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!

Author: fionaosmaston

I live in Plymouth, Devon with my husband Nick and near my parents Sandy and Sheena. Our three children, Marcus, Phoebe and Miles are grown up. I am a geographer and love teaching Geography. My current role is as an Assistant Vice Principal in an inner city comprehensive school where I lead on coaching and initial teacher training. In August 2017 I was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma and following a skin sparing mastectomy and endrocrine/hormone treatment I am now awaiting a final reconstruction. These views are my own and writing this story has helped me come to terms with where I am in this interlude of life which has been dominated by breast cancer.

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