Last week involved lots of admin and trips to specialists (including the anaesthetist Dr. Crilly, who was brilliant) and while I complained at the time, the stillness and silence in the weekend prior to the operation was far harder to deal with. I was steeped in a horrible soup of fear, worry, anxiety, sorrow, trying to enjoy the kids and my boobs, but each ‘nice’ scenario was blotted out by pathos and fear, worry, etc. These emotions were shared, and so amplified by Ted.
On Sunday night I had a conversation with the children about what was happening and how when they saw me again I’d be totally flat chested (the reconstruction is happening separately, later). As young kids do, they took this entirely in their stride. Amy said “So the doctor takes your boobies off, gets out the splinter or whatever, and puts them back on?” “Well…not quite.” I overheard Eleanor’s pre-bed chatter “Amy can I tell you a story? Once upon a time there was a lady called Sam and she went to the doctor for a few days. They took off her boobies and THEN they put them back on! And when she came home, John and Amy and Theo and Eleanor and granny saw her, and they were amazed.”
I was so relieved to be able to tell them a version of the truth that didn’t worry them, but hugging them tightly and knowing I’d be too sore to do it again for a long time hurt me hard. Bittersweet.
The real low point for me was on Monday morning when I had to wash my body and hair with a special pre-soaped sponge, sealed in a foil wrapper and given to me by the surgeon. That foil wrapped fucker sat in my bathroom all the week before and gave me the hairy eyeball every time I used the loo. Ripping it open and getting on with washing was actually a relief.
That Monday, I found myself on the receiving end of an unbelievable amount of goodwill.
Each one of these messages, not to mention emails, Facebook posts, comments on the blog, virtual hugs and thoughts of love and light, made a massive difference. So please don’t ever feel helpless because if you’ve expressed yourself in this way, you’ve helped me more than you know.
On Monday I found myself clinging on tightly to a few thoughts in particular. Jodie’s ‘no amount of loveliness’ sentiment as expressed on this post really helped keep my eye on the prize. As did the words of my big brother Simon, who told a story of how one day as a kid I was freaking out about homework and he calmed me down and urged me to see the bigger picture – he wanted to offer the same assurances now. Definitely helped. Felicity texted to say “love to you on your day of cure.” Amazing use of positive language which is continually proving to make a massive difference to this whole experience.
But the real pearler on Monday came from my best friend Faye, who had surgery recently and shared her reassuring experience that on the day, I could expect to feel calm and ready. She, too, thrashed about in the days prior, bargaining, feeling afraid and so on, but when it came to the crunch, ‘nature provided.’ She told me this while I was in the soup, so I struggled to believe her, but I was astonished to discover she was right.
Of course I had my moments. Telling Ted my Internet banking passwords. Expressing who I want to have an ongoing relationship with our kids. Walking through the patient-only area. Theo’s dazzling smile as the door slid shut. Removing my necklace and putting it in a sealed bag with my name label on it. Compression stockings on. Stripping down and donning the surgical gown. The paper shoes. The paper underpants. The waiting room where I was, once again, the youngest by a good few decades. My mental commentary was ‘Shit’s getting real.’ On a loop, louder and louder. But still I felt calm. Sad, but calm.
The porter, waiting with a wheelchair, gesturing for me to sit and me taking several seconds to grasp that’s what I had to do. Him pressing the down button of the elevator. Small talk. Into the hands of the anaesthetist’s assistant. My friend Carol’s advice:
Get some Vaseline for your lips afterwards and get them to slather it on when you’re still not really with it – I remember wanting some on my lips so badly but couldn’t articulate it.
So I asked the assistant do you have Vaseline to counter dry lips? And he said “No, but just ask for an icy pole in post op – that’ll wet your whistle.”
I remember being marked up by the surgeon, and having a little cry with the anaesthetist. She encouraged it, observing there’s an emotional debt to pay and if sorrow gets suppressed, it rears up later, demanding payment with interest. Then the juxtaposition into small talk as the lines went in. “Mullumbimby! That’s a lovely part of the world.”
Carol had told me to revel in the pre-op, which Dr. Crilly had described as ‘An instant hit of half a bottle of champagne.’ Well she was right. Because when I have that much to drink these days I’m Captain Crashout. I passed out cold.
Next thing I knew an unfamiliar voice said “It’s all over and you’ve done really well.”
“Icy pole… can I have an icy pole?” I croaked.
I did. And it was good.