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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Where do I Begin?

Buckle your seatbelt, this is long.

Before the residual fog of anesthesia and time blur the memories, I need to recount (to myself, if not to you) the events of my single mastectomy on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

I drank my required 12 ounces of Gatorade at 10 PM the night before, and again at just before 7 AM, along with 1000 mg of Tylenol ... this, they say, to just start to take the edge off of upcoming tests before surgery.

Thanks to Sue Meilleur, I packed up my tiara and pink feather boa, along with all the various and sundry things the hospital said I should bring, and headed for the hospital in Naperville just before 7 AM. Pete Tammeling, our church's care pastor, called on our way to pray with us.

Sidenote and repetition: I am SO grateful for the prayers of family and friends! My goodness, I feel like the young man whose friends lowered him through the ceiling to get to the healing power of Jesus. Just that thought makes me want to weep. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your prayers!

All parked, winding our way through the maze of hospital hallways to the one elevator that leads us to the surgical check-in, I'm remarkably calm. This is unusual for me. I don my tiara and feather boa and walk into the office to a grinning receptionist. I swear, everyone we came in contact with was comforting and welcoming. And probably a little shocked at my appearance, but I digress.

Not long after, Ingrid walked in, also all smiles. She's one of my best cheerleaders.

From here on out, I get the royal chariot ride treatment. Wheelchairs all the way, baby! First stop, vitals and gowning. They want to make sure I know who I am and why I'm there and that I will sign away my firstborn should anything go wrong. Okay, not really, but I get no drugs until I've signed the paperwork. ;-) First the nurse applies a "desensitizing" cream to the area in question. Then I get the valium. Why? Because I've got some tests coming up that might cause a little anxiety.

Wait, wait, wait, while that starts to take effect. Family goes to the waiting room, while I get the chariot ride to radiology. I'm greeted by (see, I've already forgotten her name...). Again, so friendly. I told her that a friend of mine warned me that I might want to punch out the doctor who does this test. You see, they inject a radioactive tracer to find the nearest lymph nodes to the affected area. They tell you that it "might burn" a bit. The radiologist returned, "Yes, that's why we give you the Valium. You can't hit as hard that way ... *grin*"

But what I didn't know is that there are two different types of radioactive injections. One is the tracer that just finds the sentinel nodes, and one is the blue dye that finds all the ... well, the rest of them and their pathways. Praise God, this was the former!

So, I'm on a typical exam table. The desensitizing cream has been covered up and doing its job, and the radiologist explains the procedure to me. But wait, I'm staring at the ceiling where usually you'd see a glaring light. Instead of squares of fluorescence, there is a tree branch with diffused sunlight. Great! I can count the leaves!

Next comes that freezing spray and a "pinch" (why do they always say it will feel like a pinch?) as she injects the first tracer of four. Ditto three more times. Now she turns on some soft music, dims all the rest of the lights, and those tracers find their marks. I could almost fall asleep ... almost. And no, it didn't hurt. She asked me, on a scale of 0-5, what pain level that test was. I said, maybe a 1. Bingo! Right answer. She was happy to oblige.

Now it's time for four 5-minute pictures of where those tracers ended up. For this, I get my first experience in an open MRI, of sorts. But it's not MRI, it's gamma rays, she says. "Are you claustrophobic?" We'll see, as I glide into the machine and the "ceiling" comes within an inch of my nose. Thankfully, it's open on the sides, so I turn my head and close my eyes. No problem.

All done with that and head back up to OR holding, where my surgeon and anesthesiologist will visit just prior to wheeling me off.

At this point, Mark, Diane, and Ingrid are able to come wait with me. Ingrid had the temerity to say that she really likes me on Valium ... uhhh, just what do you mean by that?

Dr. Dude (I've given him that nickname, since the first part of his name sounds like that, and he is a really funny guy) comes in and tells me that he's going to send me to lala-land so I should pick out a dream now. Then the surgeon pokes her head in to tell me that they'll be ready for me in just a bit, how am I doing, and jokes with Dr. Dude. Mark asked her how early she starts surgery in the day, and where am I in line? She said I'm the 4th of the day, and mine is scheduled for 11. Wow!

Here we go. My transport awaits and takes me through a labyrinth of secret hallways to OR #19. They assist me from the gurney to the OR table, and introduce me to everyone in the room who will be helping for the mastectomy. No, I don't remember ANY of their names!

Somewhere behind my head, Dr. Dude appears. He asks me what dream I've picked out. I said, "A Viking Riverboat cruise!" "Where are you going?" "The Grand European tour." "Great! Bon voyage! Have a great cruise!" And that's the last thing I heard ...

Until I awoke to a nurse asking me my pain level. I'm groaning. I'm crying (not afraid to admit it). And I am shaking like a 9 on the Richter scale. At one point I was sure I was having a seizure. I could not stop quaking. "Your pain level?" "Maybe 6-7. And my face is itching!" "Okay, I'll give you something." wait...wait...wait... "How about now?" Crying ... 6-7. "Okay, morphine it is." I think I quit shaking after that, and at some point my next chariot came to transport me to an overnight room.

By the time I was coherent, the nurses informed me that I had an allergic reaction to something in the anesthesiology cocktail (thanks a lot, Dr. Dude!)...most likely the Ancef anti-biotic. Who knew? I do now.

But hey, from then on out, pain level was almost nil. The nurses and techs were incredibly helpful. Numbers stabilized. Christian inspirational music piped through my "entertainment system" and I got food! Good food, actually!

My nurse navigator and surgeon visited the day after surgery, walked me through what to expect going forward, including all the goodies that the kind folks at Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the American Cancer Society have available to survivors.

Because that's what I am. A survivor!