A friend of mine was coming into town last week for a few days. I was really looking forward to the visit – had planned to bust out my inner domestic goddess on a few evenings and catch up with someone who’s been quietly supporting me through this journey of mine from far away for the past year. I even called it a date. As the saying goes, though – the best laid plans…
I have been sending a weekly ‘photo shoot’ of my incisions to my surgeon in Winnipeg so that he can keep a close eye on how the healing is going. Last week’s shoot was met with the request for me to fly in Wednesday to Winnipeg because he wasn’t happy with how things were looking. Acrobatics followed. Quick decisions were made, and my companion ticket was scooped up by my friend, dinner postponed, and lots of laughs had about the last-minute nature of the ‘date’, jet-setting, etc. I was hoping for a quick appointment, for the surgeon to tell me to continue to keep a close eye on things, maybe put me through another round of preventative antibiotics and to be on my way. Flights were booked to return to Thunder Bay that night.
‘Oh, shit.’ were the words my surgeon first uttered when he took a look. Not exactly what I was hoping for. My friend sitting in the waiting room of the clinic was summoned, quick decisions were made, and what followed was a complete and total whirlwind that lasted a full two days. The small part of the incision that I thought was post-radiated-skin-healing was actually exposed implant, which, as I quickly found out, means emergency. What it meant for me was handing my phone over to my friend, requesting, mid-step and over my shoulder, that he call my mother and let her know plans were changing. That I was going to have a procedure done right then and there, and we would keep her posted.
The plan was to attempt to salvage the implant. To do this, they needed to re-open my incision completely, flush out the entire cavity with about two litres of various antibiotic fluids and saline, scrub the implant and put it back in and close me up again. What I didn’t fully realize until it was in process was that I was going to be fully and completely AWAKE AND UNMEDICATED for this procedure. Basically I was told that I was going to get local anaesthetic, and if it hurt I should say ‘ouch’ and they would give me more. (And yes, I said ouch. A few times.) Apparently it was an unusual procedure, because about six plastic surgery residents were summoned to watch and learn while my surgeon taught them about how far in to put the ‘skin hook’ and some sort of rake. About the layers of muscle and skin he was cutting into and manipulating. (Did I mention I was AWAKE for this?) Clenching and unclenching my fists and tensing up with the pressure I felt through the entire procedure, I was encouraged to ‘relax’, at which point I strongly encouraged someone to go and get me Ativan. Or something. Nothing came. I tried making a few light jokes about how I actually wished the surgery wasn’t happening to my body because it actually sounded quite fascinating. Breathed my way through the feeling of my skin pulling and hands twisting in my body, and attempting all sorts of self-talk to try to mentally make it through to the end of the ‘procedure’, which ended up taking about an hour and a half. At one point I asked one of the residents to keep my companion up to date, and information went from me to him to my mother and somehow everyone stayed relatively calm. This is how I handle crisis. I keep it together during, and then generally fall apart afterwards. This was the case in this situation. When the procedure was done, and I was left in the room to regain my composure (but not my dress, because I was now attached to a drain and lots of padding and found myself in Winnipeg with my companion, two hospital gowns and a lot of apologies for such a crazy turn of events.
The surgeon decided to admit me for IV antibiotics, and as we were walked over to the other end of the hospital to my new room by the nurse, she made small talk with us, asking us the general questions one usually asks – and when I looked at her, kind of helpless and in some sort of post-traumatic-shock-I’m-sure, and informed her that this was kind of a second date, there was silence, and then everyone in the elevator had to laugh and give that the moment it deserved. Great story, right?
It gets better.
Installed in my room, trying to iron out plans for the flight back that night, deciding whether companion should stay or go, trying to aim for laughter instead of tears and generally becoming accustomed to the reality of the situation, I noticed that the spots the team of residents had just touched and gushed about how ‘nice and soft’ the freshly stitched-up breast was, etc, etc, was now rock hard, and seriously deformed, and growing before my eyes. Alarm.
I sent my companion to fetch the nurse, and what happened next is all a bit of a blur. The room filled up with people, all of whom were moving quickly. Loud voices – announcing my blood pressure changes. Booking OR. Immediately. No time to remove make-up. Taking off my jewelry. Bewildered companion banished to hallway. Three grown men pressing hands, CPR-style, onto my very sore and now very-free-of-any-anaesthetic breast to stop bleeding. Two IV ports hurriedly jammed into my right arm. Endless questions about when I last ate. My weight. Resident talking about the visual of blood rushing into drain.
Panic. Finally I got someone’s attention. It would sound like I had everyone’s full attention, but at that point my body did. Not my panic.
“Can someone please tell me what the worst case scenario is here??” I asked.
Someone finally leaned over me, because I was being pressed into the hospital cot so hard I was struggling to breathe, and told me that they would bring me into the OR and try to save the implant but it might be lost. That they might have to start from scratch. My response: “Is there any chance my other organs are being affected by this bleed? Someone tell me.” Then another nurse entered the room, just having spoken to my surgeon. The bleed could, in his estimation, only be coming from a spot where he cut into muscle, at ‘about two o’clock’. I told them that’s exactly where I had noticed something happening. The room calmed, pressure bandages and packs were applied, OR was cancelled, and my companion was brought back into the room and taught how to apply pressure, at two o’clock, by the nurses, and I was finally given some painkillers.
As the night went on, I was granted just a little more excitement via an allergic reaction to one of the antibiotics they were giving me through IV. This was noticed by my totally overworked and very alert companion, who slept fitfully in a chair by my side all night, and who, I’m fairly certain, has never had a second date quite like this one.
My gratitude overwhelms. Thank you for stepping up. For letting me fall apart. For holding my hand through panic attacks. For laughing while you put blue-paper-slippers on my feet because I couldn’t reach. For walking my IV stand to the washroom for me. For washing my hair, for finding me coffee and food not-from-hospital. For unflinchingly emptying my drains. For watching for reactions to antibiotics. For making the tough phone calls to my family and friends. For being there, 100%, in the strangest, mostly unlikely situation I could have imagined. For all of it. Thank you.