Friday 14th December was the date for my second lot of surgery. This time the plan was to carry out a full axillary lymph node clearance. As per last time, I was asked to arrive at 7.15am in the treatment centre, with the aim of going home the same day. I remembered from last time that I wasn’t allowed to eat after 2.30am, therefore felt the need to eat plenty on the Thursday to compensate. Drinking water was allowed until 6.30am so again, I took this to the extreme and downed an entire pint just before that time.
We left at 7am and arrived into the treatment centre which was already full of people waiting. Once sat down, it was a few minutes before a nurse appeared to pick up the first group of people, myself included. My name was third on her list (the only Sarah!) which I took as a promising sign that I might be on the morning list. I was shown to my bay, which was at the end and therefore a lot quieter than last time. The people opposite me had chairs only so I did feel privileged to be given a bed as well as a chair. However, I didn’t get the window position this time so perhaps I should have upgraded to the garden view!
I settled down to read a magazine thinking there would be no rush. Soon enough, a nurse came in to carry out blood pressure and temperature checks. She said she was looking for my pre op notes so I explained that I hadn’t had an assessment since my last operation on the 9th November. Off she went to have a look but unfortunately to no avail. She was slightly panicked as she revealed I was on the list for 10am so she quickly carried out a blood test, measured me for those gorgeous surgical stockings and carried out a pregnancy test. She advised me to be ready as they would come for me soon. I duly got changed and barely had time to sit down before my next visitor arrived. This time it was the breast surgeon, who was a lovely lady and she went through the planned procedure with me. She highlighted the list of serious or frequently occurring risks, which was extremely long: infection, bleeding, haematoma, lymphodoema, nerve/vessel damage, arm movement restriction, altered sensation, pain, numbness, pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis and seroma. Nevertheless, I signed my consent form as the alternative is even less appealing. The surgeon explained that she would be operating into the same wound as before but that she would need to make it slightly longer and into an ‘s’ shape. “S for Sarah,” I commented. She estimated the operation would take an hour and a half to two hours. All clear on the procedure, I was left in peace for a moment.
My next visitor was the anaesthetist who went through various checks with me, such as ensuring I had followed the fasting rules and that I hadn’t reacted adversely to anaesthetics in the past. I didn’t have any questions but I did request that they talked to me about something nice just prior to putting me to sleep. He said he would talk to me about food but I replied that was a bit unfair as I wasn’t allowed to eat! Just then the surgeon reappeared as she had forgotten to draw on me. A quick scribble on my lefthandside and I was left alone again.
At 9.45am a nurse came to wheel me through to theatre. I told her she didn’t need to go to the gym as this was surely as good as a workout. On arrival in theatre, I was greeted by the anaesthetist who told me he had given everyone the heads up to talk about something nice. So, he asked me to imagine this lovely holiday in the Caribbean…the beach, the sea…but no alcohol! While he and his assistant started administering various drugs, they told me I should be feeling a bit woozy now. Once I agreed that I was, he said, “Good. I’ll grab my hammer now.” Very funny. Way to relax me! He admitted it was an attempt to make me laugh as my heart rate had just rocketed. Next a smelly oxygen mask was placed over my face and I was told to take four deep breaths. That’s really all I remember until afterwards.
As I was coming round, I could hear someone telling me that I would be seen in the breast clinic after Boxing Day. They were telling me that the operation was over which came as a bit of a surprise to me as I was dreaming that it was the night before my surgery. My feet were moving around, possibly to the music which was playing in the background: first Stevie Wonder’s ‘Signed, sealed, delivered’ followed by The Jacksons ‘I want you back’. Oh, the irony! (Give me back my lymph nodes!) I was offered some water which tasted gross and I was suffering from a severely sore throat so only whispering was possible. I really only wanted to sleep. There was a man opposite me who was chatting away to the nurses but I didn’t feel the same energy.
The nurse seeing to me was cheerfully singing while I sipped water and dozed on and off. I was surprised to note that it was 12.45pm already. I thought my operation was due to be completed by 11.30am. A little while later, the nurse wheeled me back to the ward where I dozed and sipped water intermittently. I was offered a cup of tea, which went stone cold before I had the energy to drink it, and I declined food as I was feeling very sick. I would have slept soundly, had it not been for the three women opposite me who were all having cataracts removed. They chatted non stop and hadn’t observed the ‘put your phones on silent’ rule. I did get slightly irritated when they started discussing fish and chips for tea and which chip shop was the best for a large piece of cod. Yuck!
As I kept waking up and looking at the clock I just couldn’t understand why I felt so sleepy compared to last time. I was hoping to be home by 3.30pm drinking a cup of tea in my living room, but this was looking more and more doubtful. The breast surgeon came to explain what had happened. She said that everything was glued together due to having had such a recent operation, therefore the procedure today took a lot longer than planned and they were forced to give me more anaesthetic. That explained my nausea. She said she had applied plenty of local anaesthetic to the area but that it would feel very sore tomorrow due to all the digging around. She had found it impossible to see where the nerve was so she had to check for damage, something called winged scapula. A simple test of me pushing against her hand proved that there was no damage thankfully. She concluded by saying it didn’t bode well that I was still in bed and hadn’t eaten, therefore I may not be going home that day. The nurse asked me if I wanted to go for a walk and sit on the chair, which I did – only to then fall asleep in the chair!
I was very popular for the rest of the afternoon. The surgeon and the nurse took turns to encourage me to eat a biscuit and drink tea, as well as threatening to check if a bed was available for the night. In the end, they decided to secure a bed for me ‘just in case’ saying that I didn’t have to use it but the option was there. By 6.45pm, I was the only patient left and the nurse had made a phone call to my husband, who was already waiting outside the treatment centre. She had to discharge me from the treatment centre, which was all a bit long winded. My instructions included ‘princess duties only’ and not to lift anything heavier than a wine glass! Eventually, hubby came in and together, they transported me to ward 24.
I was handed over to staff nurse Orlando and his team. I had a very modern bay all to myself. Did I want to get into the bed? No, I thought, best not otherwise I probably wouldn’t ever get out. I was given a very effective anti sickness medication and some painkillers, which seemed to do the trick. By 9pm I was cheerfully telling them I could go home as I felt so much better. I had even eaten two whole biscuits! They clearly didn’t feel the same optimism as it was at least another hour before they agreed to remove my drain. (How are you meant to do anything with that thing attached to you?)
Finally, at 10.30pm I shuffled out of the ward, into the car park and we were on our way home. While I concentrated on trying not to vomit in the car, hubby told me about his day, which had been long and exhausting too. Once home, I was grateful to be able to sleep in my own bed, where exhaustion took over.