Thursday, 4 June 2009

First Surgery

I had surgery yesterday

At 2.30 Nick and I arrived at the Harley Street Clinic. It is actually a whole bunch of Georgian Houses in Harley Street with the main hospital in Weymouth Street. A lot of the Georgian Houses seem to be connected by underground tunnels.

First, we went to see Mr Hadjiminas. Mr H injected me with some kind of tracer that will show him the way to the sentinel lymph node. I am learning lots of things in a very short time... We all have a series of lymph nodes under our arms. One of their jobs is to catch and filter out nasties from the lymph. The very first one that drains from one’s breast is called the sentinel node.

The latest fashion amongst breast surgeons is to remove the sentinel node and examine it to see if it contains any cancer cells. If the sentinel node is clear, then the cancer is unlikely to have spread any further. Hence it will not be necessary to remove all the other lymph nodes. And if the cancer has not spread, there is no need for chemotherapy.

Next, we went down into the labyrinthine basement for an ultrasound scan. I changed into the standard issue blue patterned back fastening robe and gown monogrammed with HSC. Fabulous with a pair of Marc Jacobs pumps. I guess they monogram the gowns so that, if one absent-mindedly wanders off into the West End, the staff at Selfridges will know where to return one to.

As we sat in the tiny waiting area we heard a most distressing wailing and crying coming from the ultrasound room. Nick and I looked at each other in alarm. Then a young woman and her husband appeared. She was clearly about eight months pregnant and her eyes were wet with tears. She sat down and stared at the floor whilst her husband held her hand. I was horrified to even imagine what terrible news they had just received. I wanted to say something or to give her a hug but it felt too intrusive. I tried some empathetic glances but could not catch her eye. We all sat silently in the tiny waiting area together, then my name was called.

Another jolly female doctor applied the goo and then the scanner head, searching for my sentinel node. We pointedly avoided mentioning the previous occupant of the couch. By way of making conversation the doctor asked me who my surgeon is, although the answer was right there in my notes. “Mr Hadjiminas” I replied. “You’re lucky” she said. “If I had to have breast surgery I would definitely want him to do it.” I can’t tell you how comforted I was by that remark.

Scan done, I dressed and we were shown through the subterranean corridors to a lift. It brought us out into the main hospital reception area. I booked in and we sat down to await a porter. My mind returned to the pregnant lady. No matter what one is facing, there is always somebody worse off. “Did you happen to find out what was the matter with that poor lady?” I asked Nick. “Oh yes,” he replied in a cheerful tone, “she just found out she is having a baby. She had thought that she had a growth in her stomach. She was crying and wailing with joy.”

The porter escorted us upstairs to a room. This was unlike any hospital room I had ever previously experienced. It was sunny and light with big windows. On the bed were slippers, a pair of paper knickers, a robe and a pair of pressure stockings. There were menu cards to be filled in. The bathroom was stocked with white towels and mini toiletries. It was like a very clean hotel room. And there was only one occupant – me!

Exploring the room and changing into the kit helped to keep my mind occupied. We ordered tea for Nick and switched the telly on. A nurse came in to do my observations. She swabbed my nostrils to test for MRSA. It is the policy of this hospital to test everyone on admission. If they find the super-bug up one’s nose they will either defer one’s admission or, if that is not possible, treat one in an isolation unit. Why don’t all hospitals do this?

Before we knew it, Mr Hadjiminas had arrived. One thing I’ve noticed about Mr H is that he loves getting me to take my top off. I stripped to the waist. Mr H produced a big black felt-tip pen and marked a circle on my left breast around the area where the MRI scan had shown the tumours to be. Then he drew a huge black arrow from my shoulder pointing to my breast. I looked at him quizzically. “They won’t let you into theatre without that” he said. It may have looked comical but I was greatly reassured by the thoroughness of the procedures here.

Soon, a very professional theatre nurse came to take me ‘downstairs.’ We waved goodbye to Nick as the lift doors close. I was trying to be all light hearted and cheerful but I felt sick. Then we were back in the underground corridors. As I walked with the nurse in my gown and slippers scenes of final walks in those death row movies came to mind. The Green Mile for example. Except, I reminded myself, this was a walk to save my life.


Anonymous said...

"If the sentinel node is clear, then the cancer is unlikely to have spread any further. Hence it will not be necessary to remove all the other lymph nodes. And if the cancer has not spread, there is no need for chemotherapy."

What! I had SNB and lymph nodes were clear but am half-way through six sessions of FEC chemo which I would rather do without. :-/