In the weeks leading up to surgery all I could really think about was what needed to be done before the anaesthetist stuck the needle in the back of my hand. What needed to be ticked off the list so that it didn’t need to be organised or worried about in the aftermath of my operation. I didn’t really think about immediately afterwards, other than I wasn’t looking forward to the pain.
In this part of Bedfordshire, major plastic surgery is carried out at the Lister Hospital, Stevenage and it was there that I pitched up at just before 7am last Friday. Elective surgery is a very civilised business at The Lister, they have a dedicated ward so that anyone who is having a scheduled operation goes from there to surgery and is then transferred to the main wards from Recovery. The vast majority of my paperwork had been done, so apart from a slightly unscheduled dash down to Pathology to have more blood taken, it was simply a case of waiting. I waited all morning as I was Mr P’s afternoon surgery – all of it.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Mr P came to see me around 8am, got out his blue marker pen and tape measure and proceeded to draw all over my abdomen. He started at the base of my bra and drew a vertical line all the way down my middle, through my belly button to the top of my knickers. He then drew a line from the base of that one out to each hip. That’s the extent of the wound I now have. It is 73cms long in total, a smidge under 29″. Out from each lateral and vertical line, squeezing together and measuring as he went, he drew other lines and marked these areas up with cross-hatching. The cross-hatched areas would be taken out, the underlying fat removed and the remaining skin stitched back into place. Easy-peasy! What shocked me was just how much he would be taking out – there wouldn’t be any slack left in the system! Also, he’d be relocating my belly-button. We decided that Chelmsford was a bit far so it’s in there somewhere under all the dressing, but I’ve not said hello to it yet.
At 1.45pm I walked down to theatre, standing in the main lifts down to floor 4 with several suited execs, fetchingly attired in hospital-issue gown, knee-length compression socks and clutching a pillow. There wasn’t much waiting and as the clock ticked its way up to the hour the anaesthetist fed the anaesthetic into the back of my hand – I was irritatingly in the middle of a conversation with the nurse. I came round in Recovery shortly before 6pm in that slightly bewildered state you’re left in. I immediately went for my stomach. It was encased in something hard and there were tubes. My first thought was that I’d been turned into the Borg Queen. Result! And blissfully there was absolutely no pain. Morphine is bloody marvellous stuff! Despite having done diddly squat all day I was surprisingly exhausted and although I do remember asking if it was OK if I went back to sleep, I don’t remember being transferred to the Plastics ward on the 11th floor.
At some later point I came round a bit more and registered that there was a drip in my arm and two tubes coming out from whatever my abdomen was encased in. I lifted the covers and clapped eyes on my new friends – my two drains. Two long lengths of clear tubing connected to two bottles slowly filling with blood and other stuff draining from my abdomen. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Simon arrived then and some conversation took place although I can’t remember much of what was said. The nursing staff were monitoring my temperature and blood pressure every half an hour, although no one went near my stomach and I was glad of that.
I was expecting to be catheterised, but I wasn’t and that meant a hilarious overnight expedition to the toilet, involving two nurses, a drip stand and the two drains that I had to carry with me. It took ages but did allow me to see that I was wrapped in some kind of large, thick, velcro tubigrip and that I didn’t like where those drains were coming out from.
I didn’t sleep much. If you’ve ever stayed on a hospital ward you’ll know that they’re never completely dark, never quiet and they’re not really conducive to sleep. I was next to a woman who was linked up to more kit than the USS Enterprise and beeped constantly and across from another who didn’t stop wittering all night. I lay there doing my best to sleep and trying to work out how you moved without the aid of morphine.
I’m not good at sitting still and so when they got me up the next day and sat me in a chair I didn’t stay there. Bad move. I took a small turn around the ward and only just managed to get back to the chair before having a turn myself and passing out. I came round to see three nurses anxiously bringing me round and a blood pressure reading that had clearly gone through the floor. I’d tried to do too much too soon. They packed me off into bed, stuck another drip up and left me to behave myself and read Carole Matthews A Cottage by the Sea from cover to cover. Enforced rest is eminently achieveable with a good book and that was a good book!
Midway through the morning a Doctor arrived to give me a bit of disturbing news. There had been an accident during my surgery and my blood had come into contact with someone else’s blood via the needle that was being used to suture me back up (they’d stabbed themselves with it) and so they needed to take more blood from me to check I didn’t have anything malevolent circulating around in it. Nice!
So for 24 hours post-op and I was pretty much confined to bed and still in possession of two drains – two bottles of my own collected blood – which were rapidly becoming the bane of my life. Not that they hurt in any way, but they had to be carefully taken everywhere and absolutely not dropped. By the end of that first day I was totally knackered and beginning to feel a bit sorry for myself. That was until I struck up a conversation with the lady in the bed next to me who had had both 12 operations and been bedridden since 19th March. They are doing major reconstructive surgery on her and she’ll be there for some time to come.
In Part 2: Drains out and clapping eyes on Mr P’s handiwork.