My eyes open.
There is movement, voices. I am being wheeled somewhere.
It’s ok, it’s ok, the voices say.
All I know is that I am very cold. I am shivering violently. The movement kerthunks to a stop (the bed brakes being applied) and a masked nurse cocoons me in blankets. Head, body, legs; I am swaddled like a child. I can only stare up at her, a white face, a pair of bewildered eyes, from my mound of blue blankets. Her mask moves slightly, eyes crinkling. She is smiling.
Are Jane* and Lucy* ok? I ask.
These were my anaesthetist and the anaesthetic assistant, or ODP. I had met them for the first time in the operating theatre; I had climbed onto the operating table and they had put in a drip and put me to sleep. I never see them again after this. For some reason, though, I have latched on to the idea that we were a team throughout my surgery, me asleep whilst they kept me safe, and it is important to me to know they are ok.
The nurse doesn’t hear me. She asks me if I have any pain. No, no pain. Just cold.
My surgeon suddenly looms over me, directly in my eye line, looking huge and adult and tired. It all went very well, he says, before squeezing my hand and disappearing just as quickly. I try to ask him…something, though it slips from my grasp, teeth chattering.
My body is othered. A few hours ago it was all mine and now it is odd, less. It belonged to someone else for a short while, whilst I slept. It smells of hospital, of the betadine antiseptic they painted on me. It does not smell like me. There are monitors attached to my chest, finger. There are tubes coming out my leg. I am yet to assess the damage.
But, relief. Relief that I am the other side of the surgery, it is done, I am alive, I am alive, that, no matter what pain or discomfort or changes lie ahead, everything I do now will bring me closer to being recovered (and cancer free?).
As I wake, I try sitting up. A sharp pain in my left pelvis, but I achieve a semi-slump with help from the nurse. She places a jug of water in front of me and – in my drugged state – I solemnly drink the entire litre down within thirty minutes. She brings another jug. I am not especially thirsty but it I think it is good to drink water, it is good, I am doing good. My brain, no longer quicksilver, is presenting each thought to me carefully, like cards on a table for me to turn over one by one.
Unfortunately, I forget that they will have also given me fluids through my drip during surgery. Not just that, it is now after 10pm; not the time to be filling up on water.
Presently, I need the loo. Let me bring you a bedpan, the nurse says.
And so begins my overriding memory of that night; having had around 3.5 litres of fluid in the space of a few hours, I need to pee all night. Which means some poor nurse has to bring me a bedpan each time. I brace myself on the handrails of the bed with the bed in a sitting position and heave my foreigned, drugged body upwards; it responds after a fashion, with that same sharp pain. I hope I land on the bedpan ok. The nurse adjusts it. She leaves me to pee. When she comes back, I roll inelegantly off it (don’t spill it!), she removes it and wipes me. I heave myself back, trying to forget how surreal it is to be suddenly unable to manage this simplest of procedures yourself. Relief. That’ll be it for the night. Except it isn’t.
I get to the ward sometime after 11pm and the comedy of bedpans and peeing continues. I take a selfie and send it to my family to reassure them I am ok; when I see the selfie the next day I realise how very unreassuring the photo was. I look like I’ve just tripped to the moon and back (which, I suppose, I have).
I sleep only one or two hours that night. There are three other women in the bay with me; the lady next to me has some issues and asks for help most of the night. The nursing staff are very patient with her. The lady opposite frequently has to walk out to the loo herself. By 4am and my 5th time of needing to pee, I decide I am sober enough to attempt to walk to the loo myself and leave the bedpan business behind me. A kind nurse (they were all kind) walks with me, carrying my drain and pump, just to check I don’t topple. I totter, but am glad to otherwise find I have got my sea legs.
Sitting down on the loo is another matter entirely. I find I cannot bend in the middle without significant pain. I later discover the surgical field extended from halfway down my thigh all the way up to my hip bone. I do a sort of half bend on my good leg and hang off the handholds by the loo, aiming (and hoping) for the best. Success again! I return to my bed like Queen Boudicea, knowing I can now manage to get myself to and from the loo.
Oh, what it is to be an adult (and cancer free?).
The morning dawns and with it, pain. I take painkillers. I get myself up and have what we call in the expedition community, a ‘pits and bits’ wash. It takes me 20 minutes as I have to stop and rest frequently but, again, I am thrilled with myself (and cancer free?). I put mascara on. I dress in old jogging bottoms and a T-shirt, my drain and pump coming out over the waistband and make it back to my bed for a well-earned rest.
All I have to do now is heal and maybe, if I’m lucky, there will be no more cancer to worry about.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
that perches in the soul –
and sings the tune without the words –
and never stops – at allEmily Dickinson