Wednesday 22 September 2010

How to look good unconscious.

Despite assuming that I've thought about everything it's possible to think about before a spell in hospital (tooling up with a load of new iPad apps, giving P a list of mates to text once I’m out of surgery, training myself not to be too sweary when I come around from the anaesthetic), the one thing I always forget about is the necessity to wear paper pants.

‘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.


GrĂ¡inne said...

For what it's worth:
It's usually an underling who gets to do the painting on of the disinfectant solution and draping of sheets. From personal experience, the main concern is not being too messy with it so that the nurses don't give out that you've spilt stuff all over the floor, and trying to get the drapes just right-perfectly positioned and straight. There isn't enough time to notice waxing. I'm sure they thought your pedicure was lovely though!

marsha said...

Once again, you wrote a post that made me laugh and then cry. You are totally bloody amazing. Well done! xxxx

ps my word verification was



Christina said...

At least you have smooth legs and preety nails...that has to count for something right? Hope you are feeling okay, *hugs*

alhi said...

Glad you're feeling well enough to post. And it was the right thing to do.

Although, I was more prepared than you for my hip op: I had my brazilian wax! I wasn't allowed nail polish. Unfortunately, I still woke up thinking oh my God what did they think of me!

Keep posting when you're well enough.

swisslet said...

Look on the brightside: as a lady, you're missing a few pieces of undercarriage that make those paper pants even less attractive..... I don't know if they only come in one size or what, but I found them NOT BIG ENOUGH, if you know what I mean. Most uncomfortable.

Glad you're okay, kiddo.

Anonymous said...

You, my darling maclet, are the only woman in the world who I would forgive for posting that.
And for the record readers, I saw her pretty soon after, and she was looking super-cute. All posh PJs and shiny lip balm. TilsXXXXXXX

bonnie said...

You have captured post operative strangenesses brilliantly ...I came round after my oopherectomy demanding my ovaries be put in a jar so I could be buried with them, freaking out my nice nurse in the recovery suite!!

...Wishing a speedy recovery XXX

lilianavonk said...

The essence of your womanhood hasn't been removed. That's only the physical manifestation of one element of your femininity. (Easy for me to say, I know, sitting here with both original-issue 34DD's still intact, though being a DES baby, it's anyone's guess what shape my ovaries truly are in.)

The essence of who you are is here, in these words on this page. It's in the flowers your in-laws sent you. It's in the myriad snarky tweets you've both sent and received in this post-op period. It's in the fact that my sister just found out a good friend has an aggressive form of cancer that is now being treated with equally aggressive chemo, and the fact that she told him about your book and how much she appreciates having some insight into what he's going through now.

The essence of who you are is thus not contained in your ladybits, not nearly so much as the good you do in the world...which is considerable.

{{massive non-ouchy hugs}}

billy said...

Hi Gorgeous, so pleased to hear you are recovering. Rest up and don't wait too long to post.

Anonymous said...

Delighted you felt up to posting on the first day I really felt I need it. Have gone in 10 days from interested-medical-student-reading-patient-experience to grade 1 glioma it's wonderful to read a post that can make me laugh out loud. In my first bed bath I was asked (fter a week in the ICU) have you ever shaved or are you always "all natural?" - oh the shame!!goodnesss knows what theatre comments were made about my ladygarden during theatre biopsy. I think -'ll block that out!
Feel better and keep up the good ork.£

Val Grainger said...

Having also been in having breast cancer surgery on Monday....complete with the offer of paper pants...which I refused, having had a wobbly on the way to the hospital coz I hadn't done my nails and being more concerned that someone somewhere had saved me some dinner when in the recovery room!that I read your post with tears of laughter! xx

MBNAD woman said...

Glad you've survived with the essence of you intact. Yes - sad (and what would I know about it) to lose those bits but you're no less a woman now than you were before.
When I was eighteen I was rushed to hospital with appendicitis. Just before theatre, a nurse appeared with all the shaving gear. Shocked? You bet. All the way to theatre, I wondered how they were planning to remove the nasty little appendix. When I came round I had a neat scar just south of my right hip. Still don't know if the shaving was some kind of a joke.
Mad x

Anonymous said...

ANOTHER post that made we laugh out loud (the phrase 'ladygarden' still makes me giggle at 32!) and then cry. Brilliant writing. Lots of love & a speedy recovery xxx

Fen said...

Having just had surgery myself I know the feeling of wanting to look reasonable for the surgeons! But now you mention it, I have NO idea if I even wore underpants! I definitely wasn't given scratchy ones!

Best wishes for your recovery xo

Anonymous said...

I'm going in for my resonstruction surgery a week on Monday and have just booked myself in for a brazilian. Its ironic that my surgeon is not actually planning on going anywhere near that area but I still feel the need to have a wax. I think my thought pattern was that you just never know where they may look when you are out for the count under general!

Anonymous said...

Been wondering how the surgery went and I am now prepared for my reconstruction - I will pay lots of attention to the state of my lady bits! Thank you for making smile again after a shitty weekend where someone 'shared' a story of a friend who got secondary after their 5yr all clear and 'lasted' 18 more months, 6 of them in a morphine-induced, unable-to-speak-coherently state, until finally the "merciful release" came..! Why do people feel the need to tell me these things I wonder?! Glad you are your usual fantastic self xx

Paula said...

Think of me! Going in for further surgery next month - and I work at my hospital! My consultants find it amusing ... prob more than me!! P xox