I’m down. But it’s good.

As I write, it’s Saturday morning. I am still in recovery in the hospital following my mastectomy-reconstruction surgery and I’m feeling rotten.  This is good. It’s a helluva lot more normal than what I have been feeling. It feels like the beginning of feeling more human.

I’ve been UP since diagnosis. A really weird high completely at odds with the news we’d been given, but precipitated by the sheer relief that it wasn’t terminal.  That’s where the mind goes when you’re waiting for results. It just flits there momentarily, from time to time, against your will, and you don’t realise the impact it’s having until you are delivered news that’s better than absolutely terrible. You collapse with relief, as if your bones have just dissolved, on the floor, all skin on cool linoleum.  And then boom, you’re up, as if inflated suddenly with happy helium. This is amazing! I’m not going to die! I’ve dodged a bullet! The children WILL grow up with their mother! It put me in nothing other than a bloody good mood which carried me through the really tough bits. Like telling my two little girls, and then my siblings. But still, it didn’t feel natural.

After that, I stayed high. There was a process to focus on, of course (“I’m going to project manage the arse off cancer!”) . Appointments. Scans. Decisions. But there was a bit of a gear change. It shifted to more like being on high alert. My blood was fizzing. I guess it’s what you’d call anxiety but it was different. My friend Sukey said, “is it like when you run your finger round the rim of a glass and you get that high note?”. It’s exactly that. That vibration and that tone, coursing through your veins and your mind 24/7. I hummed. But I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t low. I wasn’t angry. I was on a mission. And I slept well.

Then came the operation. Eyes down. Eyes up. Cancer out. Oh my god, the elation I felt coming out of surgery was indescribable. I felt euphoric. I woke chatting and smiling and was surrounded by my super-duper life-saving team who all happened to be good looking with a great sense of humour! “Hi you lovely peeeople!!!!”. Pure, unadulterated joy. I’ve since learned that that is the combined effect of anaesthesia and morphine. An accidental side effect, but quite convenient as it turns out. Drugs are fab aren’t they?!

Even 24 hours later I was riding on it.

Consultant/doctor/nurse/physio; “So, how are we today?”

Me: “EXCELLENT. I’ve done a poo!” (smiles broadly, waits for praise)

Like a toddler, I dined out on my poo for a good two days, eking mileage out of it with each subsequent success.

Consultant/doctor/nurse/physio; “So, how are we today?”

Me: “EXCELLENT. I’ve done ANOTHER poo…” (smiles broadly, waits for praise)

My surgeon told Tom on the quiet that day three after surgery is usually when it hits. That would have been Friday.

The poo was pretty old news by Friday, but by then lots of other key milestones had drip-fed me little lifts. The catheter came out (momentarily disappointing actually. “You mean I have to actually get up?” I was quite enjoying kicking back in bed and not bothering to get up to wee ). The IV pain blocker to my boob and the cannula came out and I was two more leads down. I ticked the ‘can do stairs’ box which means the physio was able to sign me off to go home this Sunday. That means it’s just me and my drains now and I am mobile. On top of all that my op has been successful. My boob is doing just great.

So. Back to today. My chest is heavy with emotion. I feel sliced up, stitched, and stapled together. Everything is either swollen, black and blue, or really tight. I can’t stand straight. The enormity of it all crept into my room in the the middle of the night and gave me a big slap around the chops. The low has hit me. Finally, I’ve sobbed.

It started around 3am. Out of nowhere. I called Shirley, the nurse who has done nights three days running, to help me to the loo. I can get there myself but it’s a major palaver in the middle of the night. I shuffle to the loo. It’s on the return shuffle that the flood gates open. I am not sure how old Shirley is but according to my surgeon “she’s an institution” at this hospital. She’s like an Indian Granny. She knows the drill. She simply guides me to my bed tucks me in and tells me everything will be OK.

When I open my eyes in the morning, I am slammed down again by the heaviness. I know it needs to happen. What goes up, must come down. I am glad to be here feeling normal feelings, feelings that are closer to my reality.

What I was feeling before is real, but I was also aware, even as it was happening, that it was a sort of ‘fight or flight’ reaction.  Basic instinct takes over and you go into survival mode and that’s a pretty exhausting state of mind to maintain. I got out of bed this morning and re-started the job of being a human, albeit on a different channel. I washed my face. I brushed my teeth. I decided not to go back to bed but sat on this green chair instead, looked out of the window and wrote all this down in the lovely book that my friend Lou sent me. It just helps writing about everything.

It also really helps that the book has lines in it. Thanks Lou.

Everybody up for a standing ovation!

It was around midnight Wednesday. There was definitely a rumble of sorts. It feels like the troops are mobilising. Oh my god. There’s no mistaking it.

I need to poo.

I haven’t ‘been’ since Monday. We came in early Tuesday for ‘op day’  and i drank coffee on the way in to help, well, ‘move things along’. I thought it would be optimal to go into theatre ‘empty’.

We meet Jane, my wonderful anaesthetist. She goes through a few things.

“Any questions?”, she asks.

“Well.. there is one thing.  I haven’t done my morning ‘constitutional” I say with meaningful eyes.

“I won’t… you know… On the… during the…??”

“Oh no don’t worry, everything will grind to a halt”

“Like when you go camping?”, I suggest.

“Exactly” says Jane, parting with “right then, see you later and erm, good luck with your wee slash poo situation”.

No more to report.

Back to midnight last night. I am now post-op so let me put this in perspective for you. I’m lying in a hospital bed. I have two drain pipes attached to my insides on the left hand side of my body (one for my breast, one for my left abdomen) with accompanying bottles for post-op body fluid to drain into, one drain on the other for right abdomen. Also a catheter and accompanying ‘wee bag’. Intravenous pain blocker direct to my newly constructed breast on the left, and a cannula /morphine feed, the latter two attached to a lamp-post-machine thingy on wheels to the right of my bed.

All this needs to come with me.

I call for the nurse. She arrives,  takes one look at the situation, and calls for another nurse.

We all exchange a look that says, “ok. Let’s do this”..

We start with what we need to do to get me out of bed. I have intermittent pneumatic compression devices velcroed around my legs (to prevent blood clots) which need to be removed. My bed clothes include the ‘Bear Hug’ an inflatable plastic blanket with warm air being pumped through it 24/7, sheets and blankets. I am physically ‘plumbed in’ to everything so, as the bed clothes etc come off, we need to give clearance to the wires on both sides of the bed as I ever so slowly bum-shuffle down, taking some weight into my right arm, and get myself to sitting position on the edge of the bed.

The intravenous lead from my right arm to the not-a-lamp-post on wheels is short so it needs to be wheeled from the right hand side of the bed to the left, with my arm following it.

Nurse A, let’s call her Romana, because that’s her name, brings a drain bottle and my catheter bag. Nurse B, Shirley, is holding the other two drain bottles. In the end we decide all the drain bottles can go in a ‘Chipping Norton Literary Festival’ tote bag to make it easier to carry them.

The door to the loo is two metres away as the crow flies. I inhale, and stand on the exhale. This is big people.

I have effectively had a tummy tuck to create the volume for my left breast from my abdomen. It’s really tight down there and I can’t stand straight. It’s a slow, decrepit, old-lady-like shuffle to the loo. I’m wearing a backless hospital gown which is the only remotely convenient thing about my set up in that moment.

Once I get there, we all need to go in. Because of where the nurses and the wheely thing are in relation to me, we need to walk in , reverse, and de-rotate so I am not entangled in wires and everything is on the correct side. This happens in the small space between the sink and the loo.

Sitting is an effort but a relief. We bloody made it!! It feels massive. But not as massive as what’s backed up inside me and threatening to come out any second. It suddenly feels very crowded. You know that scene in Ghost, when Whoopie Goldberg is in the room with all the ghosts and she does the, “right, EVERYBODY OUT, OUT OUT OUT!!!”. That happens.

Aah, privacy. I close my eyes and wait.

And wait.

Eventually, I fart.

[SOME TIME LATER: I’m pleased to report a ‘happy ending’ to this crushing disappointment. I had aimed for Everest and only reached Basecamp and it was a difficult blow at the time. Tom and the girls came to visit me the following morning. Tom brings coffee and beetroot juice.  A familiar rumbling kicks in toward the end of their stay. I ignore it for a while. By the time I slam that nurse button we are ALL SYSTEMS GO. I make it to Basecamp AND Everest! Thanks for bearing with me as I got my poo story out. The poo is a big step in recovery. It means my insides are back on track. It means, I can get from the bed to the loo. That means they can take the catheter out. That means I am one ‘lead’ down in being plumbed into ‘the system’ and one baby-step closer to getting back home. And THAT my friends, is a worth a standing ovation].