I’m two days post surgery and I feel pretty crappy. Not in pain, just weird in the head. Liam tells me my texts have been full of foolish spelling errors.
Anyway, everything went well. They look out the lumps and one sentinel node and the node looked good. (Don now acts in its stead. He answers the phone and door and decides who may enter). They gave me lots of morphine after the operation and I have to say I think I would have preferred the pain. I sat up in bed afterwards nodding off in front of the telly like an old junkie. I’m home now trying to do normal things but I keep crashing.
I have a blue breast, not from bruising (although there is some off that) but from the dye that was injected into me for the lymphoscintogram. I mean it’s really blue – ultramarine. I’d like to take a photo of it and post it but it might freak a few people out – probably me the most when my brain starts functioning properly again.
I’m rambling a bit. What I wanted to comment on the most in this post is the public health system… and the people who work in it. When I went in for my pre-op screening appointment at the Austin Hospital I had a shocker of a headache – I’d had it for two days. The first thing I had to do when I got there was to have an electro-cardiograph (or whatever that thing is called). I was lying on the bed with sticky things all over my chest when the technician pointed at my bracelet and said, “You like that sort of thing, do you?”.
“Sorry?”, I said.
“Oh, yeah, it’s mostly fake. The bracelet is real but all the glass beads are fake Chinese ones”.
“People spend a lot of money on them, but not you. It’s not very elegant”
I went back to the waiting room in a kind of daze pondering the conversation and wondering how I let someone so rude put sticky electrodes on my bare chest. The waiting room is shared by the chemo clinic which is distinguished from the pre-op clinic by a brightly coloured desk and pop-paintings that are supposed to brighten your mood even though you feel like crap. When I decided I could no longer look at the bravely smiling, turbaned women being greeted by the nurse who took them off for their dose of chemo, I pointed my face to the ceiling. I counted the number of ceiling tiles that were stained and needed replacing. When I’d finished that I studied the tired lino floor. Pretty soon I began to feel that this hospital, despite attempts at cosmetic patching was an old and sad place. Then I heard my name being called.
The doctor, Nelfio, asked if I’d mind if a couple of medical students sat in on the examination. By now I’d had a headache for two days, encountered an odd woman who insulted my bracelet and witnessed women going in for chemo in a tired, sad and old hospital clinic. I was in no mood for clumsy med students… I was grumpy. I answered snippily, “I guess it depends what you have in store for me. Do I have to take my clothes off?” Nelfio was apologetic and said if I didn’t want them to be there, they would respect my wishes – it was entirely up to me. Instead, using my best martyr sigh I very wearily said, “No, it’s okay”.
There is no doubt I was rude at the beginning of the exam. I didn’t expand my answers to any of the questions asked about my health history, saying either yes or no and avoiding eye contact. But they kept speaking respectfully and kindly and eventually I softened up and decided they were nice people. Then I met a nurse, Kate, who was funny and we cracked a few jokes and then as I was leaving I heard someone call my name. I turned around and saw Irene, the breast nurse I’d met the day I was diagnosed. She came rushing over saying how pleased she was to see me and that she knew I had an appointment there that day and had come over to the clinic to say hello. We sat down together in the waiting room and she gave me lots of useful advice and was really lovely.
Despite my apprehension about undergoing surgery at the tired hospital for old soldiers, my experience at the Repat was similar to that at The Austin (except for the rude technician who by now I took to be the exception that proves the rule). All the staff were very attentive, explained everything and were careful to check whether I had any questions. Even though it’s a sad-looking building, there’s a gentleness there that made me feel like I was in sure and safe hands – it’s sort of like the kind old grandparent of hospitals. Our public health system might keep you waiting in the waiting room longer than you’d like and it might be as inelegant as a fake Pandora bracelet but it works well and it’s brim full of the kindness of strangers.