29 January 2014.
I wake up early. I didn’t sleep well, what with being in a strange (hospital) bed and sharing a room with others, not to mention the expectation of today’s events. Perhaps I stole a few hours’ sleep.
I am not that hungry, which is for the best, as I am not allowed any breakfast. My routine for today may be a bit messed up, but it has been minutely planned nonetheless.
First, I need to get myself ready, by which I mean washed and gowned. Despite being in a hospital I back myself to perform these tasks independently, so I jump – or at least clamber – out of bed and head to the shared bathroom allocated to my four-bed room. The three old bodachs* around me observe, with apprehensions ranging from ‘dull interest’ or ‘dozy complete non-comprehension’. I only met them yesterday, when I was admitted. They seem nice enough, if a bit dottlit. For example, one tried to get into another patient’s bed last night. Said bed was unfortunately already occupied, resulting in obvious but tragically comedic results, all witnessed by me as I tried to reason with the wanderer whilst pressing the call button for a nurse. I uncharitably wonder whether the wanderer has cause to be in a psychiatric ward rather than a urology ward, but that is not my concern. They have their battles, I have mine.
As for my own battle, this could be one of my more important bathroom trips. A friend who had a major operation some years before advised me to ask my consultant for a dose of prophylactic laxatives because, bluntly, I would not want to be moving very much in the days after surgery. I had asked my consultant about this in a preliminary meeting, but he apparently subscribes to the school of thought that such a dose might actually encourage infection, so I am on my own.
Nothing. Hmm. This might not be a good sign. Then again, I am pretty nervous. Maybe it is that.
I have a shower. I put on my gown. I go back to bed.
A few people come to ask me questions. The tea trolley rolls by to taunt me. ‘Nil by mouth,’ is my reply. I have never wanted a cup of tea in my life more than at this moment. Similarly, I have never wanted my bowels to open so much. Well, not while I am on the bed, but you know what I mean. Anyway. I should stop talking shite.
Aye, that’s me. Time to be wheeled down to theatre.
One of my new, mature friends in the ward wishes me luck. I don’t even know what is wrong with him. It seemed rude to ask. He didn’t ask me, but I can tell he was wondering why such a young chap was in this ward for old codgers. Or maybe he didn’t think about me at all. What does it matter anyway?
My body is prostrate, but my mind is racing. Is it too late to draw an arrow on the right side of my anatomy in permanent marker, to make sure the surgeon removes the right (and, in this case, correct) testicle? I suppose it probably is. Anyway, bizarrely enough, the removal of a testicle is not the biggest of my worries today. All going well, I am having a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection. The RPLND is necessary because my cancer was found at such an advanced stage that I now have a tumour mass in my abdomen. Lucky me.
I get wheeled into a lift. I am taken down to the waiting area before going into theatre. A black matriarchal figure – the sort who I imagine would be a de facto jury foreperson or church elder if she was ever part of such a community – takes all my details then leaves me to lie on the bed.
I cross my ankles as I lie there.
The matriarchal figure tells me to uncross my ankles. I find myself complying before she has even finished her sentence. I apologise to her.
I catch a glimpse of my consultant walking towards the theatre, striding purposefully along the corridor visible from my waiting area. I hope he had a nice meal last night and a good night’s sleep, like he said he would when he spoke to me yesterday.
I ask the matriarchal figure if I can go to the bathroom. She directs me to the toilet cubicle.
Success. I have the most important jobby of my adult life. [Okay, maybe that was too much information, but trust me: this was an amazing bowel movement. I don’t think I managed another for five days.]
I return to the bed. I nod at the matriarchal figure in silent satisfaction.
Ah, my turn for theatre now, is it?
No. That flurry of activity was for another patient.
I am taken to another room. Here is the anaesthetist. He spoke to me yesterday.
‘Smalltalk, smalltalk, smalltalk, blah blah spine, smalltalk, epidural, smalltalk.’
His assistant joins in. ‘Chat, chat, chat. Smalltalk, smalltalk, actually, doesn’t Malcolm look like this chap in the hospital who he doesn’t know? Chat, chat, chat.’
‘Yes, he does, ha ha, rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb,’ agrees the anaesthetist. At some point something is stuck into my back.
I am happy to report I remember nothing else.
Until I wake up.
Oh so gradually.
Actually, this is pretty sore. But I am awake. That’s good.
Morphine. Morphine makes it better.
I try to take in my surroundings. My mind starts to engage.
How did it go? Why do I have a bag attached to my stomach? Where am I?
All these questions, and more, will be answered in due course. Now, rest. And morphine.
In answer to the main question, it seems to have just about gone to plan. Phew.
One year on from my RPLND, I am still here. And still writing posts about cancer, even though I had planned to stop. Maybe this one will be my last. So what triggered this return to cancer blogging? Well, even though I did not realise at the time, as pathology results would be a few weeks in the preparation, that was the day the last of the viable cancer was carved out of my body. My one year, all clear anniversary seems as good a reason to wax lyrical as any.
And let this be another lesson in the merits of early detection. If the cancer had been caught earlier, I would have had a better chance of avoiding the RPLND rigmarole. Trust me: I would not recommend it.
Further cancer scribblings by me can be found here.
*Bodach is a Scots Gaelic (and Irish) word for old man. Believe it or not, it can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary.