Optimism is marvellous in so many ways. It has helped me a great deal with this whole shit fight and I would choose hope and positivity over the opposite any day of the week.

But.

Sometimes, it bites you on the arse. I went into this surgery all swagger and swing and came out dramatically humbled. My expectations, shaped by the surgeon and me only hearing what I wanted to hear, went like this, as quoted from my last post:

It’s a far simpler procedure this time around, and while I’ll be under general anaesthetic I’ll be in and out in about an hour and can go home the same day. There will be no drains to manage, no complex pain relief regime and few restrictions to my mobility.

So on the day I swanned off with my half-charged phone in my pocket, zero painkillers and no change of clothes. My first inkling that this was to be no piece of cake came when I walked through the same frosted glass doors as I did last time I was operated on. First things first, the tags. A long identity check occurs before you’re given an impossible-to-tear-off tag on both your wrist and your ankle. It’s excessively cautious move and smacks of distrust. I’m told “You’ll need to put all your clothes in this bag. Now pop on this gown, here’s some paper underwear and you’ll need to tie your hair back and put on this cap.” The schung of the curtain on the rail while I do what I’m told, heart in my ears the whole time. Next I’m fitted with compression socks and paper shoes, then a dressing gown.

In the pre-surgery waiting room I see several geriatrics, all of whom look like they know the drill. But I’m not the youngest one there this time: there’s a man in his thirties who’s frightened and fidgety. I don’t remember fretting about it before, but today I’m overwhelmed by the depersonalising effect of everyone in their uniform caps and gowns. The others are slumped in armchairs watching infomercials, the younger guy and I have our backs to the telly. I watch his knee bobbing up and down and consider offering some reassurance. But what can you say? “You’ll be fine.” Will he? He could have stage 4 cancer for all I know. I could say “This is like The Island, isn’t it?” but in the end all I can manage is to catch his eye and give him a small “this is shit isn’t it?’ half smile and eyebrow raise before “LEADER” gets called by a porter and I have a little “I don’t need a wheelchair, thanks.” “It’s protocol Ms Leader, sit down.” exchange.

So far, so humiliating.

We take the lift to the bunker and I move to the bed I’ll be operated on. Four others are in the dim ward, all with caps and gowns and tags. Those damn tags. Every time you interact with a staff member you have to recite your full name and date of birth, while they regard the same details on your wrist. For fuck’s sake, the rigmarole you need to go through to prove your identity before they tag you up makes this constant checking a joke. At what point do they think you’re going to forget who you are? In the time I’m there I hear others share their details. Turns out the guy, Mark, is younger than me but only just – he’s 40 in two months. Richard was born in ’36, the same year as my mum, but, as the gag goes, by the time my mum was his age she’d been dead for 20 years. Ah, Susan is a Pisces, like me.

Eventually I’m wheeled into my own private waiting room, which is just next door to the actual theatre. On the way, we go through double doors and I survey endless bright lights above me “This is like the movies.” I think. The irrepressible Dr. Crilly (my anaesthetist)  has been reading her notes. “Theo’s 15 months now, right? Into everything!” I know she means well but I don’t welcome the talk of my youngest, most vulnerable child moments before I lose consciousness. But still the layers of socialisation enable me to say “Ooh, yes, he’s a right little bruiser nowadays!”

Then the lovely Dr. Moko enters with her permanent marker and makes her dressmaker/butcher markings on my chest. As before, her actions are like a moving meditation, but unlike before I respect this with silence rather than nervous wittering. I am surprised when she offers a broad smile and asks “Any questions, Sam?” “Good luck!” I respond. “Oh, and don’t put them in upside down.” She laughs and exits, allowing Dr. Crilly to come back in and fix the canula to my arm with huge amounts of tape. Then I am counting back from ten and the next thing I know I’m awake and being told all went well. I can feel the Hector oxygen tube in my nose. I try and move and wince and cry. This time, TWO nurses are there for the name/DOB/label check, a sign that the drugs they are about to administer are strong and good. As I wait for those to take effect, I panic at the thought of getting out of the bed and heading home and say so.

So I’m kept in overnight, in a ward and surrender once again to the care of the nurses. Some are shirty, some are gentle. I’m fidgety and on the cusp of asking Ted to come and get me. In the end I do stay overnight and he and Theo collect me first thing.

Three days later I’m still a bit sore and swollen at the site of the stitches, but have kept on top of the pain with paracetamol and it is diminishing as the days pass. The implants are firmer than I expected, more like my breasts aged 20 than 40, but I’m thrilled with them. What the surgeon has done with, essentially, skin and silicone gel is astonishing. The day after surgery, and powered by pure will, I even made it to book club to show them off but I will need a lot of time to truly recover.

I’m keenly aware that the person who exited the hospital was a good deal meeker than the one who sauntered in. Shakespeare said “Expectation is at the root of all heartache.” My expectations were so hopeful but this week I’ve discovered there are many, many lessons between that and the more confronting reality. Fair enough. But Ms. Life? Do you know what? This student has learned quite enough for now.