Thursday, 14 June 2012
In The Blink Of An Eye
So I had my wonderful, joyous, miraculous moment and then I woke up. At least that’s what it feels like. The needle goes in, you bathe in marvellousness, then time goes by – five and a half hours in this case – in just seconds and you’re awake. Not properly awake, but sort of conscious. For me, it was much nicer than I was used to. After almost every surgery I can remember, there has been trauma of the coughing/puking kind, but this time I didn’t feel like that. I could breathe clearly, I felt no urge to throw up, but I was aware of being schlepped about; of being plonked in a chair, then hefted off and not very gently put back on a bed. I didn’t hear it, but I imagine someone was saying, ‘On my count’, like they do on television. As I clawed my way up from wherever I was to something close to consciousness, I felt panicked and tried a couple of times to speak before they understood me. ‘What’s wrong?’ I wanted to know. ‘What are you doing to me?’ A kindly nurse smiled prettily and reassured me that they were just doing a post-surgical chest x-ray to make sure they’d put the central line in properly. The central line is a catheter that goes in through a large neck vein and into the central vena cava (left atrium of the heart); they use it for various things – administering drugs, drawing blood, nutrition if necessary. In my case, we were just hoping to go for the first two. It’s obviously very important that it goes into the right place, and whilst they do their best to ensure this in theatre, with ultrasounds and other whiz-bang type machinery, it’s only when they do the final chest x-ray that they can be sure. I know this now. I didn’t know it then, which is why I panicked. Then I panicked again; they hadn’t told me whether or not … ‘it’s all fine’, the nurse grinned at me again before I could formulate the words, followed by ‘and look …’ I looked where she was pointing and there were my loved ones. Three of the ones I love the very best – husband, teen, and littlest sister. (Middle sister had decided she’d greeted me after quite enough surgeries and she had heaps of work on, so we’d agreed that she didn’t need to be there this time. My mother was on holiday; apparently your child in her 40s having surgery isn’t grounds for an insurance refund.) And I can’t tell you how happy I was to see them. I was genuinely overjoyed. Joy that I was having the first pleasant post-surgical recovery period I’d ever had, joy that they were there immediately, rather than my having to fall in and out of consciousness a few times before I saw them looking anxiously down at me on the ward, and something else, something I couldn’t quite identify at first, because I’d just had five and a half hours of surgery and was coming out of a very heavy anaesthetic and jeez, what do you want from me?
I did work it out though, a bit later. I realised it was over. This long, arduous journey I’d been on for more than 25 years – the whole ‘I’m never having a bag, should I have a bag, fuck off, look at me, I don’t have a bag, oh bloody hell, I’m in bed again, but hey, 6 surgeries so far and still no bag, oh this is too much I’m going to have a bag, now I’ve got a bag, but should I have it permanently, maybe I should, oh what the hell, just sew my bum up and be done with it’ dance I’d been doing for so long. The surgeries I’d thought would end in a bag that didn’t, the operations I’d not been expected to survive (years ago), all of that was over. I had a bag, I had a Barbie butt, there was no going back and I was done. Well, probably – there was always the possibility of adhesions and complications and Crohn’s showing up in all new kinds of places and needing whole other kinds of operations, but I didn’t need to think about that now. That would be a different story, and this was the end of the current one that had been going on as long as EastEnders. Longer. Though not as long as Coronation Street. In fact, I clearly remember watching the first episode of EastEnders as I came out of my first surgery in 1985, and when I was a writer on it and thus present at their 15th anniversary party 15 years (obviously) later, I felt like it and I had some kind of psychic link. Then I left and haven’t watched it since and now it means nothing to me, but hey – that’s life. And soap. And I have my own London-based soap to deal with without following an imaginary one, too. I had set the sky+ for Corrie before going into hospital though.
Husband, teen and littlest sister all walked alongside my bed as we went up to the High Dependency Unit where I would spend – hopefully – just the first night. After the ileostomy surgery I’d stayed there for 4 nights, but that was mostly because there wasn’t a place on the colo-rectal ward ‘til then. Once we got there, I was delighted to see a lovely male nurse who remembered looking after me the year before when I’d had the ileostomy op so I felt safe and secure and everything was lovely, except that my left eye hurt. A lot. I told the nurse and he said they’d keep an eye on it (no pun intended) and then I closed it again and drifted away.
The next thing I remember is the middle of the night, with my loved ones gone, the lovely male nurse was clocking off and there was an equally gorgeous female nurse who I also remembered and who remembered me from last year; we smiled at each other as she took my obs, I remarked that my eye still hurt, but I remedied that for the moment by keeping it closed and didn’t think too much of it. More importantly, I clearly recall thinking ‘fuck I’ve done it. I’ve really done it. I’ve had my bum sewn shut. I have a Barbie butt.’ And then I realised something else, and I have no idea why I’d not given this any thought before, but I could no longer fart. Ever. I would never fart again. That bad smell in a room; it would never be me. A lift full and someone lets one go – I would not be the culprit. This was huge. As well as being excluded from that phrase about opinions being like arseholes because everybody’s got one (not me – and not quite a lot of other people like me, actually), I was also never going to be the one who’d farted. That was mostly a good thing, of course, but there were disadvantages. Years earlier, I’d had to come to accept I was never again going to experience the joy and release of a huge, solid poo. A big, satisfying, hard-fought dump was never to be mine again. Instead, I had decades of nasty, runny, toxic smelling diarrhoea, until finally I got to the point I’m at now, with a bag into which practically odourless, fairly viscous stuff pours, mostly without my being conscious of it. Now I was never again to feel the release of a big, loud, angry fart. Occasionally, my stoma bubbles and spurts, making a noise that’s only a very distant relative of a proper, substantial fart, but that’s it. One more surreality to add to the already full pantheon of weirdness that was to become my normal life.
The next day, my left eye was still hurting, the post-anasthesia glow had passed, and the morphine alone wasn’t keeping it at bay. It was hurting a lot. And I was complaining a lot. I could see the irony – though only through my right eye – my butt had been sewn up, my rectum had been removed, I had a huge scar down my middle, and the obvious one where my anus used to be, and all I could feel was how badly my left eye was hurting. A nice male nurse who I didn’t know took it upon himself to look at it properly and discovered that there was something in there, and so it was that I spent the day after having my bum sewn up, sitting on it in a plastic moulded chair with just a thick cushion for protection as the nurse held my eye open and irrigated it over and over again, pulling stuff out of it at regular intervals, over a period of close to 3 hours. Finally an opthalmologist came over from the eye hospital nearby and declared that something had entered my eye during surgery and although it was now out, my cornea had been left badly scratched. I had to put something called ‘natural tears’ into it every hour and use an antibiotic cream as well. Within minutes of said cream being squeezed into the corner of the eye everything swelled up and I could no longer see, so I refused to let them put any more of that in. Which was all well and good, but by now it was late at night and nobody could get hold of anybody to find an alternative anti-biotic and the nurses were concerned that without treatment I could suffer permanent damage. To be honest, I found the whole thing somewhat embarrassing; I was on a High Dependency Unit where they were supposed to be watching to make sure my surgery had gone okay, and all I could do was whine about my eye which was hurting like hell. I must have seemed a bit of an idiot, as they ran around me, trying to help, trying not to look like I was annoying them. My only solace was that things could’ve been slightly worse – if things were different, I could’ve been farting as well, and just think how mortifying that would have been.