29. The road to recovery – more Old Rectory Ward

Social media and Facebook in particular was a great way to keep in touch with friends and family both local and far away.  For me humour has always been important and so I used my Facebook status as a sort of blog to let my chums know I was doing well.  There were regular updates such as….

“Old Rectory Ward update: Chief Nurse: Nick, also head of nutrition, logistics, transport, admin & bed availability, when taking the order for supper was able to offer more than either Brussels sprouts or carrots, mash or roast tatties (red cabbage, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes & roast tatties).”  This links to  the offer on the real ward consisted on either sprouts or carrots but not bothsupper.

“Old Rectory Ward update: another amazing breakfast from the CEO of the Stoke Hospital Trust, Nick – yes a promotion! Yesterday patient had a brief outpatient appointment up to the Village, followed by a treatment back on the ward involving the sofa, a  movie and having the fire on. A colleague popped in for CQC visit and updated patient on how other Stoke wards are progressing. This morning mental health will be assessed through a visit by Dad and Mum (not sure whose health though) and this afternoon another friend (in financial services) will be discussing the financial viability of continuing adjuvant treatments involving scones, home made jam and cream. ”

“0ld Rectory Ward update: after a breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled egg the patient has started physio (okay, a short walk on the Hoe to a coffee shop) with chief nurse, Nick”.  This photo is Mastectomy Day (M-Day) plus 9 – it was cold, a bit dreich and that didn’t matter at all, I was wrapped up well in Geography teacher fleece, gillet (very useful for guarding the wound and a pocket to keep a hand in to help take any strain off the lymph node biopsy site), and big scarf with matching hat.  Behind me… Drake’s Island and Plymouth Sound – a coastal inlet, submerged or drowned valley open to the sea – Geography is all around us!First outing out 26th Nov


28. The Old Rectory Ward

There were several differences between Lynher Ward at Derriford Hospital and The Old Rectory Ward in our home.  To get to the Old Rectory Ward you just came through the front door and walked up the stairs.  It was en suite, there was just the one bed, the food was prepared locally, the curtains were not going to be changed in the middle of the night, visitors were not encouraged to arrive at 7.30am and leave at 10pm…  the sole member of staff had no medical training (maybe an expired first aid certificate).

One of the major differences was the breakfast offer.  As you can see below protein was the order of the day with eggs, ham or smoked salmon on brown bread, spread with peanut butter, with extra seeds thrown on top.  Orange juice, coffee with almond or koko milk and plenty of water to drink.

It was all delicious and I was grateful that Nick made it all, brought it up on a tray and ensured I ate well.  Plenty of fluids too and plenty of rest.  I was strangely absolutely knackered – considering all I’d done for the past few days and nights was loll about on a hospital bed.  I was/am very grateful for the treatment at Derriford and relieved to be at home and in my own bed.

For all that I’d worked hard to be really fit physically for the skin sparing mastectomy I had no appreciation of just how hard surgery was on this body and slept many hours during those first few days at home.


Tip:  Be kind and appreciate the work the home ward staff have done – they have been worrying about you and like to be able to do practical things.   If you get the opportunity to rest – take it up.  


27. Monday, Monday, looks good to me

Monday morning and our routine was already well established.  Nick arrived with coffee and breakfast which was followed by a Hibiscrub bath.  I was sitting up in bed in a clean red tartan nightshirt (POWER red lipstick already applied) talking to my daughter who had visited on her way into University that morning.   One of the nurses from the Primrose Breast Care Unit arrived.  This lady was great, introduced herself as having responsibility for nursing plastics breast patients, was practical and down to earth.  She also brought a heart shaped pillow and goodie bag including a drain bag, hand cream and tissues.  These were from an organisation called Bosom Pals.   Once discharged from the ward I would have to return to the Primrose Breast Care clinic to have stitches removed in a week or so.  To get home I’d have to get rid of both drains.

The day before the drain from the lymph node incision had been removed – this was a simple process, a couple of snips and a deep breath and a bit of a yank and out it popped.  Clean dressing and done.  One drain down, one to go.

Mr X arrived at the end of the bed and was as usual kind and professional.  After asking how I was (fine, let me go home – I know you need this bed) he looked first at the Bionic Boob which was becoming a series of interesting colours, then at the area where the lymph nodes had been removed.   It was all looking good and I was as keen as mustard to get home… only one slight issue… too many mls of Malbec in the drain.  If I could drain a bit less I could go home.

Two hours later, the drainage had just about dried up…. drain was coming out!  I was going home.   As soon as the drain was out…. snip, snip, deep breath, gentle tug and out it came.  Clean dressing, then I was dressing.  Jeans on, sports bra and shirt – everything for the next couple of weeks was going to be front opening.  Sports bras to be worn 24/7 for the next 6 weeks – day and night.

2pm – and I was on my way.  After thanking the catering ladies for many cups of ginger tea, nurses who’d given me “paint stripper”, explained things and packed me off with pain killers and BIG antibiotics it was home time.  Nick took my bag and we walked slowly down to the car – the heart shaped cushion from Bosom Pals tucked securely under my left arm ready to protect the bionic boob from the seat belt.  Phew – a huge sense of relief to be going home where it was quiet and there would only be one other person sleeping in the room and no one would be changing curtains at any point.

Au revoir Derriford, bonjour Old Rectory ward!  The old wreck of the Old Rec was on her way home, a bit bruised, one nipple less and with additional silicon but heading home.

Tip:  Remember to email Bosom Pals to thank them for the gifts as you will then get an invitation to join their Facebook page and access to advice and information from local (to Plymouth) women who have been through breast cancer and subsequent treatments. 

26. Shhhhh I’m busy doing Sunday

Sunday morning and Nick arrived on the ward at 7.45am armed with a flask of coffee with almond milk and a hot bacon butty wrapped in tinfoil – the coffee and butty were delicious.  Halfway through the breakfast of the Gods a new gang of doctors arrived to look at the bionic boob.  The main doctor introduced himself as a consultant  he was very tall, bearded, looked terribly young and had large tattoo on the inside of his arm visible from his scrubs. He was accompanied by a young woman doctor who looked far more serious and they had a good look at the breast.

I told them I taught Geography and was impressed by my new contours – they didn’t look particularly impressed that I was impressed.

They also looked at the drains – I thought they looked rather like Malbec and understood they needed to look more Pinot Grigio so sometime to go before they were coming out then.  They moved on and Nick and I retreated to the bathroom… this time he was armed with a hessian bag full of cleaning gear and gave the plastic bath a good scrub – it looked a lot cleaner and the plastic was a paler colour.  Today it was a bath followed hair wash… this evolution involved stepping out of the bath,  being dried and then kneeling over the bath holding onto the bionic boob so Nick could shampoo my hair with Hibiscrub and rinse with the hose.  Apparently most patients don’t wash for three days.

After the bath it was back to bed with another clean zip up front sports bra and button up front nightie (for easy access of wounds) and on/off snoozing until the afternoon.  My mum visited with a stack of magazines and my youngest son popped in before  returning home, having done a great job of keeping his dad company.

Visiting hours are 7.30am – 10pm.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing as Nick could do the breakfast run and a curse as some patients within the bay of patients had several noisy visitors until quite late.  Not least a young woman who was admitted onto the ward to await surgery, she had parents and several friends visit – mostly they were on their phones – quiet at least as not speaking to each other but engrossed on their phones, it made me think why had they bothered to visit.

There was a very curious incident…. one of the patients, who was at death’s door when a doctor or nurse walked by yet was fine the rest of the time – laughing and chatting, came over to the very unwell, elderly lady next to me and started to hoist her up the bed.  One of the nurses came over and asked her quietly and gently to stop and the patient had an extraordinary outburst “you are humiliating me in front of the other patients and visitors”.  No, the young nurse really wasn’t, the elderly lady was as frail as a flower and her skin looked paper thin.  The patient burst into tears and was wailing “I’m only trying to help her” – why not leave it to the professionals who are trained and know precisely what to do to help?  The follow up to this was interesting too.  The next morning the Sister on the ward met with the patient and they discussed the incident and the patient absolutely dammed the young nurse.  I wasn’t having this, so I met with the Sister too and told her the young nurse was very professional and the entire outburst was over the top.  Those curtains are not at all sound proof.

One final event before “lights out”… the Chuckle Brothers came on to the ward to change curtains.  To me, to you, to you, to me…. it was 10pm but I suppose they have to take the opportunity to work when they need to.   All I wanted was sleep.  I did sleep for a while but then I woke up to find a new nurse looking intently at one of the drains, the bottle had to be changed, still too Malbec and full -and it was all done with a minimum of fuss by the light of a phone.

Tip:  If I go into hospital ever again I will take ear phones – ones which make you look like a Cyberman (or woman) and an eye mask to block out all noise and light.  Take good books and try and block out some of the patients and their visitors – people watching has it’s place but not when you are tired. 



25. Hello weekend!

I made it to Saturday morning! The drugs came round and a new nurse injected something into the cannula. I asked what it was and she said “paint stripper” super strong antibiotics – good a nurse with a sense of humour.

Just as the ladies with the toast arrived, so did Nick and a couple of doctors.  The one in civvies introduced himself and examined the new bionic boob. The one in scrubs looked on, as did a young woman in a dark blue uniform.  It all appeared satisfactory I was told I should put on a sports bra.  It was the first time I had seen the dressings on the lymph node incision and where my nipple had been.  I was surprised by the size of my new breast and the thickness of the tubes which made up the drains – both were larger than I anticipated.  (The young woman in the dark blue uniform was later spotted by Nick mopping the floor – she was part of housekeeping.  Presumably she was just checking that my wounds were clean.)

I told Nick about the spade/urine event in the early hours and I asked him to find out if there was a bath on the ward.  There was but it was not clear if it worked.  On investigation it appeared that it did.  One of the new nurses unplugged me from the cannula and I tentatively got out of bed, held on to the two drains and holding onto Nick made the trip to the bathroom.  The bath was huge, with a plethora of knobs and an Icarus sling nearby which I didn’t require as I could step up and in – had I felt more with it, it could have been fun to try.

The first job was to give the bath a bit of a rinse and then fill it up.  It was bliss! Nick washed me with hibiscrub and I sat in the warm water with my dressings out of the water and the drains hanging over the side.  Such a simple pleasure.  He then helped me out of the bath and patted me down, I put on one of my new M&S zip up front sports bras and nightgown and then walked back to the bay (past the side wards and two bays of men in various states as it appeared that Lynher ward deals with plastics, urology and Ent – all ends covered then). Back into bed and back to sleep until my mum visited that afternoon.  She was well armed with fruit and juice from the Marks and Spencer concession at the main door of the hospital.

The ward has its own rhythm which is punctuated with offers of tea “yes please, here is one of my ginger tea bags”, drugs and visitors – loads of visitors on the ward so it is noisy some of them may also be on drugs.  Thank goodness for ear phones and Spotify on my phone.  I dozed on and off and then remained awake during the night – not least as the bed was close to the nurses’ station and well-lit corridor so it was noisy and bright.  The same healthcare assistant as the night before was on duty, a thoroughly decent and sensible woman, changed the hourly observations from the night before to 4 hourly.    She had a cheery word to say as she took my temperature, bp and heart rate.  At the end of her 12 hour shift she walked home – a good couple of miles, did her housework and then went to bed.  She told me that she had already put her Christmas decorations up…  it was only the 18th November.

Tip:  have friends and family on hand to “nurse” you as the main things you need to recover which include rest and good food are in short supply in the Leviathan that is a busy hospital.

24. To sleep – perchance to dream.

Sleep… an unusual concept on a busy ward.  On the hour a nurse or healthcare assistant pokes you to ensure you are still alive.  They stick something in your ear to take your temperature, put on the blood pressure cuff  on your arm and place a peg on your finger.  I’m tall and the bed was at an angle so I had slid down and my feet were hard up against the end of the bed.  I asked the nurse if she could help me up the bed… she said “no” .  To get up the bed I would have to dig my heels in and lean on my arms to push myself up.  Considering that I was plugged into the cannula on one side and had two drains on the mastectomy side – pushing up wasn’t really an option.   I was a tad surprised and just remained with my feet hard up against the end board.

The ward was not quiet.

The elderly woman in the bed next to me was obviously very unwell and in the night suffered from pneumonia.  I know this as I heard the doctors and nurses discussing her, calling for a mobile chest x-ray and x rays  happening, all through the thin blue curtain which separated our beds. Poor soul who was so ill, poor me who could hear it all.

At about 3am I was desperate.  The  nurse whom was unable to help me up the bed responded to my call and whilst I was being very British and apologising for disturbing her I told her I needed to pee.  She said that she couldn’t get me out of bed to which I  replied that I still needed to pee.

The compromise was that she brought a cardboard spade for me to sit on.  I did ask how I was supposed to get on and we re-rehearsed the talk about pushing up (drains were still in – it was only five hours after my arrival).   Somehow I got onto the spade which is called a slipper pan and the relief was short lived as it overflowed.  Unfortunately, there was a significant amount of huffing and puffing  and when the spade/slipper pan was removed a bit of a shriek on her part as the urine was bright green – I told her it was radioactive too  (but surely she knew I’d had a mastectomy and as part of that there is a trip to nuclear medicine).  The spade, sheets and gown were taken away and the plastic mattress wiped with a wet wipe.  I pointed out I could do with a wipe myself and declined the nurse’s offer – I needed a little bit of dignity and preferred a different type of wet wipe to that which had wiped the bed.  Settled in clean bedding and gown I soon went to sleep as the exertions of getting on the spade made me feel nauseous and exhausted.

Tip:  Passing urine is a normal function, don’t be terribly British about it, nurses are trained in this.  Sitting on a cardboard spade is not a normal function – don’t bother practicing this at home with a real spade as it won’t help. 

23. 8pm – proof of life.

I have no recollection of being in recovery and the first I knew was when I was wheeled onto Lynher Ward where Nick and and our youngest son were waiting for me.

It was 8pm.

The bed was plugged in at the wall and Nick gave me a kiss.  Apparently there was a person snoring and according to my husband and son I made some comment about putting a pillow over them to drown out the noise.   Not kind.  Where was my culture of kindness?

I have no idea if I said this or not… I do recall asking my son to make his phone into a mirror so my especially purchased M&S Autograph POWER red lipstick could go on.   I must have looked like the Joker from Batman as my complexion was an ashen grey colour and I had a bright red streak of lipstick.  However, POWER red lipstick meant I was alive and in some degree of control.  My son took a selfie too to send to the rest of the family – proof of life – so far I hadn’t croaked and the life insurance wasn’t needed.

As I came too I noticed I wasn’t in a side room but on a ward with five other women… what was going on?  It didn’t matter as I was alive and didn’t feel any pain.

Tip:  Be thankful the team got you through, someone found you a bed and you are now on the road to recovery.  Try and be kind.