Wednesday, 6 July 2011
It's not unusual...
...to have no internet access once in a while.
Due to an unforseen glitch in my home internet software, I have been offline and out of cyberspace for longer than I would have liked. I can see that it's only been around two weeks since I last posted here, but it has surely felt like much longer. Where to start ? Do I tell you about my current period of convalescence at home - only made more bearable by an ongoing supply of the finest 70% dark chocolate bars that I can find ? Or how I've discovered just how much it can hurt to cough when you've been slashed open and sewn up again across the chest ? No ? Too much like Frankinstein ?
What if I tell you how to wrestle with a toddler without actually picking him up or holding him ?
Okay. I know.
Two days ago I experienced a drama to beat all dramas for a while (neither Casualty nor Holby City have a patch on my life at the moment !).
In my new post-op, half a sternum-less world, I annoyingly often feel the need to cough. Quite where this new affliction has come from, I don't know. I certainly didn't have the urge before and now that it has developed into an activity that fills me with fear and dread, (because it hurts - a lot), every now and again I seem to have developed an intense, urgent desire to relieve my lungs of a few trespassing particles
So a few days ago, in the very early hours of the morning, I find myself in the bathroom surrounded by the stillness of the night, trying hard to cough up something, anything, just as long as I can get back to my sleep. On returning, my t-shirt feels wet. It's not a particularly hot night but I figure that I must have sweated my way through the first part of the night and decide to change into a fresh t-shirt. While doing so, I realise that the wetness is not coming from my t-shirt but my shorts. They are soaked through but I'm still not sure what is happening. For a minute I contemplate the terrible horror that I might have wet myself without knowing it. But the wetness seems to be only at the front of my shorts, not the back. And then I realise that the wound along my breastbone is oozing fluid. Only it isn't just a gentle trickle, a thick, syrupy fluid is gushing out of one place. I wipe it away but it only oozes out more. I rush to the bathroom in a panic and grab some surgical gloves and a dressing. I'm not sure if this is the right thing to do and the liquid is now flowing so fast that there are puddles forming on the bathroom floor. I rush back into the bedroom with the dressing and wake up my partner. He is still half-asleep, half-berating me for having woken him up, half wondering what has happened. By now I'm panicking. I imagine what might happen if the whole wound opens. Will I see some of my insides ? The thought feels me with terror and by now I'm hyperventilating. In between shallow breaths I tell my partner what has just happened. My mother is sleeping at the back of the flat. I don't want to worry her. I put a dressing on myself and we call the hospital. They tell us to go to an A & E department. Fortunately as luck would have it, I live next door to one. When we first bought our flat, some people thought us crazy to live so near to a hospital. 'Just imagine the noise,' they said. 'The traffic, the walking wounded.' But so far, for emergencies which have ranged from pregnancy complications to newborn accidents, our current location has proven itself to be a fortuitous choice. Before we leave, we wake up my mother and tell her that I'm leaking. We tell her that it's nothing serious, but it needs checking out.
So we're in A & E and boy, is it depressing. We sit next next to a handful of bored looking people. A few are clutching parts of their bodies. The receptionist looks even more bored. When I tell her what has happened to me, I see her eyes glaze over. We ask her how long we'll have to wait. Between two and a half and three hours is her answer. I'm flabbergasted. The waiting room looks empty. It's the early hours on Sunday morning for God's sake. Why so long ? Her eyes glaze over again. I tell her that there are fluids gushing out of my body. I get to see a nurse. He registers me and we get to wait in another area. After an hour, we see a doctor. I show her the dressing which has now soaked through. She tries mopping it up and starts asking me questions about the operation.
Was there a camera involved ?
How should I know ? I think. I was out for the count at the time. I mean, who the hell goes in to have their sternum removed and is awake during the whole thing ?
My patience is beginning to wear thin but I take the passive approach and answer each question rationally. The doctor looks quite young. I wonder how experienced she is. She says she thinks that the fluid could be coming from my lungs, but she doesn't understand how I look so well. I haven't fainted nor am I breathless. I can walk and talk with ease. My partner reminds me of the build-up of fluid that had occurred under my breast implant and when she returns, I tell her about this. She presses on the implant. More fluid oozes out. She presses out more, mopping up the liquid that is now curling itself around my body. There is a student doctor in the room who looks blankly at my torso while the procedure is taking place. I can't help wondering what she's thinking of it all. After a while, the oozing stops. She puts on another dressing, tells me that the fluid was seroma (a build-up of liquid that often happens after surgery) which basically needed to find a way out of my body. A small opening in the wound was enough for it to make a breakaway. Apparently it's better that it did this, than stay in my body to possibly poison my blood. I'm given antibiotics and told that samples will be sent to the lab. We get home at 5 in the morning. It's daybreak when we leave and I think to myself what a lovely time of the day this is, light enough for it to be called morning, yet too early for the rest of London to have woken up yet. Back at home my mother is waiting up for us. I have a cup of tea and a piece of toast and I tell her what's happened. She's concerned but seems happy that it wasn't too serious. Baby A sleeps peacefully through the whole event. I see my doctor the next day who checks for signs of infection, cleans the wound and puts on new dressings. He tells me that the fluid is normally reabsorbed into the body in the majority of cases. It isn't usual for an incident like this to happen. I'm getting used to being told how unusual I am. I am often called this by my oncologist when discussing my cancer.
I end up feeling a bit sorry for my surgeon. Although I'm the one who had to hobble into hospital in the early hours of the morn, it is he who seems more affected by the trauma than me. I put it down to the fact that he's a perfectionist. To have one of his patients end up in A& E after one of his operations must have been an even bigger blow to him than myself. He wants me to come in two days later just to check that the wound is healing okay, and I agree.
So now, i'm back at home. I'm wondering how long it takes to get back to normal life - if there's ever such a thing called that any more. Today, while baby A is at nursery, I go for a walk round the park and sit on the grass for a while, reminding myself how much I used to love this time to myself when I was a single girl in London. In my post-surgery, post-chemo state, I still feel decades older than my real age. And today, when I open the door to my postman, he looks at my now very white hair and tells me that it is almost as grey as his. In my past, pre-cancerland life, I probably would've taken offence at this. But today, my current bone straight, stubbornly salt and pepper hirsuteness is beginning to feel like a badge of honour.