The weirdest thing about being awake while having surgery is that you get to hear what your surgeon’s thoughts about the process are while they’re happening.
Here’s how it went: I woke up at about 6:30 but didn’t really want to get out of bed. At 7:30 I leapt out of bed and took a shower, got dressed, took my valium and called a cab. The valium kicked in surprisingly quickly, and by the time I was waiting in the surgical waiting room at 8:45 I was feeling no particular stress. I could tell it was a muscle relaxant, and I repeated tripped over my shoes, but otherwise I felt pretty normal. The only thing missing was my requisite terror and overactive imagination in the waiting room.
Once in my surgeon’s play area (office? mini surgical clinic?), I assumed the position on my stomach. He shaved a bit of my head and washed it with alcohol. Then he said he was “turning [me] into a table!” as he put towels and whatnot over me to expose just the shaved spot on my head.
Then, time for the freezing! There were three or four needles, all at the location. They felt unpleasant and cold, but definitely better than dental freezing. After that was over, he said, “that was the worst part!” which was reassuring, as it wasn’t too bad, but some of my hidden panic attack surfaced after that. I started to cry, lying on my stomach, hiding my face. I don’t really know why I felt it just then. I took a lot of deep breaths and then asked for a kleenex to blow my snotty nose. I don’t think they realized that I was having a bit of a panic, though; the nurse said, “I hear a lot of deep breaths there, are you okay?” and I said I was fine. I mean, what can you say? It was at that point that I realized that the 20mg of valium probably wasn’t quite enough for someone with a panic reaction as strong as mine.
After that, I can’t really say exactly what happened. They waited only a few minutes at most before the first incision happened. I didn’t feel it. It wasn’t clear to me that it happened at all. So that was a relief. There was some tugging and pressing, but it felt more like getting a haircut than anything else.
I realized for sure that the incision had happened when the surgeon started to say, “It’s a lipoma!” I said, “yay!” because I know what a lipoma is and I know that it’s exactly not a big deal. My surgeon had hoped that my bumps were lipomas, but the CT suggested otherwise. So his repeated statements about how it was indeed a lipoma made me happy. At least it’s not cancer! Yay! This is over and it’s not cancer!
“You’re doing really well!” my surgeon said brightly.
“So are you!” I said, in an attempt to be just as perky.
He laughed. “I’m the one with the instruments!”
Then after a bit he said, “That sound is me cooking you!” I hadn’t noticed any sound, but I said, “Mmm what’s for dinner?” This is the kind of conversation you have when you’re under a bunch of towels and cloths with surgical instruments on your back, I guess.
After a bit he said, “Well, maybe there’s a lymph node in there, let’s have a look.” Then I felt him digging around deeper. I still didn’t feel anything. “Oh, there’s the lymph node,” he said, then, to the nurse assisting him, “See there? The grey?”
“Ahhh,” the nurse said.
“Yeah,” he said. “There’s the lymph node.”
I can’t remember if I said anything at that point. I figured this kind of reversed all my good news feelings.
Then he started digging some more, I suppose, and suddenly I felt it. It was like a point of burning and pulling. I think I made a squeaky sound and twisted my leg.
“Oh can you feel that? I’m almost done, it will be over in a moment,” he said, extremely sympathetically. There was another hot burst of burning and pulling. It was quite unpleasant. “That’s it, I’m done,” he said. Deep breaths, deep breaths.
The nurse said something about taking the sample to pathology, and the surgeon said something like, “Yes, mark it down to test for everything.” I said, “I know what that means,” and he said something like, “aww, hmph,” in an oh-come-now-its-surely-not-the-cancer-again sort of tone.
I said, “Well, I did it once, surely I can do it again.”
He told me he was going to stitch me up, and that that work was all surface. I could hear the thread and feel the movement of the process, but I didn’t feel any pain again. The nurse helped him afix a bandaid (that’s what they called it, and, hours later I discovered that’s exactly what it was), they took the cloths off me and told me I should sit up, carefully.
I sat up, and he found me a clean piece of gauze. He told me to put some pressure on it for a while. “It’s going to be a lump at first,” he said. I manoeuvred myself back into my jacket and watched my surgeon tapping away on a keyboard and peering into a screen.
“All done with me?” I asked, pressing the gauze against the still painless lump on my head.
“Yep,” he said. “I’ll see you in a week.”
And that was it. I walked out pressing gauze to my head. I pressed it there for about 30 minutes before I gave up and threw the gauze away.
The first thing I did, out in the waiting area, was call my parents. It was 9:45 when I sat down, meaning the entire experience had happened in about an hour. I hoped I could catch them before they left to come pick me up to tell them I was done and was going to cab home, but the phone just rang and rang. So I settled in to wait. I called my sister, frankly on the brink of tears. That opening of a panic attack was still in me. Talking to my sister calmed me back down. I waited about an hour and then my parents arrived.
I don’t know what it means that he thought at first it was just a lipoma (maybe the largest part of it was?) and that he removed a lymph node afterwards. Good news? Bad news? No idea.
As the freezing came out it started to hurt. It hurts more than my thyroidectomy incision ever did, but I had morphine for that one. But it didn’t wake me up in the night, so I guess it’s not too bad.
Next challenge: taking a shower. I’m supposed to wash the incision and put polysporin on it, so I guess hairwashing is on the table this morning. My mother (who is still here with me) suggests I be brave and do it now. Wish me luck.