365 days ago I woke up reluctantly after a night of tossing and turning. My pyjamas were soaked with sweat and I kept thinking about the letters I hadn’t finished. I was due in the Marlyebone hospital, where I had spent many pre-op hours before, by 8am. As I quickly showered and dressed, my surgeon’s words kept coming back to me ‘you’ll be fine – I do more of these operations than anyone else in the country’.
The day before I had phoned to check whether the thymectomy – an open chest operation where the breast bone is broken and mended with wires to remove the thymus – was going ahead. Of course I hoped it wasn’t, but no such luck. My mum, dad and I had a Sunday roast – my supper of choice – and an attempt at an early night.
As Elaine and I walked briskly through Oxford Circus – in amongst the commuter chaos – I felt a quiet calm come over me. I had to keep it together – I would be fine. For the last few weeks I had been panicking and had even written letters to my loved ones in case something happened, but I couldn’t bring myself to finish them.
We arrived and I was told to wait in an empty room – I was eventually weighed, had my height taken and my blood pressure checked to distinguish the amount of anaesthesia I needed. I had to change into my hospital gown, which Elaine had much fun taking the piss out of. I was nervous again and went to look out the window to distract myself. Thankfully, my wonderful woman picked the perfect time to ask me for a dance.
My mum and dad arrived from their hotel and we chatted for what seemed like forever – still no update from the medical staff. As I wasn’t allowed to eat after midnight, I was starting to tire and lay down. Eventually the waiting in a stuffy, natural light deprived, room got too much for my dad and he went out for a walk. Of course not long after I got the nod – I was put in a wheelie bed and wheeled to the lift. It was around 2.30pm.
A few floors down Elaine and my mum had to say goodbye – they smiled and we said ‘see you soon’ refusing to acknowledge it could go any other way. As the doors shut behind them and my escort, my legs started to shake uncontrollably.
The freezing basement – the anaesthetist – talking talking. Darkness.
I’ve been asked whether I knew time had passed when I woke up – I felt like I had been asleep for weeks. Then there were flashes of lights and I remember straining to see a clock. I couldn’t figure out what was going on and there was so much beeping. Then my parents were above me – I can’t remember a word of what they said but I’ve never been more glad to see those faces. The time they were could have been 10 seconds or 20 minutes, but after they left Elaine came in and she smiled. I was out of it still but she told me about what they had been up to and I tried to listen, fighting to come back. She held my hand throughout.
I may have been in intensive care, but I’m not one to pass up a meal so after Elaine left I admitted how hungry I was. A memory of toast and jam from when I had an operation as a child flooded back to me – the kind doctor brought me tea and toast and explained how the morphine drip worked. There was a handy little button I could press as soon as I felt sore. I was still on oxygen but I managed to eat a piece of toast and slurped down the tea.
I wasn’t really aware of any pain for the first few hours, but I hit the morphine button regularly just in case it began creeping in. I just felt weak and stiff – I couldn’t really move much and I kept dozing. There was a man who seemed to be in a lot of pain a few beds along who was groaning loudly and the beeping was constant and in different harmonies. I would panic when my alarm went off.
The gap between my parents and Elaine’s first and second visit that day seems like forever – I remember watching the clock and the door desperate to see them. I felt fragile.
They did come through that door eventually, after going for some dinner and wine. Inside I was dancing but in the morphine haze I’m not even sure if I smiled. They brought all kinds of goodies and Elaine even brought a rose which I wasn’t meant to keep due to it being intensive care. But some kind nurse let me. Apparently I was cracking jokes about my sexy chest drains.
That night was horrific – I had doctors standing over me in the middle of the night discussing me like I was an inanimate object, which I told them off for, had a searing pain in my chest and realised when I had to get up to the toilet in the middle of the night that I was going to have to allow myself to recover slowly. I wasn’t allowed to put weight on my hands – thankfully I had been working on my core strength in the build up to the operation as that was what pulled me up once I pushed my feet off the end of the bed.
It was one of those sleep free nights where I was so grateful for one kind nurse who minded me throughout and even made me laugh a little. But I do remember thinking I’ll be ok and at that point there was no sign of crisis.