Thursday, January 18, 2007

Minor Surgeries

5pm, 28 January 2007

The surgeon was a beautiful young woman, with thick black hair caught back in a bun at the nape of her neck, large green-brown eyes with long mascara coated eyelashes, full rosy cheeks. Bent over me, she looked like one of Renoir’s young mothers. When I went in for the first examination in December, her hands on me were like those of a masseuse, strong, capable, and empathetic.

It was an in-office procedure, and she did not put me to sleep—only numbed the area in the lower right breast where she would make the incision. “This is going to really hurt,” she warned me, inserting the needle. That was the only time that my body tensed up, my hand balling into a fist. But it wasn’t bad. No worse than a yellow fever injection—where you feel the medicine coming in once, then twice, an echo of fire. After that, I relaxed, my eyes lightly closed. I halfway wanted to open them, see what instrument made that electrical sound that sounded almost like a constantly zapping electric fly catcher. After a few minutes, she said, “Say something, so that we know you are still with us.” She asked me about my program—what I was studying. I responded, but I felt like being quiet. About respecting this parting of my skin, this opening up of my body under a stranger’s hands. And they seemed to understand why my replies were so brief, why I was silent. The nurse asked the surgeon if she had been out sledding with her little boy in all this snow. The surgeon said, no, that she had been up until 5am with another surgery, but had gotten a little sleep before coming into work this morning.

“Oh,” I thought. “She’s cutting me open with only a few hours of sleep.” I guess doctors know how to do that sort of thing. Underneath their voices were the other sensations, the stiffness on my right side where they had placed the long tough sticker (after it was all done and I was peeling it off, the surgeon told me was a “grounding pad” so I wouldn’t “be electrocuted”), the pushings and proddings, brief pressures on my numbed flesh, the constant electric sound, skkk--skkkk-skkk.

“Is it a laser?” I asked, eyes closed. That’s just the “cutter,” I thought she said. Later when I talked to my mother (back in the States for a few weeks) on the phone about my grandmother’s surgery yesterday to remove skin cancer, I realized that she had been saying “cauter.” I felt a brief electric shock twice and she gave me more numbing medication.

“It’s a fibrous tumour—what we thought from the ultrasound,” she said as she worked to remove it. “Can I see it when you are done?” I asked. “Sure,” she said. And in what seemed like no time, I opened my eyes, and she was holding it up with some tweezers. A large smooth white oblong mass. “Oh!” I said. “It’s so big!” I had been feeling it for about five months. I knew that it was bigger than a “marble,” but it hadn’t felt quite that big. When they had said “fibrous” to describe the growth, I had imagined a tough mass of fibers, something like a rough light brown ball of hemp or a hairball, that they’d have to wash the blood off of. This was white and smooth, like a slug, or a piece of fat, with only one streak of blood across it. “No,” she responded, “this is fat” and held up a smaller piece of floppy white tissue. That’s the only time I felt vaguely nauseous. I would have liked to have just spent some time examining the lump—this foreign mass that grew in my body; but, then, I suppose it’s good that they are sending it off somewhere. I tend to get a little too obsessed by things like that. When I was ten, I took to pulling out my eyelashes and my hair because I liked to inspect the roots.

And then, she was sewing up the incision with a tiny curved needle that she held with tweezers, pulling so tightly that I could feel my numbed skin rising up with the thread. I looked down and saw the not-quite-straight cut about an inch long. It was longer and rougher than I had imagined. And that is when I started shaking. After putting on a clear waterproof bandage that she told me to keep on for two days, the nurse dropped the tumour into a bottle of formaldehyde to be sent for testing. (They are 98% sure it is benign; I just wanted to have it taken care of while I still had insurance.) And that was that. I put back on the roomy sweatshirt I had worn for the occasion, and went out to my roommate who had waited for about an hour. “It was bigger than I thought,” I said. When I held out my fingers to show her the approximate size, they were shaking so badly that I’m not sure she could see what I meant. Once we were in the parking garage, my teeth began chattering. “Are you cold?” she asked. “No,” I said. “I’m just shaking.”

Once back home, the shaking stopped. I called my mother and took a long nap. It still hasn’t started hurting, and I really have no excuse not to be working on my thesis. Let me get back to it.

Last night, I dreamed that a new edition of Waiting for an Angel came out, with new stories added so that my analysis in my thesis did not work, and I had to start over, surgically removing that which no longer belonged and adding in new analysis. I’m certain that I’ve had this dream before.


Fred said...

Ouch!! I would pray for you, but that'd just tick off the Big Guy, so best wishes!

Nkem said...

You're a brave woman. I couldn't bear reading it. I hope it's benign, and I hope you heal quick. And oh yeah, give the thesis a rest for a bit. Cookies and Cream, and a good film might be in oreder.

Talatu-Carmen said...

Fred and Nkem. Thanks for the well wishes. This was one of those overly personal things I wasn't going to post on, but I started writing about it for myself so i could remember it and then thought, ah, well, let me post.

The lab results came back today and it is benign, which is what i was expecting.

i'm totally fine and have been working all day on my thesis, which I am beginning to enjoy again.

the film thing is tempting though... {-;

Mike Blyth said...

Thanks, Carmen. A great post for us doctors to read to help us remember who our patients are and what they're feeling.