The Surgery

Friday, May 11th, and surgery day is upon me. I have to be at the hospital at 7 am to start surgery prep. I scheduled my Lyft ride to pick me up at 6 am. I know what traffic looks like to Seattle on Friday mornings, and I didn’t want to take any chances of being late.

I get checked in and use the bathroom. A parade of nurses and specialty people start coming through. First is the surgical nurse. She gets me a gown and a bag for my clothes, purse and phone.

Next is the phlebotomist who is there to access my port. His name is Nestor. He’s an interesting guy. He says his son has decided to go into nursing as well. He wanted to be an architect and his sister convinced him, when he came here from the Philippines, to give healthcare a shot. He’s loved it ever since. It’s the ones who have stories to tell and are comfortable with people that make the best nurses. He’s one of those people.

I’m getting texts full of well wishes from friends across the country. I’m surprised that so many of them knew to text me before surgery, and it makes me smile. I’m even getting texts from people I’ve never met letting me know they’re praying for a successful surgery. I feel blessed.

The anesthesiologist and anesthetist nurse come in next. We talked about how I stayed really foggy and was nauseated after waking up from my port surgery. I explain that I’ve had a lot of surgeries and have never felt that bad after waking up. They decide to use more IV and less gas.

There’s a lot of waiting in between steps. The nurse comes in to apologize for the surgeon. I already knew that she didn’t operate until at least 8:30 am so I’m not too worried. The surgeon and resident are finally here. We chit chat a bit and then she gets out her Sharpie. She has a compass and draws lines across my chest. The lines are all very geometric. I think I look like Da Vinci’s “Circle of Life.” She takes some photos and tells me we’ll be ready soon. After I’m alone again, I take a selfie so I’ll remember what I looked like before. In hindsight, I should have had her take it for me.

After wheeling me into the operating room, I note that it’s not as cold as those before I’ve had knee surgeries. She says they don’t need it as cold for this type of surgery. I am moved over to the operating table. There’s all kinds of stuff going on now. I’m being hooked up to the IV, they’re putting compression massagers on my legs to prevent clots and deep vein thrombosis, they’re positioning me on the table and I’m talking with the anesthetist nurse about traveling and partying in Ibiza through my oxygen mask. He says he doesn’t want to be *that* 50 year old guy partying with the kids. I ask why not. And then I’m out.

I vaguely remember the recovery room. I remember being told I was in recovery. I remember being told that when I heard a beeping noise that meant I needed to be breathing deeper. I’m so tired and still so asleep.

Lake Union - From my Hospital BedA while later, I’m wheeled into my room. According to the reports, this would have been around 2 pm. I remember being told I was in my room and I remember saying I just want to sleep, and the nurses tell me that’s okay. About an hour later, they come back in to check on me. I’m a little more lucid, but still pretty groggy. Lucid enough to look at the clock and see that it’s about 3 pm, though. The nurses and residents come in separately to check my incisions. When they open the surgical bra, I’ve got some weird nerve thing going on because my breastbone is burning and feels tingly. There are pieces of gauze over the incisions to protect the bra and my clothes. Everything apparently looks good and after emptying the drain, I go back to sleep.

When I wake up again, it’s about 5:30 pm. I’m not hungry. I’m still tired. I look out the window and am impressed by the view. The nurses take my vitals and empty the drain, and I text family and a couple of friends that I’m sort of awake and that surgery went well. I look out the window and am delighted at the view. I can see my old office from here. I’m still tired enough that I don’t stay awake very long.

Downtown Seattle - Looking North to Lake UnionNext time I wake up it’s 7:30 pm. This time I’m awake. I’m starting to get hungry. The view out the window is beautiful. The sun is just starting to set over Lake Union. I ordered some food and have gotten up a couple of times. I still have the compression massagers on my legs and they say I have to have them on all night. They’re a bit of a hassle to get off and I’m a little afraid I’ll forget they’re there and try to get up myself. After dinner, I am out of bed for a walk down the hall. We walk slowly to the end of the hall where there’s a floor to ceiling window looking toward the lake. This is much better than trying to take the picture from my room! When I get back, she teaches me how to strip and empty the drain myself. I’ll have to do this for the next 7-10 days.

By 10:30 I’m getting tired again and let the nurses know I am ready to sleep again. They bring me some toothpaste and take vitals. I start what is a not at all restful night. I am woken up for meds at midnight, right after I’d just gotten to sleep. I woke up again at 3:30 needing to use the bathroom. She decides to do vitals while I’m awake, and I let her know we’re off schedule for the ibuprofen. She says she’ll be right back. After 40 minutes, I turn the light off and go back to sleep. She comes in 30 minutes later with the ibuprofen and insists I have crackers with it because it is hard on the stomach. So I eat crackers in bed at 4:00 in the morning. She says she’ll let me sleep til 4:30. When I wake up again it’s 6:30 am and the surgeon is here to see me.

The surgeon asks what I think, and I tell her it looks good. I’m swollen and my chest looks very different than it did the last time I saw her. She checks the incisions and tells me that it went well. She says she’ll call me with the pathology results as soon as they come in, and she’ll see me in a week to 10 days to remove the drain.

The nurse comes in shortly after and shoves a menu into my hands saying something about needing to order breakfast soon. I am barely awake and am not hungry yet. I have no idea what I want other than to go home where I can sleep.

The residents come back to check my incisions. One of them suggests that instead of gauze I could use a sanitary pad over my incisions to help keep the fluid from staining my clothes. We talk a little about the specialties they want to go into. One of them wants to be a cardiac surgeon and the other a radiologist.

I am finally hungry enough to order breakfast. Another nurse comes in and I ask about getting a shower. They decide that I have to wait for 24 hours for a shower so that the glue on my incisions can dry. She comes back with a warmed package of bath wipes and helps me get cleaned up and dressed. I let my friend know that I will be ready to go soon and will let her know when to leave to get me. I completely forget that there was a ton of I-5 construction this weekend.

The last person I need to see before I leave is the in-patient physical therapist. She and I walk the hallway talking about what lymphedema looks and feels like and what I can and can’t do with my arms to prevent it. I can do some exercises on a pillow, I need to sleep with a pillow under my arms, and I can do hanging arm circles.

I’m now ready to go. They’ve called for patient transport (aka a wheelchair). I’m still getting my things together when the guy arrives with the chair. He’s earlier than we expected. He wheels me down to the door and waits with me until my friend arrives to take me home.

Thankfully, my friend and I stopped to pick up a bite to eat on the way home or I’d be kind of screwed because I can’t open the refrigerator door and I can’t reach the microwave.  I’m relieved to be home. Now the healing can begin.

About Pink Ribbon Road

This blog is about receiving and living with a breast cancer diagnosis.
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