Lain's Log

The surgery experience

April 30/11

Everything has happened so fast, I never actually had a chance to explain what my surgery day was like! I know I posted pics along the way, but didn’t say much about the whole experience. So here’s how it played out.

7:30 a.m. - Arrival time at Princess Margaret. Sat in the waiting room with Sam for half an hour, reading magazines in a big, sunny room with a TV set.

8 a.m. - A nice nurse came to get me and had me change into a gown, robe and weird little green slippers. Had to give my wedding and engagement rings to Sam for safe keeping. He also hung on to a small bag of belongings for me, including my makeup case, (naturally!) – for later.

The charming green slippers

8:30 a.m. - Went for the dreaded “wire jamming”. Very happy to see my “personal jammer” was Dr. Fleming, the same lovely lady who assisted on my ultrasound. She already knew my fear and hatred of pain and promised to use as much Lidocaine as I needed to keep me fairly comfortable during the procedure. I was still frightened, because I’d heard that dense breast tissue (as I apparently have), makes it much more difficult to insert the wire. She and an assistant, gave me a Lidocaine injection. A minute or so later, they began the wire insertion. It started off alright, but then, the pain kicked in. Sharp pain. More Lidocaine. Then, more pushing, prodding, aching. The wire just did NOT want to go in, (as I expected). The poor doctor was saying soothingly, “So sorry sweetie,” as she put more force into it. I could tell it was very tough on HER too. At one point, she said, “Oh GEEEZ!,” since it seemed it was never going to work its way into place. Still more pushing, with all her might, more “sorry sweeties,” and just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore, she said, “That’s it.” Thank God.

They asked me to sit down in the waiting room for a few minutes. There I was, movie star sunglasses on, about to break down in tears, and found myself facing a lovely woman in a gown just like mine. Without thinking, I said, “That was intense.” She looked at me and asked, “Did you just have the wire put in?” I said, “Yes.” She then informed me, she was next! I felt terrible that I’d said anything to frighten her and then said, “I’m sure YOUR procedure will be much easier, since I have dense breasts, so don’t worry.” She responded, “I do too.” Ai yi yi. Can’t win. Then she got called in and I wished her luck.

9:30 a.m. - Off to get the IV inserted. I told the nurse I’d encountered problems with this in the past. Once, I was screaming with pain. (I think I was that nurse’s first-ever IV insertion, because she had no clue how to do it. She hit every nerve in the book, but no vein!) I was THRILLED when THIS nurse suddenly told me she was at liberty to freeze me with Lidocaine (my new fave drug), before inserting the IV. Fantastic! She did that injection and seconds later, the IV needle went in, and I felt nothing whatsoever. Winning!

Then, off to a small holding room with Sam to wait for a meeting with Dr. McCready (my surgeon) and the anaesthetist. While sitting there, a man was wheeled in on a gurney and placed next to us. It was tough to see him without my prescription glasses, but I could tell he had a patch over one eye and appeared to be in pain. Sam was now sitting right beside him, so he looked up at him and said, “You look like you could use a double scotch.” The man broke into laughter. Then I said, “I could use one too, but they won’t let me.” The man chuckled again. Next, I looked across at the nurse behind the desk, (who overheard our conversation), and said, “YOU could probably use one too!” She cracked up. Yay! Sam and I had accomplished our goal, to break the ice with someone, just before surgery. That felt good.

10:15 a.m. - The anaesthetist came by to introduce himself and tell me about the drugs he’d be using to knock me out – including “the Michael Jackson drug,” – Propofil. He told me all about the tube that would be put in my throat (after I was out), to allow me to breathe, and about the gas he would use to KEEP me asleep. Then, Dr. McCready – “the Man!”, arrived to answer any questions. I had four written down (always the reporter). He did NOT appear thrilled to see my list, but was kind enough to answer them.

1.) I wanted to know if the Sentinel nodes would be frozen while I was under the general, and checked for cancer right away. (as I’d read this is sometimes done with nodes). The doc told me no. I would need to wait the full two weeks to find out results of the pathology test.

2.) I asked if he could go to the waiting room after my surgery to tell my husband how things went. He said he would.

3.) Asked about my ultrasound, which seemed to confound some of the medical people who conducted the test. At the time, I was told it was most unusual. He looked at the results and said no, the ultrasound didn’t appear unusual to him at all.

4.) I told Dr. McCready I have a low threshold for pain and would prefer to take home something stronger than Tylenol 3 (which the teaching nurse had told me I would get). He asked what I wanted. I said Percocet. He said he’d order a prescription for 30 plus some Gabapentin (used to treat nerve pain), and also ordered Colace (which helps with constipation, due to the narcotics). When I asked for Percocet, Dr. McCready looked at me and said, “This surgery is not generally associated with a lot of pain.” This comment shocked me greatly. Was he just trying to make me feel better?

Questions asked, so it was off on the gurney to surgery. Said goodbye to Sam and told him I was going to “do the song”. As they wheeled me away, I broke into, “Always look on the bright side of life!” – from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. A dear friend of ours, Patrick Spence-Thomas, sang this when he was taken away to have both his legs amputated from the knee down. The bravery it took for him to go off and face that horrific surgery, while singing such a crazy song, inspired me to sing it in his honour and memory. (he sadly passed away shortly after that procedure). One of the nurses sang along as we merrily rode to the O.R.

10:30 a.m., or so – In the O.R., a team of very lively and kind men and women surrounded me, - “my team!” They talked to me, told me exactly what they’d be doing, and then informed me they would put a mask over my face to give me oxygen. They asked me to breathe deeply, in and out and said that seconds later, they would administer the meds through the IV needle and I’d be out. That’s the last thing I remember. None of the famous, “Count back from 100” bit. I was just - out.

The next thing I recall was waking up in recovery. Not sure what time it was. I think about 1 p.m. I remember seeing a man pop his head in, and even without my glasses, realized it was Sam. I waved to him. He asked the nurse when I’d be taken to my room and they said soon. Shortly after that, I was wheeled to the elevator and up to the 18th floor to a semi-private room where my clothing and belongings had been stored in the closet.

Sam was there and sat on a chair next to me. Can’t remember anything we talked about, but only recall being in pain. Extreme, excruciating pain. (what was it again the doc said about this procedure not being associated with pain??? I must remember to set him straight on this!)

I was given Morphine through the IV. It didn’t make a dent in the pain.
About an hour or so later, I was allowed a second dose of Morphine. That took the edge off enough that I was able to sit up and immediately asked Sam to give me the makeup bag. Dumped out the contents and went to work, putting on concealer, powder, blush, lipliner, lipstick, eye shadow, mascara and eyeliner. Then, brushed my hair (which thankfully, I’d washed, conditioned, blow-dried and styled just two hours before coming to the hospital), and voila, was ready for my closeup! (although, if you click on the pic below to enlarge it, you can see the bruising and staining below my neck. I didn't have a body makeup person around to cover it up! hee hee)

My sister, Carrie came in and laughed to see makeup was the first thing on my mind! Minutes after finishing the job, the pain was back to over-the-top levels. Then, my new roommate. Francine, was brought in and I realized it was the same lovely lady I had scared with my comments about the wire procedure hours earlier in the waiting room!

She had been Dr. McCready’s next patient after me and had undergone the same lumpectomy procedure. Behind the curtain, I overheard her tell a doctor, “I wasn’t at all prepared for this extreme level of pain.” When the doctor left, I spoke to her, we pulled the curtain and had a chat about the unbelievable pain and what we were being given to counteract it. She said she was being sent home with a prescription for Tylenol 3. I told her I had asked for Percocet, and that perhaps, she might want to consider this too. (up to her). She was all alone and asked to borrow my cell phone to call her husband. Sam gave her the phone and told her to make as many calls as she liked. She called her husband and told him what room she was in so he could pick her up later.

I stayed in my room till after 6:30 p.m., (receiving two more doses of Morphine during that time). Still, the relentless pain would NOT subside in any way. It was worse than my first episiotomy, (which was done AFTER the anaesthetic had completely worn off!) My roommate’s husband came to take Francine home and it was all I could do to stop the tears from flowing when I said goodbye to her, as he took her away in a wheelchair. I knew she was in agony and told her I hoped the pain would get better for her very soon.

7:00 p.m. - My beautiful nurse, Christine, unhooked my IV, gave me two Percocets to take before leaving, I got dressed, (which was practically impossible due to the severe pain, even though I’d chosen the loosest clothes I could find). A wheelchair was brought in and Carrie helped steer me to the elevator. Sam took my belongings and went off to get the car.

I managed to maneuver myself into the front seat, still racked with pain, and feeling so nauseous and dizzy. Tried to thank Carrie and tell her how much it meant to me to have her there with me, taking care of me and “filling in” for our Mum, whom we both miss so much. Then she left to get her car and go home to her son, Lee, and we drove off into the night, heading to see our two kids, Kate and Max, waiting at home.

Most of the rest of that night is a blur. I know I carefully hugged my kids and was SO happy to see them again. I sent a few drugged-out emails and then crashed on the couch for a while, just so glad the Percocet had actually eased the insane pain and made me comfortable.

10:00 p.m. - Max helped me up to bed and with a lot of work, between the two of us, got me into a bathrobe, then under the covers, my arm and breast propped up under fluffy pillows, and fell asleep for 8 hours. The surgery was over and I had survived it.

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At April 30, 2011 at 4:15 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elaine, it was a pleasure meeting you and having you as a roommate albeit under the circumstances. I wish you the best of luck with your fight and yes, Percocet would have been better! -:) May run into you at PM again! Francine

At April 30, 2011 at 7:27 p.m. , Blogger Elaine Loring said...

Francine, I hope you see this comment, and that you didn't mind me writing about you. I just felt such a strong connection. I only hope you are feeling somewhat better! If you see this, you can email me at:


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