83: 28 Days later (and a few more)

To my knowledge I haven’t woken up in a horror movie where there has been a huge pandemic, however, it is about 28 days later since I said goodbye to the cannonball.  My recovery has been on an upward trajectory – from a low starting point with one or two blips on the way.

Positives about being home are many and varied and include being able to sit in the garden.  My first night at home was restless, so much so that Nick retreated to a different bedroom after asking if I intended to lie still at any point.  I’m sad to say that it was to my advantage as I could wriggle as much I liked and could roll out on my right side without putting any pressure on the new boob to head off to the en-suite.  No more walking down a corridor past all the other surgical patients.  The next morning I was treated to breakfast in bed and then managed a shower by myself and then made my way to a steamer chair in the garden.  Armed with water bottle, full of squash and ice, phone and book and sunglasses I was lowered into position.  Fresh air and sunshine – all was well and I was left to my own devices.  This was great for a while but once the sun hid it was chilly and I couldn’t get myself out of the chair.  Fortunately, I had my phone and could call Nick who came down to the garden and helped to hoist me up.  My first goal had been achieved.  Each day I had a small goal which included walking further.  What I hadn’t bargained for was just how exhausted I felt after any activity.

I had a number of visitors including my Principal on the day before the end of term – I was up dressed and we sat and chatted about holidays.  Other friends and my parents visited and it was good to see them all.  Another goal was to go to Stoke Village.  The first couple of visits were by car but soon enough I was walking further.  Some friends drove me to Devonport Park so we could walk round and have a coffee. One Sunday a friend called for me and we walked slowly all the way to the park and back.  I’m used to walking briskly it was a bit frustrating.  Other friends took me to the Hoe whilst Nick was sailing.  I was getting there and drinking a lot of coffee!

Every first Sunday of the month there is a farmers’ market at the Royal William Yard and usually we would walk from home but it was too far 4 weeks post op.  We drove halfway there and walked along Durnford Street, past all the Georgian terraced houses and Stonehouse Barracks which is where 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines are housed. The architecture is lovely and our eldest son and daughter were baptised at St Christopher’s church above the main gate of the Barracks.  The great thing about the market is the wide variety of stalls which sell everything from felt/woollen slippers, to honey to bread and…. goats cheese.  This is the only cheese I will eat on the rainbow diet so I bought a matchbox size piece of hard cheese for my consumption only!  A great coffee opportunity too at the HUTONG Cafe where it doesn’t matter if you are a hipster or a person needing a new hip.  Suitably refreshed Nick and I headed back towards the car and we met Mr X with his family who all stopped and chatted.  It appears that consultants are real people too (I wonder if my students think that if they see me out of school and in “mufti”).

The next night I treated myself to some of my cheese (nope, not sharing) and biscuits.  What a mistake to make as during the night and next day I was horribly sick.  How my stitches didn’t split I don’t know.  My husband, wondered if there was a party next door as he heard “someone being sick”, my daughter “thought it was a cat” – no it was me.  What a wash out – great for weight loss, terrible for feeling human.

Other activities during this period have included trips to the Primrose Breast Care Centre to have iodine dressings applied to my tummy wound – there are a couple of patches which aren’t healing up as fast as the rest.    One recent trip has been back to the Nuffield Hospital to see Mr A.  His secretary phoned me to say thank you for the card I’d sent – always a good idea to send a thank you card, just in case you are in need of the services of those involved again – and would I like to pop up for a “freebie” so he could see how it was going.

We trooped up to the Nuffield in the electro-jalopy.  Parking is not an issue, there is not an impossible car park but a very accessible one, no one smokes their fags outside and when you have booked in you are invited to help yourself to a hot drink and read the Times or Telegraph.

Mr A called us in and asked how it was.  The thank you card I sent saying “you were right – this surgery is an assault on the body” was on the desk.  Mr A asked me to jump up onto the bed and looked at my tummy.  With some sterile tweezers he ripped off a bit of the scab.. yes that was fine, just the dissolvable stitches and a few knots being rejected by my body.  Then he said “I have to say this….  show us your t*ts”.  Nick and I were crying with laughter and then it was off with sports bra and release the beast.  Mr A had a good look at the scar under my arm and the new belly nipple area.  It was looking good.  There is an old hematoma on the inside edge of the new toob.  I’ve to massage the scars with bio oil and Savlon and massage the hematoma.  It was agreed that the new toob was larger than the original and the remaining boob… it could settle down or when I went to see Mr X in a few weeks it might need to have a bit of liposuction.  Time would tell.

We then had a discussion about how Lynher Ward had improved and I will write to the CEO of Derriford to let her know.  There is some tension I think between patient expectations, the demands on the Plastics team and what the Breast Care Centre would like to offer.   Managing resources, people, patients – it must be like 3D chess or air traffic control.  Beyond me – but I’m grateful for the results!


82: Going home

There was no doubt I was on the mend and starting to come to terms with the new me – without the cannonball. It was Tuesday morning and the usual routine was established.  After the handover from the night shift to the day Nick arrived with smoked salmon, smashed avocado and bread to toast.  Above my bed there was a sign which said Fiona Osmaston – no caffeine, no dairy, no red meat, yet every time Nick went to the kitchen to ask them toast the seeded brown bread the staff asked if I was gluten free (I’m not!).  I’m only dairy and red meat free as I follow the Rainbow diet and try and reduce any form of estrogen.  Following breakfast it was back to the shower room.. we had this sussed and Nick was suitably kitted out in his grey crocs, white plastic pinny and laden with towels escorted me to the shower room. Ahh simple pleasures – being clean and in a clean hospital gown (done up  back to front to keep the gamgee in place and for easier holding of the remaining drain).

As we shuffled, well I shuffled, Nick walked holding the drain we passed the nurses station where we spotted Mr X who had returned to work that morning.  He was smiling and said I looked really well, which was hilarious as I was shuffling along in surgical stockings, stripy slippers, walking at an angle of 45 degrees with wet hair.. I may not be a supermodel but I’ve certainly looked better.

A short while later Mr X with his team, including the tall Indian locum came for a visit.  The discharge from the drain was checked, the tummy incision and new boob checked and it was decreed that the drain could come out and I could go home that day.  Mr X asked me how it had been and I explained that Lynher Ward would be getting a good review on Trip Adviser, which raised a laugh.  In all seriousness I did say how wonderful the nursing had been, especially from Sister D and how that without her I didn’t think I’d have got through the first few days and nights.  It had been a totally different experience.  The team moved on and a little while later Sister H popped in and told me that every few years nursing staff had to provide evidence that their work has made a real difference and would I be willing to write something for Sister D whose reaccreditation would be coming up in the near future.  I told her I’d be delighted and if she could provide me with some paper I’d set to it immediately.  So I did, with a great deal of pleasure.  I wrote a page of A4 describing in detail the care I’d had, the attention to detail, the confidence I’d felt particularly as everything was explained to me as it was being done.  I wrote that Sister D was the ultimate professional and that that as a clinical educator she was a great asset to the nursing profession.  I passed the essay to Sister H and said I’d be happy to write another one for the ward if I could have another piece of paper.   Sister H passed the essay to Sister D and later popped in to see me to say that the essay had made D cry.  That hadn’t been my intention – but she wasn’t upset just touched.  Sister D came to see me later in the day and told me about how she’d got into nursing – as a youngster she’d been admitted to hospital and stayed for several weeks, when she returned home she told her mum that she wanted to be a nurse when she finished school.

I wrote another essay to say how well treated I’d been on the ward and suggested they send it to the CEO of the hospital.  The tall Indian Locum consultant then popped in and asked me to fill in a form for him for the GMC – it seems Doctors also need feedback from happy patients.  I was more than happy to fill in the form which was mainly tick boxes and left it with the nursers station.  Next job to get rid of the drain and cannula before putting on my own clothes.  The drain was removed by one of the staff nurses.  This was the the most painful drain as I suspect it was the deepest and longest.  A deep breath in and a long pilates breath out and the drain was swiftly removed.  The cannula was dead easy and a quick exit. Two dressings applied and it was into my own clothes.  One of the junior doctors came along and discussed me the discharge and fit notes which outlined how many weeks recovery in the first instance and the fact that I was not to travel for 6 weeks. I was to see Sister S, the BCN in a week or so and Mr X in three months.  That was it! Nick brought a card and a big bag of fruit for the team and then it was the long walk to the main exit. This was the furthest I’d walked in a week.  The walk from the ward to the lift only required one rest, once up the floor 6, the walk to the front door looked about a mile long. This walk did require a rest – at the wheelchair stand in the main concourse.

The gamgee proved very useful in the car as a layer of padding for the seatbelt.  A short drive and we were home.  We sat in the garden, in the summer sunshine and had a cup of tea and I felt overwhelmed with weariness, I decided to head up to bed for a snooze and then I got all teary.. I think all that pent up emotion, the enormity of the surgery and the relief to be home.  I slept for a good couple of hours.

81: The shower room

About 18 months or so ago when I had the dreaded mastectomy and my staycation was a mere 3 days I had a bath and hairwash in the bathroom which Nick cleaned.  Monday was day 6 of the staycation and although I’d had my hair washed over said bath and had washed in hibiscrub using the cardboard basins as a water vessel I felt pretty rancid – I also thought my dressings were starting to smell.  After the morning checks, the last drain was still filling too quickly so I wasn’t allowed home,  I begged to have a shower.  The staff nurse gave me the green light to go and Nick did a recce of the shower room.  A room 3m x 4m with a sloping floor, large plug-hole at the shower end, a fold out seat, a shower attached to the wall, a chair near the door and a pair of size 6 blue dotty welly boots (these were for the HCAs and nurses).  Nick had on his sailing shoes, found towels and put on one of the nurses white plastic aprons.

He helped me shuffle from the room, free of saline drips and with one drain left and we entered the room, locked the door so I could disrobe out of the gownie and dispense of the gamgee (which was honking as I’d been so hot and sweaty).  The water was tepid but it didn’t matter, the shower hose didn’t extend far from the support but that was fine as it meant I could face the wall and hang on to it one way then sit on the fold out seat the other.  The simplest things in life make such a difference to your wellbeing.  I was washed down in hibiscrub, rinsed off, used proper shampoo on my hair and rinsed that too.  I felt more human and less patient like.

The downside of the shower was that the dressings were soaked, but in the grand scheme of things that wasn’t important as they could be replaced.  With a towel around my head like the Queen of Sheba, wearing my dressing gown and drain I shuffled back to the room – Ted sockless, but not for long.

The young staff nurse looking after me today introduced me to a student nurse who had finished her training and who would be joining the ward as a fully qualified member of the team in September.  She was a nice girl who was a little nervous.  Nick dried my hair and the student nurse brought a new pair of surgical stockings.  She had a great technique – the plastic bag which the stockings were in were put over a foot at a time and this helped smooth the way to drag the super tight stockings over my toes, encase my feet, ankles and secure my calves.  It was very efficient. The only slightly off putting thing was that this young woman asked if I was a Headteacher, no… I’m on the leadership team at my school… she then exclaimed that I must be on a good salary.  I am (and work hard for it), but I wasn’t sure it was the sort of thing to be discussing.

Nick had to go and the staff nurse explained to the student nurse how my dressings were to be changed.  I was in teacher mode and listened to the staff nurse very attentively as she explained to the student how the dressings under my arm were to be done first, then the one on the tummy boob, complete with flap for regular checks, drain wounds, belly button and finally the incision from hip to hip. The staff nurse left to attend to other duties and the student left to get a dressing trolley, a pack and multiple dressings.  The poor girl was very nervous.. I was lying on the bed with my dressing gown on making soothing noises and asking her what she was doing so she could talk it all through – I frequently chunter on to myself when engaged in a task so thought this could help her.

The dressing trolly with the pack, wrapped in blue sugar paper, was duly undone, white sterile gloves were adorned… there is a technique which nurses use so they don’t touch the outside of the gloves.  The student had a clean plastic apron on, she was more and more nervous… her hair was falling into her eyes so she used her forearm to more it out of the way.  The dressing under the arm was straight forward, pack open, apply, peel off – done.  The dressing over the boob more complicated and I reminded her that it needed to have a flap cut into it… she proceeded to get her scissors out of her top pocket…. arghhh… I asked if these were sterile, which they weren’t, so it was off to the door to ask someone to bring some sterile scissors.  With the new scissors she then cut a flap into the dressing – all fine and attached.  The belly button dressing was dead easy as was the drain dressing.  The tummy incision proved more of an issue.

When the dressings were removed I could really see what my new body looked like.  My new belly button is a much nicer shape than the old, the drain incision was deep, the bruising was a variety of blues, purples, browns and yellows.  The hip to hip incision was very neat and once the dressings were off the wound was covered in what looked like a long steristrip.

The dressings had been attached so that the white wadding was edge to edge, with the clingfilm adhesive overlapping to give a continuous covering.  The student nurse started at the right hand side, first dressing on … next cling film edge, to cling film edge.  In my best teacher voice I said “oh, I’m not sure if that is quite right, I thought the dressing was white bit to white bit (so the cling film didn’t pull off the steristrips), do you think you could ask the staff nurse… ha, ha, I’m probably wrong”.  All the time thinking “come on… you will be a fully qualified nurse in a few weeks and expected to do this sort of thing all the time on your own!”.  The staff nurse returned and I just asked her to check, the hip to hip incision was started again under her supervision. Phew.   I was paranoid, still am about infection and just wanted everything to be super sterile and dressed correctly.  It was all good.

The staff nurse popped back later to make sure I was okay, which I was.  In teaching we talk about differentiation and this new almost nurse would need some support.  I mentioned the salary enquiry and suggested that the student nurse have five fairly innocuous questions to engage patients in conversation… do you live locally, have you been on holiday anywhere nice, what did you like about, have you lived in there area a long time….  anything other than what do you earn!

80: Sunday

A decent night of sleep makes such a difference.  By Sunday morning I felt like a new woman, with more than a hint of old crone.  I was going to be ready for Rounds as was up, washed, sitting in the chair when the tall Indian consultant called again.  I think he was a little surprised and said what was the difference so I replied “I just gave myself a stern talking too”.  There was the usual conflab at the end of the bed about drains and it was agreed that one of of the abdomen drains could go and that I’d need a new canular as the old one was starting to work it’s way out of my wrist.  More blood tests were called for too.

Nick arrived later than usual with the Sunday Times as it was today that our Dare 2 story was going to be in the Sunday Times magazine.

Sunday Times 3

The rest of the day passed in the routine now well established, breakfast, morning tea, observations, housekeeping order for supper on an I-Pad, cleaning staff… the young girl who cleaned my room was a delight.  We got talking and she was one of the most level headed, down to earth young women I’d met.  She’d finished at a local school and started a training course to be a Teaching Assistant.  As she hadn’t enjoyed it she took herself off to an employment agency and after a three week trial had been employed as part of housekeeping by SERCO.  She told me her hourly rate and that it was more for weekends and bank holidays and that Christmas was the best as “hospitals are open 24/7”.  With her salary she paid rent to her mum, paid back her grandad for a loan for her car, ran her car and saved up.  She wasn’t afraid of hard work.  She also said she loved being on Lynher Ward as all the staff were so nice to her.  A tiny, tiny minority of students I work with are a bit sniffy about the sorts of jobs they want to do when the finish education or training.  Sometimes they think they will walk into a job and instantly become the CEO of a multi-national company.  Perhaps it is bravado as they are not sure what they want to do – they could do a lot worse that this young woman who had a great work ethic.

My blood tests came back and the 2 units of blood had done the trick my HB level was better.  I’d finished my last bag of Saline so was free of the portable stand (so I thought…)  The new canular was a pain as it was over a bony part of my right wrist so caught on things, I’d just have to be more careful.  I was doing my shoulder rolls, lifts and made sure my left arm didn’t go above my shoulder.  I got myself ready for bed and when the Sisters did the handover asked if I could have another sleeping tablet.  My wish was granted and by 11pm, with the obs done, the flap checked I was asleep.  I had been reattached to the very last bag of saline..so the portable stand was again my friend. Roll on Monday, one step closer to going home.

79: Hitting the wall

Hitting the marathon wall” is a much-feared and much-discussed phenomenon in marathoning. Runners speak ominously about a sudden wave of fatigue that sets in at about 20 miles into a marathon. At this point, they say, the race is half over.”  https://runnersconnect.net/marathon-hitting-the-wall/

I have never run a marathon (I have eaten a few and  now they are called Snickers so that joke doesn’t work so well), I’ve never run a half marathon or 10k but I did complete the 5k race for life in June 2019 – I walked briskly.  Having DIEP surgery is I imagine like running a marathon.  There is all the nervous anticipation about moving on from breast cancer, the preparation – the CT angiogram, pre op, eating well, following the Rainbow Diet, keeping fit, staying busy and handing over work. Then there is the start of the race – handing yourself over to the health professionals who are going to remove a chunk of your tummy and plumb it into your chest.  This is then followed by the slog of recovery.  To begin with the drugs keep you in an artificial pain free high and the one to one nursing makes you feel secure.  As the drugs wear off and the nursing staff make you more independent, combined with not eating much and sleeping less – it is hitting the wall.

I hit the wall first thing on Saturday morning.  5 days in to the marathon.  I had had another very restless night – you have to sleep on your back, pillows are put under your knees and the bed is a zig zag to keep your head high and hips at a 20 degree angle so you don’t strain the tummy incision.  The drugs round on Friday evening consisted of two paracetamol and a strong version of ibuprofen called Naproxen which were repeated again in the morning drugs round.  Added to the mix was some blood thinners which were injected into the tummy or thigh area (every day) and some antibiotics added via the cannula.  I’m not complaining as all this care was keeping me on the right track.  However,  I felt as if I’d been awake all night, I had been awake for most of it as with every observation I had a conversation with Sister D or one of the HCAs.  I did not want to play Rounds on Saturday morning.  I felt groggy and sick, wretched and was retching.  It was a new team this morning led my a tall Indian locum consultant who was wearing scrubs.  He and the team looked at the toob and tummy, there was a discussion about the accuracy of the output into the drains and then he asked me why I wasn’t sitting up or even out of bed this morning.  I just said I don’t feel well today and I’ve had enough. He was quite robust and said that a wash, breakfast and getting up would have me on the mend.  I wasn’t going to be allowed to loaf about.  Sister D was kinder, she said that when on duty that night she’d make sure I had a sleeping tablet – but I still had to get up as the HCAs were not going to bring me the commode anymore and if I needed to go then I would have to walk along the corridor to the toilets.

Bosom Pals, which is a breast cancer support group, had provided me with a couple of drain bags and I duly but the drains into them, hooked them to the portable saline drip and holding onto my gownie, gamgee and what dignity I could muster started to shuffle to the loos.  Past the nurses station where they were all quite cheery and gave me some encouragement and down to the loo with the sliding door.  I managed to get in, lock it and put the cardboard potty in the loo (as the output was still being measured) when sorted and rearranged I attempted to unlock the door and slide it open… it opened a crack and I didn’t have the energy or strength to slide it further to had to pull on the emergency string and then I was rescued… apologising profusely, I then shuffled back to the sanctuary of my side room and sat in the chair.  This wasn’t the usual me.  So I gave myself a bit of a talking too, made myself walk to the basin to clean my teeth, sort out my belongings and wait for Nick.  All was well once he arrived with smoked salmon, avocado, brown seeded bread, orange juice and a flask of decaf coffee with koko milk.  It wasn’t so difficult after all.  Washed, clean gown, bed made the day lay ahead.

Visitors – a blessing and a curse.  Your own visitors are a blessing – others should be cursed, especially when they don’t leave until 10pm!  I had had a few visitors during my Costa del Derriford staycation.  Nick every day, my daughter, a couple of friends, the brother of a good friend who was visiting his mum and my parents.  It is lovely that they come and see you and I’m usually always up for a blether but it was hard work.  I didn’t have much to say and found it a real effort to concentrate.  If they made me laugh then I had to hold onto my tummy.  I couldn’t even blame the Anastrozole as I’d taken an executive decision not to take that tablet as it was hard enough without the side effects of this A.I.  I didn’t have many visitors though and I think the nursing staff were aware of this so were always chatty.  On Saturday during the day Sister C was in charge – I think she must have run about 26 miles that day with one thing and another including the male patient who escaped.  She was very upbeat as she checked the dressings and toob and I told her about my experiences 18 months ago and she explained that the entire set up of the ward had changed.  The most critical patients were in the bays closest to the nurses station as they required the most frequent observations and interventions, those less ill were fanned out at the end bays.  It was the most efficient use of staff and those patients who were the most ill had the most attention.

My saving grace was BBC I player and wifi.  I had invested in a tablet and was very glad I had.  I could get onto Facebook, twitter, check school emails (a bit naughty but then I do like my job), personal email account and watch box sets.  I choose Bleak House – there are 15 episodes and I enjoyed each one.  I watched a couple of movies on Netflix, read a few articles on line and kept up with the news.  I was becoming institutionalised!  Saturday’s day crew handed over to the night staff and Sister D returned. She explained to me that the staff nurse I’d be anxious about would be on duty that night, that she was going to speak to her and that it would be a good idea if we would then all meet.

I’m not afraid of a difficult conversation.  Sometimes in school we have to have difficult conversations with colleagues when a lesson observation hasn’t gone well or there has been a complaint from parent or outside agency.  I try to be solution focussed, 99% of the time try and find a positive and then outline the expectations to move on.  One of my NQTs had been rather problematic and I’d had to have several difficult conversations with this person.  It was difficult as this person did not appear to understand that there were consequences to the actions they’d undertaken or when they hadn’t followed instructions.  Youth and inexperience, tinged with a high degree of arrogance were not a great combination.  I’d had difficult conversations with parents, with senior colleagues and whilst I didn’t relish them I didn’t shy away from them.  However, this was going to be a different difficult conversation as I was still quite vulnerable, still attached to the saline drip, in bed wearing the hospital issue gownie and not wearing my school suit complete with lanyards.

Sister D, always practical and sensible, had spoken to the other nurse who didn’t remember the incidents, but was mortified that she’d upset a patient.  At about 10pm they arrived in my room for the conversation.  To be quite frank the nurse was more nervous than I was.  We were re-introduced and I said that 18 months ago x, y and z had happened and I’d been distressed having just had a mastectomy.  She explained that 18 months ago her personal life was very difficult and apologised for any distress.  She said she did recognise me.  It was all a bit awkward, she had been having a very tough time (as was I) and whilst it is easy to say “leave your baggage at the door” I’m sure we’ve all had times when we haven’t behaved in an entirely professional and productive way.  The “boil” was lanced.  We’d both said our piece. She wouldn’t be looking after me but was perfectly friendly when I saw her on my shuffle from the room to the bathroom.

Sister D gave me a sleeping tablet – I could look forward to a better night.

78: Physio Friday

Another restless night passed with less frequent checks of the toob, blood pressure, heart rate and 02 levels – I was still alive.  The window was not allowed to be open and the room an ambient 28 degrees c (no wonder I couldn’t sleep).  Sister D had helped me clean my teeth the night before and by 9pm I was ready to sleep but the ward doesn’t close for visitors until 10pm and the lights don’t go off until midnight.  In 1974 I had had my tonsils removed in the Royal Naval Hospital in Stonehouse Plymouth.  Although my memory may be hazy I can remember that we were woken at 6am and it was in bed by 6pm and lights out (which was a bit useless as it was the summer and light until after 9pm).  I know this because as the oldest child on the ward I was volunteered to ask the Sister if we were allowed to stay up on Saturday night to watch Doctor Who on the TV which was wheeled onto the ward.  I also know this as my dad was serving in Northern Ireland and he phoned later than 6pm and there was a bit of huffing and puffing before my brother and I were allowed to have a croaky conversation with him.  The image shows what Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval nurses looked like – what extraordinary headgear – the Sister wore a wider cap and a blue cape.  My brother and I were also hacked off as we’d heard that if you had your tonsils out in Greenbank Hospital in Plymouth you got jelly and icecream… at RNH Stonehouse it was scratchy toast to toughen you up!

RN Nurse

By now (day 4) I could recognise the signs for the handover, the flurry of activity from the night to the day crew.  So having learnt how to get into the chair I decided that I would surprise the next lot of Rounds men and women by being in the chair.  Sadly I couldn’t manage as I couldn’t unhook the catheter bag and get all the drains over to one side so I was flummoxed.  Each morning there was a new batch of Doctors to see me, however, all the young men seemed to dress in a similar way… striped shirt with the sleeves rolled up, open necked (to stop a tie flapping about infecting everyone) and chinos.  Before they came in they knocked at the door and used the hand cleanser at the door or at the foot of the bed.  This morning I was bleary eyed as tired but up and awake and I knew the routine so had the toob and tummy ready for examination.  The leader of this pack declared that a couple of the drains could come out (from chest and underarm) which I was highly delighted about (then I remembered how they do it… deep breath in… breath out and a sharp tug as several centimetres of straw sized tube is withdrawn from your body…followed by a new dressing) and the catheter could go too. Much to my surprise, the pack leader then asked me about bowels, I thought young man: I’m probably older than your mum I don’t think you should be asking me about this.  However, having an operational digestive track is another milestone in getting home. He prescribed Lactulose  twice a day and told me to eat more.  The saline drip would remain for another 24 hours as per the orders of Mr A.

Free from the catheter (not as bad as you may imagine as it is held in place by a balloon which once deflated means the entire thing easy to remove) and two of the drains (slightly ouchy but do-able), with the bag of saline on a portable stand I almost felt like an Olympic athlete – okay, not quite but these were all steps forward.  I swung my legs over, sat at the edge of the bed, didn’t feel sick and made it from old crone position to the chair with a footstool.

Next a young physio came to visit.  She got me up and in old crone position helped me walk from one wall to another.  It was a good idea to hold the portable drip stand to help steady me and to lean forward, in a slightly hunched posture was ideal as it didn’t strain the hip to hip incision.  I was given some arm and shoulder exercises to do and then she was on her way.  This new found freedom was exhilarating and when it was time for the obs I was keen to show of my new found skills, this soon wore off as it was pretty knackering.  I still hadn’t ventured out of the side room and so I became Queen of the on call button.  The room was still very warm, I was drinking up to 5 litres of fluid a day and was on a saline drip – I needed to pass water, which was still being measured, my only option was to press the button and call for the…. commode.  What a contraption – a seat on wheels with brakes, lift the lid to reveal a macerated cardboard potty which was then taken away – output measured and taken to the ……… sluice room.

Macerated cardboard appears to be Derriford Hospital’s material of choice for liquids which have to be disposed of, maybe this is common to all hospitals.  As soon as I was able to get into the chair and free of some of the tubing there was a concerted effort to make me less institutionalised and more independent.  No more bed baths for me, no a macerated cardboard basin was brought to the chair complete with some disposable cloths and I had wash and dry myself.  Nick still helped me though as it was a bit of a challenge as both hands had canulars in.  The next challenge was to wash my skanky hair with hibiscrub.  Nick and the HCA from Shanghai escorted me as I shuffled out of the room, past the bays of men and to the same bathroom which Nick had cleaned some 18 months previously.  A chair was dragged to the end of the bath and I sat on hit with gamgee over the toob and tummy and leant forward,  between them they washed by hair with the stringent pink anti bac hibiscrub and rinsed my hair with warm water.. it was utter bliss.  Another step to getting home.  Nick asked at the nurses station if there was a hair dryer.. there was and not only was my hair washed it was blown dry too.  I was like a new woman by the time Sister D came on duty that night.

When I was on Lynher Ward some 18 months previously to recover from the mastectomy I’d had a poor experience with one of the staff nurses who hadn’t been particularly kind or helpful.  There were three incidents which had stuck in my mind:  not being able to help me up the bed when my feet were hard up against the end of it, the cardboard slipper pan/changing the bedding event at 3am and finally the standing at the end of the bed and saying to Nick and I “I can’t remember if I gave you your meds or not”.  This young woman had not inspired me with confidence at all.  When I returned to Lynher Ward I recounted all of this to Sister D and had said I had been very anxious about coming back and didn’t want that nurse to come near me if she still worked on the ward.  She did still work on the ward and I would meet her within the next 24 hours.  Firstly though there was another sleepless night to get through.


77: Who knew getting into a chair was so hard?

On Thursday morning it was deemed that my goal for the day would be to get out of bed and into the chair next to the bed.  I’ve been able to get out of bed and sit in chairs for almost five and a half decades without too much difficulty.  Not so on this morning!

Sister D was finishing the night shift again she had been wonderful and attentive, kind, funny, sensible, reassuring – everything you would want with a nurse after a major operation.  The same staff nurse, Nurse R, returned and she was much of the same mould.   Nick arrived about 7.30am with breakfast and I ate some (it was rude not too as he’d made it and brought it up).  Without too much fuss I was told how I’d be getting out of bed.. it was one leg over, the next leg over, push up and sit at the edge of the bed then attempt to stand and lunge for the chair.  Nick and Sister D were having a good chat about fruit trees and then both went their separate ways.  Staff nurse R and a jolly health care assistant unplugged the patient controlled pain relief tube, moved the catheter bag, various drains and then helped me move one leg, then the other and helped me to a sitting position on the edge of the bed.  I was very hot and a bit fuzzy… by this point I’d been lying flat from 8am on 9th July to 10am on 12th July.  The aim was to get me to stand and then sit in the chair.  With one of these girls either side, my feet in slippers, I then stood – all my life I’ve been told “stand up straight” as I’m 5ft 9ins but today for the first time ever it was okay to be like a hunched over old crone, I was not to stand straight I was to hunch over and it was fine to hang on to the girls.  They got me up, swizzled me round and I lowered myself gingerly into the chair.  As I felt sick and started to wretch Staff Nurse R got some magic potion and added it to one of the canulas – some form of antiemetic drugs, I don’t know what it was but it did the trick.  I was out of bed.  I stayed out of bed for 4 hours.  I didn’t really leave the chair as I was trapped by drains, oxygen and catheter bag but I could move my legs, doze in the chair and have a cup of ginger tea when the trolley came round.  Today the chair, tomorrow a walk!

Staff Nurse R came in and did the observations and I was introduced to a tiny HCA from Shanghai who was kind and considerate.  I told her that Nick and I had visited Shanghai 8 years ago.  It had been our 25th Wedding anniversary and as I was leaving one school (Marine Academy Plymouth – MAP) to join another (Lipson) it was a good opportunity to go around the world in 6 weeks so we did.  Really it was an extended geography fieldtrip.  We flew first to Las Vegas for the Grand Canyon, then to Hawaii, followed by a week in New Zealand, 12 days in three different parts of Australia, a few days in Singapore, then Hong Kong and finally Shanghai.  From Pudong Airport we travelled to the centre of Shanghai, stayed in a brand new hotel with cocktail bar and swimming pool on the roof, ate as the locals ate, walked everywhere and were absolutely gobsmaked at the cacophony of cars, bicycle bells and people.  We soon learned a phrase  Bu Yao which means don’t or no thank you.  It came in handy as we were inundated with offers to buy trainers with sparkly lights and wheels or “genuine fake” Rolex watches!   I shared my fluency in languages with the tiny HCA who laughed and told me it Bu Yao was not as rude as I’d been led to believe.

After 4 hours in the chair I rang the bell for assistance and asked if I could go back to bed.  The answer was yes as to have sat in the chair for half an hour would have sufficed.  Staff nurse R and the tiny HCA helped heave me up to my new hunched posture and sat me on the edge of the bed, one leg up, second leg up, roll and I was down.  It was exhausting!  Once back in bed the Staff Nurse attached a unit of blood to the cannula in my hand.  Mr A had called for blood tests, the previous evening he’d pulled down my eyelid which looked pale and ordered two units of O neg for me.  This has to be fed in very slowly… one unit takes 3 hours – drip, drip, drip.  I was still on the saline drip and could look forward to another 3 days of this delight but… the catheter might be removed the next day.  Slowly, slowly, slowly I was returning to normality.

That evening the housekeeping team brought my Turkey salad for supper… I ate two slices and some grated carrot –  Nick enjoyed the rest.

This is me in the chair – 4 drains, one tubey thing of oxygen, beautiful ted stockings, hospital gownie and the gamgee held to keep the toob (tummy-boob) warm.  Who knew getting into a chair could give such a sense of achievement. Bring on the walking.

Day 2 on Lynher Ward