It was a Monday morning 7am, February. I think that my mum was here to look after the kids and get them off to school, but my memory is hazy!!
What I do remember is arriving at the Surgical Ward, which wasn’t yet open. As a result there were around 30 patients, most with companions, queuing outside the door. Everyone with their suitcases… It reminded me of an airport, except no one was drinking beer…. And it was quiet!!! No cackling hen parties to disturb us…. A really odd feeling of waiting….. subdued tones….. anxious about what was to happen next….
Eventually a nurse came and opened the door, but the wait still wasn’t over. She called the names of around half of us…….. and then asked those people to wait outside the ward! I was one of the lucky ones, allowed into the ward, meaning it was more likely that our surgery would proceed as planned. Hallelujah!!!!
Martin and I sat down next to my allocated trolley, upon which lay a hospital gown, TED stockings, and very glamorous paper pants. I asked for a smaller pair as just looking at them, I realised that there was quite a high chance of them falling off!!! Unusually for me, I suddenly didn’t fancy being completely on show.
Blood pressure a bit high.
Told this was “forgiven” as everyone usually nervous prior to surgery…
And then waiting.
The realisation that patient confidentiality really is a misnomer in an open ward. It is possible to hear everything that is said to the patient in the next bed space….
Oh! A visit from the anaesthetist.
I was encouraged as he wasn’t just a “young thing”. Why on earth should that matter?! How weird it is to be a patient. How your perspective on things change.
And a bit more waiting…
The Porter arrives!!
I hadn’t actually got changed into my glam hospital gear as no one had indicated what time the surgery would happen. Oops!!! A little embarrassing they had to wait for me to get changed….. Next time I will know better..
I was wheeled through the hospital on a trolley. Again, a very very weird turn of events. I knew the hospital well, having worked there as a junior doctor. The incongruity of now travelling flat on my back on a trolley through the corridors, as opposed to walking fast with my ID badge swinging, was really stark. In my “old life” I was always in a rush. Again, awareness of another perspective, this time literally!
And then we were there.
I said goodbye to Martin at the door to the theatre. Very surprisingly, I didn’t feel that nervous at this point. Quite how, I have no idea!!!! I think perhaps by this stage, I was fairly resigned to my fate.
Lots of checking of my ID and allergies. More checking. Drawing an arrow on the right side of my chest where the mesothelioma was….
And then very quickly into the anaesthetic room.
Eeek!!! This was going a bit too quickly for me!!! But, I was cheered to see the anaesthetist again, and be spoken to kindly by the operating department practitioner. Then I got told off for trying to assist with cannula insertion by rubbing my hand… Just doing my job lol….
Anaesthetist: “I’m just about to give you the Fentanyl*. I’ll give you a few moments to enjoy it before you go off to sleep”.
The room then turned into something out of a Cubism painting. Straight lines turned jagged as the Fentanyl began to take effect.
Me: “I’m not enjoying this AT ALL!!”
*Fentanyl is a painkiller similar to morphine
And in the blink of an eye, I was waking up! I felt intense pleasure, as though waking up from a really lovely dream. I had no pain. I had no nausea. I felt happy. Perhaps I did like Fentanyl after all….
And then Massive Relief washed over me.
Not only was I alive (!), but the realisation of why I had been so terrified of surgery, and having this procedure, hit me. My only experience of operating theatres as an adult had been observing or assisting in surgical procedures. My subconscious brain seemed to have assumed that I would be observing my own VATS. It thought that I would have been witnessing the surgery and therefore seeing the tumours all over my lung. Visualising the mesothelioma, the cancer. But I had woken up from surgery without having any recollection of events. I had simply been the patient. Not the assistant or observer. I was enormously relieved and thankful.
My mood lifted immensely after the VATS; I felt a sense of achievement. I had a beautiful room in the Bexley Wing (so beautiful that I actually shed a tear on arrival) and there were no post-operative complications. For a change, I was able to be a Good Patient.
I gingerly got up and about, negotiating my chest drain.
I ate my food (lots of it).
I went for a pee myself (ok, with a bit of help the first time).
I had no pain.
Then the local anaesthetic wore off. It was around midnight… OKAAAY!!! So the marvels of modern medicine had duped me into thinking that this surgery thing was a doddle… But, I got to grips with my PCA (patient controlled analgesia) and pain settled quickly.
The nurses were fabulous.
The ward Housekeepers were even more fabulous, keeping me topped up with tea, biscuits and humour.
I was on course for chest drain removal and home!!! In the end I was allowed home early – whoopee!!!! Ready for some Rest and Recuperation, and the next stage in the journey.