scale of 1-25. A number 1 is for example, removing a mole and a 25 is open heart surgery. A radical trachelectomy is a 22. Possible risks and side effects include: Needing a blood transfusion, having to return immediately to the operating table, a cut to the bowel/bladder, permanent bladder damage, blood clots, bladder and/or kidney infection, lymphocysts (swellings filled with fluid that develop in the abdomen), problems with menstruation, inability to open and close legs (this is temporary and occurs when a particular nerve ending is accidentally cut – it’s affectionately known as ‘the virgin’s friend’. I found this hilarious), loss of sensation in buttocks (brilliant if I were to become a spanking model, but not so convenient for trying to work out if I’m sat on the toilet or not) and the one that I was absolutely desperate to not have happen to me was lymphoedema. Lymphoedema is a long-term condition that causes swelling in the body’s tissues, most commonly the legs. I was not okay with waking up to a pair of fat ankles. I’ve got cancer in my cervix, not my feet. No thank you.
Anyway, I got changed into my favourite gown, socks and netted knickers and was feeling pretty sexy, as before going to hospital I’d had my hair spruced by the lovely Lindsey, (I was not going to be poorly AND have roots), and had a decent shave from the neck down. Just because I had cancer it didn’t mean I was going to let my standards slip. So, I needed blood tests (don’t eagerly pounce off of the bed after not eating for hours and having a lot of blood extracted) and had to give a urine sample. This time I pissed into the right pot. This was collected by an adorable nurse who asked me not to mention his name, let’s call him…Dharles. He wore the same aftershave as my friend Peter, so I was probably a bit too familiar with him. Sorry Dharles. I was whisked down to the operating theatre 15 minutes early, so luckily there wasn’t time for an emotional (and hopefully not final) goodbye. I sauntered into the prep room like I owned the place, swinging myself up onto the bed and asking ”Where’s my warm blanket?”. I’m not a twat, I was just very, very, very, very nervous. It turned out that my anaesthetist lives down the road from me, so I fell asleep to him talking about The Bedford pub’s comedy nights…because he’d injected me with general anaesthetic, not because he was boring.
I woke up 4.5 hours later, at 11.30pm. I take back every complaint that I’ve ever made about an ailment. Bloody hell I have never, ever, felt so crap in all my life. That’ll certainly teach me to boast about not being affected by anaesthetic. I couldn’t keep my eyes open for more than a few seconds, I was drenched in sweat, and it took the lovely recovery team a little while to stabilise my temperature (this involved aiming a fan at my face, and hence caused my eyes to stream profusely.) The nausea was overwhelming, but I couldn’t actually be sick as I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for so many hours. Then there was the shoulder pain. Oh the shoulder pain. I started to panic, but was reassured that this is completely normal. Gas is pumped into the abdomen so that the doctor can clearly see the organs and safely remove lymph node samples. It takes a few days for the gas to disperse, and often gets trapped in the shoulders. The stomach and shoulder pain was a nasty, pulsing, cramp-like feeling. It felt like I was in labour, which is ironic because now I’ll never actually be able to give birth naturally. That’s a fun topic for another blog post. I vaguely remember seeing Mr Ind out of the corner of my watery eye and holding out my hand to him. Oh dear.
I was taken back to my room, where Fishy was waiting for me. Apparently I did some sort of royal wave to her as I was wheeled in. A wonderful night nurse named Kim was on duty, and she hooked me up to the morphine drip and blood pressure machine. She’s from Malaysia and I was telling her about the 24 hours I’d spent in Kuala Lumpur before getting a bus to Singapore. I don’t really remember this. Kim explained to me that every 5 minutes I could press a button that would give me a dose of morphine. In my drowsy state I didn’t understand, and she had to keep reassuring me that I couldn’t overdose and die if I accidentally pressed it too many times. I asked Fishy if I could have my mirror from my handbag, as I wanted to see what I was dealing with. She later told me that she pretended she couldn’t find it as ”no offence, but you looked like shit.”
I did not sleep a wink that night. The blood pressure machine was put on a timer, so every 5 minutes (slight exaggeration) I would hear ”beep beep beep” and feel the tightening around my arm. I was also attached to an oxygen supply; the tubes were digging into my cheeks and making it difficult to turn my head. I thought it would be a good idea to order a cheese sandwich at 4.30am. It wasn’t. I think that’s the first time I’ve had cheese in front of me and not been able to eat it. At about 8am I managed a piece of toast and a pot of peppermint tea. Ladies, drink as much peppermint tea as you can. It takes a while to kick in, but really does help to ‘shift the gas’. Initially I was hesitant to start drinking lots of fluids because I didn’t think I’d be able to get to the toilet. Then, I looked under my blanket and was reminded that I had a catheter. This catheter was the silver lining to my cloud of pain. I LOVED having a catheter. Perhaps naively, I thought I’d have the urge to go for a wee and have to relax and allow the tube to ‘catch it’. No, no, no. You don’t even get the ‘I need a wee’ feeling. It’s amazing. I couldn’t feel a thing, yet there was a tube coming out of me and at the end of the bed, there was a bag full of my piss.
I then remembered about the potential problem with opening and closing my legs and numb bum, but it was too early to tell if I would be lumbered with swollen ankles. I gingerly had a little jiggle around and breathed a huge sigh of relief. This is the face of someone who has realised she can still spread her legs and is devoid of arse- paralysis, but is receiving regular morphine:
After breakfast, in came Sorcha, a healthcare assistant. I loved her immediately, and she was incredibly tolerant of my practising various Irish accents. (She’s Irish). ”Do you want to get up and have a little wash, my love?” That sounded like a super idea. It took an awful lot of effort to sit upright enough to be able to flop sideways into the wheelchair, but we got there. Sorcha attached my oxygen tank and piss bag onto the chair, and I wheeled my morphine machine along next to me. It looked like the most depressing one-man band. Sorcha carefully patted away at me with a moist flannel, and I slowly washed my face. It’s a very sobering experience to be bouncing around on a Tuesday morning and then needing someone to change your bloody post-operation sanitary towel for you on the Wednesday. I became quite short of breath and dizzy when I removed the oxygen for a few minutes (yes, OK it was so I could moisturise and put on a bit of make-up) which was scary but it was nothing to worry about. It’s just a side effect of the morphine. Sorcha noticed that the tubes had started to dig into my face, so she fashioned this attractive device for me:
During my hospital stay I had regular blood tests, blood pressure and temperature checks. To quote Mr Ind, I was doing a ‘cracking’ job at recovering. Of course I was. The days were filled with visits from my loved ones, who came bearing thoughtful and fun gifts. Having people around me most certainly stopped me from feeling scared and sad; it would have been so easy to feel forlorn, but how could I when I had Susan, Fishy and Jarbie joining me for a ‘temperature party’?
After 2 days I had my catheter removed (sigh) and was taken off of the morphine drip. However whilst watching Masterchef with Fishy, the pain became a bit too much for just normal painkillers to sort out, so I was given oramorph. Oramorph is liquid morphine and is the most foul-tasting thing that I’ve ever had to swallow. And that is saying something. Within about 20 minutes that particular pain had gone, but was replaced with shooting stomach cramps and I became nervous and agitated, saying ‘I need to get up, I need to get up.’ After prattling on in a panicked state, I felt incredibly mellow and spaced out. The below photo commemorates the moment I told Helen and Sally that I thought I looked like Kate Winslet in the infamous naked drawing scene from Titanic.
Needless to say, there was no resemblance whatsoever. Whilst I was grateful for the overall pain relief that morphine provides, I’ve resolved that I’d make an awful drug addict. Oh, and to top it off, the next morning I woke up with this:
It felt like my back was on fire, and with the help of a cream, took at least 2 weeks to disappear. Of course, it had also spread to my right bum cheek, so when I got home my Mum not only had to help me put my socks on, but also smear my arse in chamomile lotion.
After 4 nights, I was able to go home. The photo below shows what my body looked like 1 day after the operation:
The day I left hospital I was still very swollen, but was able to sit and stand up without any assistance:
The next 3 photos were taken over the following 2 weeks:
This isn’t supposed to be a demonstration of ‘weight-loss for the diseased’ but rather to show how amazing and tough our bodies are, and the speed at which they can recover. For the first few days after my operation, I thought I was going to look pregnant and walk like an old lady for the rest of my life. I still don’t feel 100% like my pre-tumour self, but am very happy and grateful to be on my way back to normal, whatever ‘normal’ may be for me.
I’ve gone on and on again, so thank you to those who mustered the energy to read this.
I will write again soon.