This is what I remembered today, after my beautiful son and daughter burst in to my room clutching cards, flowers, presents and chocolates for Mother’s Day, the baby shouting 'Mummy, Mummy' from her cot in the other room. When they left me alone with my coffee and breakfast in bed, carried upstairs on a teetering tray, this is what came into my mind.
“I’m going to wrap this cloth around your head. Now, turn your head to the side and keep it there. Please don’t move or try to look at what the doctor is doing."
The nurse’s hands held my head still and in place. I fixed my eyes on a spot on the wall.
“Right – I think the anaesthetic’s ready. It’s all numb there? You’ll feel some pushing and shoving. With you young ones it can be quite hard to get the valve into the artery. It shouldn’t hurt though. Let me know if it does.”
Squeaking my assent I gritted my teeth as the revolting tugging and pulling sensations began in my numb chest. I was having my Hickman Line put in in preparation for my intensive chemotherapy which would start later that day. The day before we had celebrated my daughter’s third birthday, a week too early as I’d be in hospital on her actual birthday, but she wouldn’t know. My new daughter, born eight weeks early and currently in the Special Care Baby Unit in an incubator was learning to feed from a bottle – no breastfeeding for me anymore – and I was missing her feed. I hated missing her feeds. I’d spent the morning over in the maternity part of the hospital and had left part of my heart over there with her as I lay on the operating table.
The Hickman line was being attached to the main artery above my heart so that the heavy-duty chemotherapy which was going to be dripped into me over a period of four days and nights, every few weeks, could do its work. Blood could be taken from this line and antibiotics or anything else administered.
“At least it’ll mean that we won’t be prodding you with needles, morning, noon and night.”
I was sceptical that this was such a major advantage and more so when I discovered that I would not be able to have a bath for the next six months or so in case the ends of the lines became wet. The two bizarre snaky white tubes, six inches long, which would hang out of my chest would need to be covered when I showered. Apparently women usually coiled them in their bra during the day and then tucked them in a little bag which hung around their neck at night to prevent them catching on anything. Hmmm. I was not convinced by these jolly descriptions although I was to find myself doing all these things eventually as a matter of course.
Back on the table the squelching and the pushing became quite unbearable. Sweating profusely I began to seriously wish that I had accepted the offer of a sedative before the procedure. I’d turned it down because I’d decided that I didn’t want to be struggling with the after-effects of the sedative when my chemotherapy begun.
“Gosh – this is really tough!” the surgeon joked. “You’re giving me a run for my money here!”
The nurse could feel the stress pouring off my skin and I could feel the sweat trickling down my face, turned as it was to the side away from my upper right chest.
“You’re doing so well. We’re nearly done now. Take some deep breaths.”
I began to cry. My children – my four year old son, and three year old daughter and the little scrap of a person, vulnerable and tiny in her cot in the SCBU were all apart from me and would be for patches of time over the coming months. I was due to have a bone marrow transplant in four months and would possibly be in hospital for up to five weeks. It was all too much.
Later with a big bandage over the contraption in my chest I wept again as I was taken to my room on the ward in the old part of the Victorian hospital, due for demolition later that year to be re-built with all mod-cons. It was cold, there was no TV and couldn’t have been more bleak.
“I’m leaving,” I sobbed to Roger, hysterically struggling with my clothes. “I can’t stand this. I can’t stay here. It’s horrible.”
“You know you can’t. You have to stay. They’re coming with your chemotherapy in a while. You’ll be ok.”
The desperate strain reflected back from my misery on his face. But they heard me sobbing. They moved me to a different room – a little less bleak and I calmed a little.
Later still, hooked up to my chemotherapy, the big bag of poison dripping slowly into me, hooded in green plastic to protect it from the light, I buzzed the nurse.
“Is it possible that I could be feeling sick already?”
She handed me a bowl in reply and pushed some anti-sickness drugs into my line.
Lying alone in my bed, trying not to get tangled up in the tube going from the drip-stand into my line, Roger gone home to the kids via the SCBU to check on the baby, I wondered if I was going to survive. It was all so desperately dreadful; the buzzing of patients needing the nurses, the sickness lingering at the edge of my consciousness, the sickness which was to get so much worse with subsequent treatments, and the time slowly ticking away through the night keeping me from my children. Floating between sleep and waking I felt entirely and absolutely alone.
That is what I remembered today.
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