I See Angels In The Operating Theatre

25 June 2010

I wake up at 5.45am. This is the day. I should be nervous, but feel oddly peaceful.

By the time I get downstairs — with my pillow in an X-ray bag — my kids are all awake. Mom-in-law has brought Big B to school, in fact. Little B is rolling around in bed (I steal a kiss) and Middle B is trying to be brave.

“Do you really need to stay in hospital for one week?” she whispers, fighting back tears.

“Yes if I have to go for the long operation,” I reply. “The long operation” is the one where I have a mastectomy. “The short operation” is the one where a lumpectomy suffices.

“I can come and see you right? Tonight? After your operation?”

“Yes sweetie.” We hug each other tight, her tears seeping through my T-shirt.

Since my chat with Jen, I’ve been praying for that peace that she enjoyed. I think the phrase “Seek peace and pursue it” is a most wise piece of advice. I prayed last night I would see angels, that Jesus would make Himself felt, that I would not feel afraid nor alone going into that freezing OT (it’s always freezing).

We arrive at 6.45am and the sky’s just beginning to brighten. Check-in takes 30 minutes — the lounge is filled with sleepy to-be patients watching World Cup replays with glassy eyes.

“Sorry for the delay, ma’am,” the smiley Malay bellman apologises as he helps us with the bag. “Full house today.”

“Full house” means I have a very low chance of getting a single room, which means I might have to listen to someone else groaning through the night. It also means Mr Threez couldn’t stay overnight with me. Now that is a bummer.

We roll into my room at Ward 9 East. My neighbour is a sprightly 60something who is cheerily watching TV and eating. She’s had her operation already and appears to be recovering well.

I load up my bedside drawers with my toiletries, Bible, journal, books, fluffy Ritz Carlton slippers, my iPod and Beth’s card for me. Laptop and clothes go into the wardrobe.

The nurse comes in and gets me to change into the blue dressing gown. “I’m having my period,” I grimace, and so does she. “Don’t worry,” she says, catching herself. “We’ll put the sheet under you. And we’ll clean you up. Don’t worry.”

For the next few hours, Mr Threez and I stare at the dark clouds gathering outside the window, and the rain start to pelt down like licks from a giant dog, turning swiftly into torrents. This day would measure the second greatest amount of rainfall for the year.

At 9am, Dr Andrew Khoo comes in to “mark me”. He’s got two nurses with him, a dark blue magic marker and a coil of measuring tape.

“Look at that rain!” he remarks. “In this kind of weather, park at the top of the hill.” We laugh.

I stand naked with my dressing gown poorly tied around my lower hips as he draws lines down the centre of my body, under the curves of my breasts (I guess to make sure they end up on the same level), and then a line from hip to hip.

“Don’t move,” he says firmly to the nurse who is holding the measuring tape. He draws. Then he stops and glares at her.

“You moved. It’s crooked.”

It occurs to me that now might be a good time to tell him I have scoliosis and my hips are really not level.

“Um, Dr Khoo, I have scoliosis. My right hip is higher than my left.” I smile my best Wallace & Gromit smile by way of apology for not telling him earlier.

He pauses and looks at me, like someone let the air out of him. Then he says “Oh, you poor thing. Okay, I got it.” He redraws the line, then says to the nurse, “Okay, you didn’t move.”

I stifle a grin.

Dr Khoo flashes me a smile and says he will see me later. I guess it can’t be easy for him either, operating on women like me who are forced to have reconstruction and are emotionally affected by the surgery, instead of women who look forward to his hands transforming them in to a thinner/more buxom/younger-looking new person.

But in a big way, I am happy he is available to carry out the reconstruction. When my mother had cancer 21 years ago she didn’t have that option. Her doctor would only encourage reconstruction a year after her mastectomy. She didn’t get to “wake up with two” like I would.

And if I did go through the whole mastectomy and recon thing, I would be losing my mummy tummy, which in theory should make me yummy.

Two nurses come in, having been sent by Dr Khoo to “clean shave” me. This is necessary because I’m having my tummy tucked and hair could cause infections.

Man, I hate this part! They take some kind of 2-cent disposable shaver and scrape off all your muff hair. Plus my shavers are two (lovely but absolutely-never-done-this) nurses who exchange glances, doing an eyeball lom-chiam-pass to ascertain who is going to have to shave me.

One of them finally drops her gaze and determinedly snaps on her gloves. She proceeds to try shaving – upwards.

Oh for Pete’s sake.

“Um, you need to get some powder,” I say, gently but very firmly. The one that won the eyeball-toss rushes out to find a bottle of powder, returning with a brand new Johnson’s Baby Powder, no doubt from the maternity ward.

They pour enough powder on my triangle to make a snowglobe, and then she starts to shave—”downward!”. Once she gets the hang of it, she does a pretty neat job. I am hating this by the second, knowing that for the next three months while the hair grows out I’m going to feel like I have a hedgehog between my legs. A poor girl’s chastity belt.

After an eternity, the girls leave me in my bed, starting at the rain as I pray. There is a warmth emanating from my core. I know my many friends are praying hard for me this morning.

Have you ever felt Jesus just sitting beside you, His arm around you, like you’re His kid? That’s what I feel this morning. Just warm, happy (and a little itchy down there).

Mr Threez leans over and kisses me. Together, we pray, trusting my life into God’s hands. I don’t tell him, but I’m banking on seeing some angels today.

“Lord, please let me see some angels,” I pray. “I don’t get to come out of theatre with a baby this time, so at least let me see something wonderful.”

It’s 9.45am and they’ve come to wheel me to the OT. Mr Threez walks this Via Dolorosa along with me in my gurney. We’ve done this three times before, for each of our babies. It feels weird — maybe just wrong — going into OT without that same excited anticipation of meeting a beautiful bundle of life at the end of the ordeal.

We part as they push me through the swing doors and park me at the prep room. My cheery anaesthesist introduces herself — “Hi I’m Dr Tan,” and proceeds to chat with me about my allergies, family history and any other health issues I might have.

“I have scoliosis,” I blurt apologetically, as if to make up for not telling Dr Khoo earlier and causing him to draw double lines on my tummy.

“Oh, it’s true!” exclaims Dr Tan. “My professor used to say ‘All pretty girls have scoliosis.'”

She asks what I’m in for, and I explain that Dr Hoe’s going to try a lumpectomy, failing which, I’ll have a mastectomy followed by reconstruction.

Dr Tan’s eyes cloud with sympathy. She pats my hand. “Yes, a lumpectomy is better, huh? You’re so young.”

The nurses wheel me into the freezing OT. “This is the newest one – it’s freezing,” I hear somebody comment. Someone else inserts a tap into my left hand for a drip.

“Is Dr Hoe here yet? Late again ah?”

Dr Tan’s giving instructions on how much GA to give me.

I remember my prayer to God and open my eyes. There, on my right, are two watery blue angels with indescribably peaceful and loving faces.

“You sent them!” I smile to Jesus, my heart warm with peace. “You’re here!”

Dr Hoe comes in. “Hello Theresa! Sorry I’m late!”

I nod my acceptance of his apology. He discusses the procedure with Dr Tan, who wins me with her appeal to him to give me a lumpectomy as far as possible, and not a mastectomy.

“She’s so young…”

I am beginning to wonder when they’re going to put me to sleep when they finally slip a breathing mask over my nose and mouth.

“Breathe, Theresa.”

I count in my head: one, one thousand, two, one thousand… funny I’m still awake.

“Keep breathing Theresa, breathe deep.”

Three one thousand… and I’m out.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Melinda Lim
    Aug 11, 2010 @ 13:05:47

    Threez, you are so inspirational – and you write so beautifully. So glad you are recovering well. Hope to see u soon. And if you need help at SAJS with Bruce/homework etc, you know where to find me. Mel


  2. Trackback: Thankful :) | The Fatty Rie

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