‘Oh bollocks, not these again,’ I griped upon finding them perched atop the hospital gown on my bed. ‘What is it about this standard-issue surgery-wear that insists on making you look like a complete twat?’ See, I’m very conscious of what I look like mid-surgery. I know that’s a ridiculous thing to be concerned about, but I’m sure you’ll have had similar worries yourself in the past, no? Asking your partner what you look like while you’re sleeping… Wanting to know what you might have said mid-hypnosis... Pleading with your mates to confirm that nobody could see your knickers when you fell arse over tit in the gutter after the office Christmas party…
And yes, I’m sure that fretting about whether or not I dribble in my sleep is just a way of spinning my worries about something much more significant into a more manageable format but that, I’m afraid, is just the way I tend to deal with things pre-surgery. Which is precisely why I spent the day before my operation having a hair cut, highlights, leg wax, manicure and pedicure. Some folk go all out for a night on the town; I get dolled up for a stay on Ward Three. S’just how I roll.
‘So are you going somewhere exciting tonight?’ asked the girl who washed my hair.
‘Nope, just having an early night.’
‘Oh. Tomorrow, then?’
‘Nah, I’m actually going into hospital for a few days.’
‘Oh. And you’re having all of this done before you go in?’
‘Well, I’ve gotta look my best for my surgeon!’ I quipped.
‘Riiiight,’ she said, wishing she’d opted for silence over chit-chat.
Being wheeled down into the anaesthetist’s room, I’ll admit that I felt more than a little smug about my superhuman endeavour to look as attractive as is possible in a pair of scratchy, see-through knickers and a questionably-patterned gown that parts at the bum. Even that morning, I’d smothered myself in body lotion, given my face a bit of self-tan and administered a liberal spritz of my best perfume. But when I woke up from my surgery, queasy and grumpy and relieved of a right tit and two ovaries, the hierarchy of concerns in my mind had me panicking that even my extreme lengths of pre-op preening hadn’t quite gone far enough. Because my very first thought upon coming around from my anaesthetic was thus: ‘Omigod. They’ve removed my pants.’
Now, nobody’s immediate post-surgery thoughts are rational thoughts. That’s why you hear stories of folk screaming their surgeon’s name or directing an expletive-laden tirade at the poor nurse whose job it is to bring them round. But me? It must have been a minute or two until I actually spoke, while my confused brain tried to compute how I’d gone from being forced to wear paper pants one moment, then finding myself relieved of them the next. ‘How did they get them off?’ I thought. ‘Would they have pulled them down? Or chopped them off with scissors? Maybe that’s why they’re paper, so they can cut through them? Hang on, though – why would I need to wear them in the first place, if they were only going to take them off?’ And then, the horrible realisation: ‘Omigod. They saw my bush. Why didn’t I get a bikini wax yesterday as well as all the other stuff? Stupid stupid stupid!’ I thought back to the conversation I’d had with Tills immediately after she’d given birth to Bea, cursing myself for having learned nothing from it:
Me: ‘Tills! Mate! Well done! How was it?’
Tills: ‘Traumatic. The midwife sniggered at my Brazilian.’
Now obviously, I know that surgeons have better things to think about mid-procedure than state of their patient’s ladygarden, but I’m still unreasonably suspicious of what impression a medical team might glean about a patient from an unconscious state in which they’re unable to defend their pruning habits or shower-gel scent or funny tan lines. (And besides, that bloody horrible documentary on vets doing awful things to anaesthetised cats has done nothing to assuage my paranoia.) For the record, though, I’m also convinced that anyone present in the surgery room will think badly of me if I’m not wearing mascara, and that I’m lifted onto operating tables by teams of surgical assistants with the comment ‘eh up, lads, we’ve got a heavy one’.
But, as I say, nothing about post-op thoughts is rational (or pre-op thoughts, if this blog post is anything to go by), and so a nanosecond later I found myself greeting the nurse beside me with my very first recovery-room words:
‘Err. Why have I got a fat lip?’
‘You must have bitten it during surgery, dear.’
‘Oh. Right. Is it massive?’
‘No, no. Just a bit swollen. Are you in pain?’
‘What, in my lip?’
‘No, from your procedures.’
‘Oh,’ I said. And then, looking down to the flat part of chest that once flaunted my beautiful right tit (as though seeing it removed would confirm whether or not I indeed felt any pain), I replied simply, ‘Yes.’
Of course I was in pain. Not just the pain of having had three vital ladybits surgically removed mere moments beforehand, but the painful sadness of realising for the first time that those terribly important parts of me had gone forever.
But then, as quick as I’d flitted from worrying about my careless pruning to having a bottom lip like Bubba, my mind switched to another thought: relief. Instant, grateful, appreciative relief. Because, as terribly, terribly sad as it was to wake up to find the essence of my womanhood removed, I knew immediately that it was unquestionably the right thing to do.
So yeah, my carefully arranged pre-surgery preening had failed miserably; my hopes of returning from my operation fresh faced, gorgeously groomed and cutely coiffured rather dastardly usurped by a fat lip, an oxygen mask, a crumpled hospital gown, five new scars and a nether region crying out for a pair of paper pants. But as important as all that stuff seemed before my cancer-preventing surgery, it was now wearing off as fast as the anaesthetic. Because, let’s be honest, waking up to the knowledge that I’m now at significantly less risk of a Bullshit recurrence is infinitely more attractive than even the most manicured ladygarden.