Surgery Day is a long one – and my sister and I have made sure it’s been preceded by a long night (won’t go into to many details here, but the bartender from the hotel lounge left us a card in our room – I’m fairly certain this doesn’t happen super often.) The rules for surgery are that you can’t consume food or alcohol after midnight the previous night, and although we did follow these rules, we may have also made the best of them. Thank you, sister mine, for helping to make what promised to be an evening of sporadic crying jags punctuated with long, concentrated periods of yoga breathing WAY more fun than that.
The approach is this: Today, every step I take means a box ticked. It means completing one shitty thing that I’ll never have to do again. Start with the injection of blue radioactive dye they put directly into my already-tender-not-long-for-this-world breast. The warning is something about a really intense bee sting and counting to ten. I chose the ‘look the other way and squeeze my sister’s hand really tight and stop breathing’ approach. It works. Box checked. Don’t have to do that again.
Then there’s this seemingly interminable wait, during which, for whatever reason, must be spent without makeup, jewelry or clothing. Surgery is scheduled for 1:00. How to spend the 5 hours or so leading up to a terrifying surgery? There is no good answer to this. I am nauseated, nervous, exhausted and unable to sleep. There is really no way to prepare myself for what’s to come. When the nurse comes to take blood, my sister and I are stretched out on the narrow cot that is our home for the day – something for which I was quietly thankful. There is very little traffic in our room, but I am touched and saddened by the woman next to me who is reminded that she is not to have jewelry on, and who refused to remove her cross from around her neck. Even when told it will be removed regardless during surgery, she is adamant. I silently wonder why they need to tell her they’ll be removing it, and want to kick the nurse through the curtain. Give the woman something to hold on to. This is a shitty time.
I ride out the waves of panic that come intermittently and by the time they come to get me to prep for surgery, I feel like I’m ready. If only there weren’t that huge weight sitting on my chest making it difficult for me to breathe. My sister kindly suggests that maybe there’s something they can give me to ‘relax’ me a bit. They assure me it’s coming.
Moments that will stay with me:
The orderly that brings me upstairs tells me about her wife’s recent mastectomy done by the same surgeon, and how successful it was. This type of random kindness is really valuable. I hold on to her hand for a second and thank her while she assures me I’m in good hands.
My sister starts to follow us into the pre-op room, and the orderly shows her where to go, which is in the opposite direction. My sister doesn’t miss a beat. ‘I’m not ready to say goodbye.’ (Me neither, sister.) She is granted immediate permission to come with me.
The surgeons file in, each detailing how they are going to cut into me, what will be taken out, what will get put in, and how long each procedure should take. Any questions? (Well, 5 000 or so, but I have stopped processing at this point. Where IS that guy with the drugs??)
Guy with drugs appears. I think this allows me to find my funny enough so that when the plastic surgeon is on his knees in front of my naked body, drawing lines and swishes and perforated lines (ah…those are for cutting) I somehow manage to look down at him and tell him that the last time a man was on his knees in front of naked me, he did not have a Sharpie in his mouth.