If you missed the first bit of this dastardly cancer journey – start here.
The 18th May finally arrived. D day. I’d set about 6 alarms because I’d been sleeping unbelievably badly and sometimes fell dead asleep around 5ish. We had to be at the hospital at 07h30.
Not being allowed anything to eat or drink meant no coffee. But the furries still needed to be fed.
It was one of those crisp wintery mornings where everything smells of a brand new day – with a hint of exhaust fumes.
There were only a couple of people at reception and so the booking-in process was a doddle… except for the fact that I noticed – after they had already printed 60 stickers – that the Medical Aid member code was for Chris and not myself. We groaned – perfectly sure that this was going to cause plenty of hassles later on.
Turns out all my doctor’s patients get put in the gynaecology slash urology ward. We were given directions how to get there.
Fuckydoodle! I thought to myself as I saw what number bed I had been assigned to – really – number 13? You’ve got to be kidding. I want another bed.
But no – 13 it was. Seemed pathetic to make a fuss and ask for the bed by the window. (Those are the best spots – by the way… if you ever do have a choice.)
The nice sister pitched up with a gajillion forms and a receptacle covered with a crackling baggie. She pointed to the bathroom – samples were needed. It’s hard widdling into a bottle when your hands are shaking. I got weighed and measured. The nurse oohed and aahed over my lovely weight.
Chris sat next to my bed feeling very much like the odd man out in the ladies ward. I offered him the choice of breakfast at Wiesenhof but he declined. It was warm in the ward after the brisk chill of the morning outside and I shed layers of clothing including my boots and made myself comfy sitting cross-legged on the bed. It was going to be a freaking long time to 13h00 when the op was scheduled.
Two seconds later a dude pitched up with a wheelchair. I was needed in nuclear meds. Somehow I had fondly imagined that another nice nurse was going to pitch up with a needled full of toxic stuff that would be injected into my veins… not so.
No really… I protested – I can walk. It was, however, not an option. Hopped back into my boots and into the chair. We were half way down the corridor when I asked if I could take my book. He sighed – yes – I could have my book. So I leapt out of the chair before he could object and started running back… a few steps away I stopped and said – well could I have my phone too – else how was I going to be in contact with Chris. Double sigh – clearly he realised this was going to be a high maintenance patient.
Chris saved the day and dumped my entire handbag on my lap and the journey began again.
Down the passage (back the way we’d just come) and into double doors marked “nuclear medicine”. My trustworthy driver parked me in an empty section and departed. I gave my name to the receptionist and pointed out that the number on the sticker was wrong. She rectified it – for their section anyway.
I sat, heart thumping. Not knowing what to expect.
I should mention here – the answers that I had gotten from “my doctor” were sketchy and not really satisfactory – but I’d decided it wasn’t important – I could surely find all the information I needed on the internet. Turned out this was not the case. I was frantically messaging my friends from iThemba LABS days – asking how it all worked – and trying to figure out what the procedure exactly entailed. How did removing or biopsying a sentinel node work. What did it involve? There was loads of info on certain things and absolutely nothing on others. The best I could come up with was this really scary video the night before the op. Then I really panicked. Have no clue if I was just a crappy Googler or if people don’t tag with the correct keywords – but I was unprepared to say the least.
A nice lady came out and introduced herself. She asked me either when, or where, I’d had the mammogram.
My chin dropped onto my knees. Gobsmacked! Really? I was supposed to have had a mammogram for this op? WTF? Nobody told me.
Never – was my reply.
She crossed her arms – a bit shocked.
Well… how do you know you’ve got breast cancer then?
The receptionist nodded. Yes – you’ve been booked in for breast cancer nuclear meds.
I exploded – that bloody woman had fucked up again. Seriously! (According to the receptionist it was not the first time either. Apparently she was new.) I didn’t care what she was – I was really miffed.
The nice lady had to go off and recalibrate her machine or whatever it is they do – with the correct dosage of nuclear meds. I sat there fuming. Imagine if they had not had the right meds available and the whole thing had to be postponed again because of one person’s stupidity.
A few minutes later I was ushered into the inner sanctum. A snazzy white gamma ray camera was the focal point.
Oh. Right. Fabulous. Nowhere in any of my googling had this little baby shown up. (I snitched this pic off the internet – leave a message below if you recognise it and want some credit – I’ll happily give it.)
She explained that she was going to inject either side of the now-non-existent mole. The meds would travel up my arm and land up in the sentinel node – or something like that. I dutifully handed over my arm.
She foofled and fiddled and rearranged things for about 10 or 15 minutes. Then positioned me under the gamma camera. The box like plate with the camera came down close to my face – actually it touched my nose at one stage but I objected and it went back up a few millimeters. She was really sweet and kept checking that I was comfortable. I had a fluffy thick blanket covering most of me – thought it was a bit over the top in the beginning but turned out it was necessary in the end.
I’m going to leave you here for 30 minutes – she said.
OMG! Really – 30 minutes – lying still. What happens if my nose itches or I want to sneeze. Sneakily slid my eyes over to the monitor to see if I could interpret anything on the screen. Nada. Wickedly wiggled my fingers on the injected arm to see if it made a difference. There was a little star burst on the screen a few seconds later. Tried it out again – but then there was nothing – must have been a coincidence. Got eye ache after a while and retreated into my head. This whole episode was going to be blogged. I started then.
The 30 minutes passed in… well… 30 long minutes. Time does not fly when you are not having fun. It drags. My jersey sleeve was all wrinkled and was pressing on my elbow bone – it had started to hurt like hell. Was a relief to be able to move again.
The relief was short lived.
She wiggled me around some more and horror of horrors – zooted me further under the camera. My whole head was now under the plate-like box thing. It was even closer to my head. Thought about panicking… then gave myself a strict talking to. How old are you Virginia? 12? Buck the fuck up!
Closed my eyes. It made the claustrophobia worse. So opened them again. The floaters in my eyes drifted off to the side of the plate – out of sight. Hey! Come back – I thought. Play with me. But no – they disappeared. Meanies.
Blinked a few times to see if I could conjure up any more. Nothing. Ho hum… what to do? I am not a person who likes just lying around doing nothing.
Picked a spot on the plate and disappeared into my head again. The blog blanked – so I retreated to my happy space – a Chris De Berg Concert that my lovely husband had treated us to earlier this year – the one where he touched my hair (no really – he did – but you’d have to read the blog to find out how it happened). Replayed every single song that I could remember in my head – bitching to myself when I could not remember the words.
That bout thankfully did not last 30 minutes. I was told to go and sit in the reception for 40 minutes and rub my arm a lot – so that the nuclear meds could reach the node under my arm pit. (Don’t think my circulation was that fabulous at that stage.)
I scuttled off on shaking legs and texted my man. He’d come and find me as soon as he’d finished his breakfast.
Breakfast! Jeez – was not hungry but would have killed for coffee.
In the process of the nuclear meds imaging, I had gleaned another little gem of information. The gamma probe that my doctor was going to use to grovel in my lymph node was broken (that could also have been why the op was postponed – but why the hell didn’t the dilly woman tell me that) and so the rep was coming out with a new probe and was going to demonstrate to my doctor how to use it… ON ME!
Holy shite! Was starting to feel very nervous about this whole operation. Chris and I agreed we might need a discount if this was going to be a learning operation. Literally.
The second bout in nuclear meds was not too bad – or too long – thankfully. She drew under my arm and stuck plasters on the blobs – apparently this would enable my doctor to find the node – somewhere in that region. She also told me that she would be there – during the operation to provide information or help interpret the scans… or something. I was relieved – at least they would not be lopping off my boob or anything.
Chris and I grabbed the blanket off the wheelchair and opted to walk back to bed number 13. By now it was around 11h30.
I’d been handed the pictures. In a sealed envelope – with my doctor’s name on it.
Back in the ward I was given the hospital garb to don. That sexy gown with the open back and the ever sexier knickers. Went off to the loo and stripped.
Bit crazy really because the ward’s warm but the toilet’s freezing.
Put the gown on – wrapped the ties completely around me and considered tying them under my boobs. Refrained. Put the knickers on. Clearly the wrong way round. Took them off again and put them on the other way. Took them off yet again and gave them a shake. Maybe I’d used a leg hole for the waist… hmmmm… fell around giggling in the loo – WTF? Could have fitted three of me in that one pair of bloomers.
Zooted back to No. 13 and leapt in. More forms needed to be filled in.
After the nurse had departed, Chris picked up the envelope and held it up to the light. We could not see much. But my lovely husband is not a genius for nothing – he hauled out his cell phone, flipped on the light and positioned it behind the envelope. We could read everything. Of course, it didn’t make much sense to us, but at least we stopped feeling excluded.
By now my nervous level was sky-high and darting all over the place. Was full into corny joke mode and started chatting to my ward neighbours. Poor Chris was doing the cringy thing again. Did not get to torture everybody for too long because another dude pitched up.