Monday, 19 January 2015

Surgery, Ward 23a, Guardian Angels, and Disgusting Drains


After just 4 nights in hospital I'm back home. Here's what I've been up to over the last week. It's a long post! I've done a blow by blow account  of anything I can remember- mostly for the benefit of anyone who might be having the same surgery as me and wonders what it'll be like.

(The surgery I have had is skin sparing mastectomy with LD Flap reconstruction, plus expander implant, and axillary node clearance.)

Monday morning at 7am I turned up to my ward at the hospital and got checked in to my room. Yep, I was really chuffed to have my own room with ensuite bathroom for my first ever hospital stay. To be honest I'd say my room was nicer than any Travelodge/Ibis/Premier Inn I've ever stayed in. I could make the bed go up and down and stuff with the press of a button, and with the press of another button I had someone arrive immediately to do anything I asked! The bed was comfy and the little wheely adjustable table next to it is a lazy person's dream.

I was bricking it though! At about 7.30 the nurse came round with some paperwork and I asked if she knew what time I'd be going down for surgery. 8.15! I was my surgeon's only patient that day. No real time to get too anxious then. (Or upset about the "Nil by mouth" thing and lack of morning cup of tea.)

Next in was the anaesthetist who was a fully fledged scaremongering arsehole of the highest order. His opening question, with a scowl, was "You do understand that this is major surgery you're having don't you?"
"Erm, yes."
"This isn't to be taken lightly and I need to be sure that you understand that it's Very Major Surgery that you're having."
"Erm, yes. But I've got cancer, so I don't really have a choice!"
"Well you do have a choice. You could just have a mastectomy which would only mean 2-3 hours under general anaesthetic. Not many women have the LD Flap. That's going to be 6, 7 even 8 hours of anaesthetic which increases morbidity. This is a long and major surgery."
"Erm, well, yes, that's the surgery I'm having."
"Ok, well then I will need to insert an arterial line in order to monitor your heart beat by beat because of the risks associated with being under anaesthetic for so long."
etc etc etc.
Miserable git.

Next in was my awesome surgeon, all smiles. "How are you? Are you ready?!"
"The anaesthetist was just in here going on about morbidity!" I look him dead in the eye and get lots of reassurance to not worry, everything is fine, it's going to be ace.

(I remembered the message I got from my friend Lianne the night before:
"I'm going to break from the pack here, and instead of wishing you luck (as you clearly have plenty already bestowed by all these lovely wishes) I'm going to wish the surgeon luck. I'm going to wish that tomorrow he has one of those awesome days at work where you're so damn good at what you do that you feel like a rockstar. I wish for him to get a good night's sleep tonight so he'll be sharp as a razor tomorrow and for everything to go perfectly during the surgery so that by the time he's done, you'll be good as new. I'm sure you're in very capable hands and are as well prepared as anyone can be....")

I then stood in my knickers in front of him, a registrar and my friend, while he drew all over me in marker pen. Measuring, drawing, taking photos. Measuring, drawing, more drawing, more drawing, photos. Reassurance that everywhere he was drawing was not everywhere he was slicing. More drawing, more photos. Any questions? Yes, how long will the surgery take? About 6 hours, but no rush, there are no other patients and he will take his time as much as he needs. Any more questions? No. Big smile, shake of my hand, see you in there!

I then had to get in the bed and was wheeled through the hospital to the little room before theatre. The one where you get knocked out. The anaesthetist stuck a cannula in me, which promptly burst the vein. Yeah, fuck you anaesthetist, my chemo-wrecked vein doesn't like you either! Another cannula stuck in which seemed ok, and on went the oxygen mask, and in went the drugs. Think of something nice. Oh shit, I can't think of anything nice! Didn't matter, I was gone.

Woke up in the recovery room (a big room with space for about 6-8 beds, where they monitor you for a while immediately after surgery). The anaesthetist walks by and smugly (definitely smug) tells me I was in surgery for 8 hours. Because of the anaesthetic induced grogginess I couldn't answer back, but I figured who cares, he kept me asleep for the scary bits and kept me alive. He did his job! My surgeon stopped by to tell me he'd had one of those awesome days at work where you're so damn good at what you do that you feel like a rock star (or words to that effect). All had gone well and he'd done everything he said he would. I was refusing the morphine at that point and he told me to not try and be brave about pain, just press the magic button as much as I needed. He left and all the women in the recovery room spent a good 10 minutes gushing about how lovely he is. I was still too groggy from the anaesthetic to join in, but I agreed wholeheartedly!

Then back to my room! I had my two friends Rachel and Marta visiting that evening, and was sat up, chatting to them, drinking tea and eating biscuits. I felt ok! I was hooked up to a lot of things though. I had a catheter in, (another lazy person's dream! Wish I could have one for at home haha!) I had 3 drains attached to me (draining the gunk from my 3 wound sites - armpit, breast and back). I had oxygen (the little pipes that stick up your nose rather than a full mask). Each of my calves had a kind of sleeve thing round them, attached to a machine which inflated and deflated them (like the sleeve used for checking blood pressure). That was to reduce my risk of blood clot as there's a history of them in my family too. I had the blood pressure/heart monitor things on, and the cannula in, attached to fluids and morphine for if I pressed the button. I noticed from the stab wounds and bruising on my arm that another couple of veins must have burst from cannulas. Chemo! It wrecks them!

Overnight, I was monitored every half an hour or so. Blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, fluid in drains, wound sites, etc, by a fantastic nurse called Isabel. As far as I'm concerned she is an angel from heaven. It's a weird feeling, being on your own in hospital after surgery (major surgery remember), hooked up to all those machines, realising you are very vulnerable and entirely dependent on care from others. But I felt so safe and looked after. Maybe it was a bit of the morphine as well, but I felt very happy and well, and will always remember Isabel as my angel that night!

First thing in the morning the ward doctor does his rounds with his minions. They checked my wounds. Fine. They checked how I felt. Fine. They checked how much of the morphine I'd had. Barely any. So they took it off me! Dammit! I did not make the most of that at all! Catheter out (doesn't hurt), oxygen removed, leg squeezy machine thing disconnected, and help from a nurse to get to the bathroom and get washed and into my own pjs. I had visits in the day from my friends, and my amazing surgeon Mr Krupa. When Mr Krupa was there I went dizzy and nearly fainted and had to lie down. That was because of the anaesthetic I'm sure, not because I was swooning. The nurses were blown away by how lively I was. But then that evening when Marta visited, I went dizzy again, and had to lie down. I promptly fell asleep and pretty much stayed that way until gone 3pm the next day, aside from when wonderful Isabel would come in through the night to do my observations.

(Me, totally hamming up my Cancer Patient status, with headscarf,
Generic Cancer Face, and drains in bag)

Mostly asleep! Then my friends Helen and Lisa visited in the evening. Helen escorted me for a walk round the hospital so I could find one of the machines to buy a card to watch the TV in my room. (Rip off! £10 for 24 hours TV! Although I did watch Bridesmaids in bed that night with a packet of crisps and some chocolate which I thoroughly enjoyed). Throughout the night Isabel kept an eye on me. Lovely, lovely Isabel, making sure I'm alive and my wounds aren't oozing throughout the night!

Woken up in the morning with a visit from my best surgeon Mr Krupa! He gave the go ahead for the big microfoam stuff covering my dressings to be removed. This was done by another amazing nurse called Helen later on. (She was my daytime guardian angel/supplier of drugs!) I was blown away. Underneath all that padded microfoam stuff were the tiniest dressings! I've had (major!) surgery to my breast, armpit and back and I've basically got a few plasters on haha! The stitches are under dressings at the mo but I can now see the space where my nipple once was, replaced by skin from my back, which is alive and well thanks to being attached to blood vessels under my arm. What Mr Krupa has done is bloody incredible. It's insane.
I was visited by a hospital volunteer who gave me hand and arm massages! And in the evening I had visits from my friends Emily, Charlotte and Kate. I took great pleasure in showing off my new, nippleless boob and the gunk in my drains, and we had to keep my door shut tight so as not to disturb the rest of the Ward with our endless roaring of laughter.
And that was my last night being looked after by Isabel (not that she needed to do much more than a few observations and bring me some painkillers in the night) because....

I was sent home! Mr Krupa visited me first thing in the morning and said I could go home, and that before I did I could have the drain from under my arm removed (not painful). So armed with an enormous carrier bag of various painkillers, antibiotics and things like that, but with only two drains I left the ward.

(My drains... Ewwww!)

I really didn't expect this but I was sad to leave the hospital. I'd had such a nice stay there, I was so well looked after, by the most incredible team of doctors and nurses (not just Mr Krupa, Helen and Isabel! Everyone was amazing.) I could have happily stayed another week. It's really nice to have had such a great experience. Before this I had been hating hospitals with a passion for a long time, associating them with death, chemo and misery.

So that's it! The major surgery and hospital stay - done! I'll be back lots over the next few weeks for wound checks, dressing changes, drain removals etc. But the scary bit, which turned out to not be scary at all, is all done.


  1. The anaesthetist was even worse than you'd mentioned! What an insensitive git! I'm glad everybody took excellent care of you though. Another great piece Sarah. You made me laugh a few times at your humorous descriptions of your (major) surgery! Nicola Halsall

  2. Tears...I am so glad your surgeon had a "rockstar" day and that you obviously felt very well cared for and loved during your surgery and stay.

    1. Thank you Cindy and I'm glad the surgeon had a rock star day too! X