The days before the biopsy are a bizarre mix of the ridiculous (my hilarious neighbour trying to convince me that there has been a spate of women running off with their robot surgeons) and the way too sensible (applying for a Power of Attorney so A can at least access all my financial affairs if the operation goes tits up).
Despite being pre-warned by Damian that I wouldn’t go down to theatre until the afternoon, we have to be at the hospital by 7.30am. A & I agree he’ll stay with me until it’s time for work, because neither of us want to sit for several hours trying to think of non tumour or biopsy related conversation. Waiting for stuff in an unfamiliar environment, whether it’s an operation or a delayed plane, never makes for shared moments to treasure. I’d rather he had the distraction of work and I could just read a book* (*play Candy Crush obsessively) until the time comes.
The two other women on the neurosurgery pre-op ward are both spinal patients and can’t move much. As a mobile novelty, the ward Administrator says I can go for a wander around the hospital whilst waiting. I promise not to make a bid for freedom, and she tells me not to even try or she’ll come and track me down. She says it with a smile that gets nowhere near her eyes. She totally means it. Patient hunting is her sport, and I bet she has several pelts mounted in her office to prove it. I scarper whilst the going is good and head straight down to the hospital branch of Costa to sniff the caffeinated air. Damn you, nil by mouth!
The doctors make their pre-operative rounds, and Damian puts a felt tip cross on my right earlobe to show which side to drill. He very nearly marks up the wrong side. Oh how we all lolled. James, the anaesthetist also comes to do his checks. I’ve not had a general anaesthetic since I was 6, and am more worried about that than the actual biopsy. He asks if I have any questions. Yes, but it’s not a question that should be asked. I ask it anyway.
Not to cast aspersions on your professional skills or anything, and I know there are no nerve endings in the brain, but what do I do to let you know if I can feel everything? Should I hold my breath so you know to turn the painkiller up?
Both A and James manage not to roll their eyes at me. Bless James, he even has the patience to explain that there will be two anaesthetists attending throughout the procedure, they’ll keep a very close eye on my vital signs and would be able to tell by heart rate etc if I was in pain. He promises to look after me despite asking ridiculous questions. Phew.
A heads to work and I piss about on my phone, texting friends. Kat sends this photo of what she and her kids are up to; one last day at the beach before school starts again. It looks idyllic and I’m about to reply when the nurse calls – it’s time to get ready and go along to theatre. A lovely nurse gives me two theatre gowns, one to wear the expected, arse-bearing way (even though I get to keep my pants on, which is a total bonus), another to wear as a dressing gown, a pair of deeply sexy compression stockings and a pair of fleecy sock/slipper things that are about 60cm long and must have been designed for Sideshow Bob.
A new nurse walks me round to the theatre suite, carrying my bag, which has a sticker attached with my name, date of birth and hospital number. When we get there, Jo the anaesthetic nurse runs through more checks, and we realise I still have my contact lenses in. They’re day and night lenses – I put them in on the 1st of the month and they stay there for 30 days, so I’d totally forgotten about them. They need to come out, so new nurse goes back to the ward to get my toilet bag and a mirror for me to take them out. As she heads to the door, Jo and I notice the name sticker from my bag has transferred to her bum. We quickly confer and realise neither of us know her name to shout after her, so she makes the entire journey around the hospital and back with my name branded on her arse. Oops.
She eventually gets back, is mortified to be relieved of her bum sticker and I attempt to take my contacts out. I’m shaking so badly I nearly blind myself several times. Then, once all obstacles to proceed are removed, Jo and I walk along the endless corridor towards the allotted theatre. I had no idea there were so many operating theatres here. We pass dozens and dozens before coming across some brown, pink and green blobs. A pink and green blob starts talking to me. We’re approximately 2cm away from the blob before I realise it’s Damian. He’s very upbeat. He loves this stuff. Good job, frankly.
In the anaesthetic room, James and Jonathan, the consultant anaesthetist are waiting.
Jonathan: Hi! How are you?
Me: Fine thanks! You?
No…. actually I’m not fine. I’m terrified.
Jonathan: It’s funny isn’t it how we always say ‘fine’ no matter what? Like we’d be suspicious of anyone who says anything else.
He starts putting cannulas in to the back of my hands, crouching down holding my hand below the bed so I can’t see what he’s up to. We chat about how different languages and cultures handle the ‘how are you?’ question. How some cultures value honesty and directness, others emphasise politeness. I tell him about linguistic relativity, the theory that our native tongue and unique concepts encapsulated by that language help define our understanding of the world, and the order in which words for different colours evolve in languages. He tells me about a book he’s recently read about the surprising accuracy of estimates and number concepts in pre-numerate species and languages that have no number words beyond one, two, few and many. It’s absolutely fascinating. Somehow, he makes me completely forget about what’s going on and what’s about to happen, for which I will always be grateful.
And then I’m asleep.