Last Friday I woke up at 4a, got dressed, walked the twelve blocks to the hospital, and checked myself in for my second lumpectomy in three years. As I made my way in the dark, I thought, “this, is some grownup shit”.
I have raised children, buried a parent, and faced a variety of unpleasant things. Somehow, this felt like a new frontier.
VCU is a huge, busy hospital. The waiting room was already full at 5a, and I waited to be called with all sorts of distressed people. The blaring TVs kept me from having my own thoughts (maybe that was the point), save one; I wondered what would happen if I just pulled them all out of the wall, incredible-hulk style.
I wasn’t trying to be stoic, it just seemed easier to handle the whole thing on my own. This isn’t open-heart surgery, I was home by the afternoon. Still, I couldn’t help but notice I was the only one unaccompanied. The men in particular were surrounded by multiple women attending to them. Even after I was taken to my room, staff would periodically check in to see if they could fetch my person to join me. I patiently answered each time I was on my own.
Not having another person to attend to made it easier to focus on my own care. Good thing, too. My orders for a pre-op procedure called ‘bracketing’ hadn’t been submitted (this involves placing my breast in a vice grip and then inserting wires to show the surgeon the precise location of the cancer). There was a never-ending parade of new staff introducing themselves to me, but hadn’t communicated with one another. When my surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nurse anesthetists were finally in the room together I announced to all of them that the process appeared disorganized, and making me anxious about the level of care I was receiving.
As soon as the words left my mouth I could feel the current of electricity go up everyone’s spine. My intention was to let everyone know I was paying attention, and cared greatly about the outcome. It worked. The surgeon himself wheeled me to mammography, prompting staff across two buildings to greet him with eyes wide open. The technician whispered to me after he left that she had never seen the doctor wheel a patient in. I won’t deny I felt satisfaction in the gesture.
Everything went smoothly from there.
After the surgery a nice nurse put me into a post-surgery bra that had all the sex appeal of a bullet-proof vest. I was grateful to have it. My poor right breast has had tissue removed twice and been thoroughly radiated, with more to come. The support felt like heaven.
I ravenously ate peanut butter crackers, and asked every fifteen minutes when I might be able to go home. My father collected me, and I promptly went to bed.
When I woke up a few hours later I noticed a 'YES’ written across my breast. I took a picture and sent it to friends with the hashtag #surgicalinstructionsassextips
I hear all the time what a ‘good advocate’ I am for myself from doctors and hospital staff. Three years into this process, I’m pretty sure that is code for ‘pain in the ass’.
I’ll take it. I have one body, and it matters greatly to me that it be handled properly.
I made the PITA joke on Facebook with a status update that all went well. A nurse friend responded with “there is a huge spectrum of PITAs, and I’m sure you are in the far end towards normal in the 'pushy but polite, appreciative and not actually insane’ category. My favorite type of patient.”
I’d like that description as my personal tag line in all matter of things. Ask the world for what you want, show others consideration for what they are able to give. Don’t be afraid to make a fuss when the stakes are high.
All I have is how I’ve conducted myself. Well, and this handy, orthopedic bra sure to drive men wild with desire.