Lisbeth (AKA: my left breast) underwent surgery for the removal of two papillomas and one carcinoma on August 31st. Salander, the right twin, showed no signs of the disease.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, I chose to name the twins “Lisbeth” and “Salander” due to my belief that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was best suited to annihilate breast cancer.
Following surgery, Lisbeth—reduced from a C cup to a B minus—bore three incisions, the longest about four inches, something I didn’t learn until the bandages came off a week later.
Technically speaking, however, the twins were no longer twins.
But I’m not here to write about the operation (I was blissfully asleep, for starters), or even the aftermath (will get to that in a later blog); I’m here to detail what happened several hours prior to surgery.
I should have suspected something when a radiologist at the Vasek & Anna Maria Polak Breast Center asked, “Ranging from 1 to 10, what is your highest threshold of pain?”
“Uh, 3?” I was hoping the lower register might temper whatever torture they had in mind.
I’d been told to report to the breast center three and a half hours before my 10:45 surgery at Torrance Memorial Hospital. The reason? To mark the locations where incisions would be made and to test for possible lymph node involvement.
Little did I dream that would be the worst part of my day.
What I now know is that a surgeon can’t just cut you open by looking at an X-ray or a picture or diagram. He (my surgeon is male) needed to know the precise entry point and how deep to drive the scalpel.
To designate the trajectory, a wire (think coat hanger wire) would be implanted in Lisbeth and remain poking out of her until I was wheeled into the operating room.
Since I had three compromised areas, it meant three coat hangers.
Before performing the coat hanger assault, they have the gall to clamp you in the jaws of a mammogram machine.
Despite a local anesthetic, I was not a happy camper. Hey, the injections hurt, especially since Lisbeth was black and blue from three recent biopsies and looking like she’d gone ten rounds with Mohammed Ali in his heyday.
Imprisoned in a mammogram, half naked, ravenous (I hadn’t eaten since 8 the previous evening), I was freezing to death in a room so cold that—had an inch of water covered the floor—we could have ice skated.
When the first wire was injected, following a couple of stinging locals, the doctor told me not to move. (Where did she think I was going? Out to lunch?) After disappearing to snap an image, the MD checked her artisty out on the viewing screen.
Since the wire evidently wasn’t deep enough, or pointing in the right direction, she returned to maneuver the stubborn coat hanger, push it and pull it. Then she waltzed back to take another picture and study at the image—at length.
This happened three times in three different areas. Each time Lisbeth was released from the mammogram, repositioned, and gripped to near death in the vice, the bee sting locals repeated, another wire jettisoned in place …
It wasn’t so much that it hurt, more that the tugs and pushes, the icy room, the waiting, the vice-like grip, the light-headedness (I thought I was going to faint at one point), the injections, the spurt of tears and bout of nausea resembled something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
And they hadn’t even cut anything out yet!
I was no more than released from the final mammogram (I had been held without bail for over an hour) than I was given two more injections right smack through, well, uh, Lisbeth’s pointer. Yikes!
The “sting,” as the doctor so ineptly put it, proved much worse than that of the locals, radioactive dye spreading throughout Lisbeth like a scalding wave, prompting me to want lower my pain threshold from a 3 to a 1. (As if anyone cared.)
Since the radioactive material would help determine if the nodes had been compromised, I had to grimace and bear it. (I wouldn’t find out the results of the pathology report until I saw my surgeon ten days later.)
By the time I got to the hospital (a van transported me, wires and all, for the 60-second trip), I couldn’t wait for the aesthetician and peaceful oblivion. Of course, that didn’t happen for another hour. Dressed in a backless, couture hospital gown, I was ensconced on a cot in a pre-op room with about 20 other patients, the only blessing that of a weird, plastic, blow-up blanket filled with hot air.
I was asked my name, my birthday, and which twin (left or right) was to be operated on. (After people have asked the same questions a zillion times, you begin to question their abilities in surgical matters.)
A nurse took my blood pressure. My surgeon stopped by for a chat, so did the aesthetician, both wearing benevolent smiles, just in case they were the last things I was to see in my lifetime.
Eventually, the nurse started an IV and I was wheeled down a maze of corridors (about three miles, it seemed) and into surgery. During the trip, trying to salvage a semblance of wit, I said to the fellow transporting me, “I feel like I’m in a scene from Grey’s Anatomy.”
“Yeah, it is cold in here,” he said.
Had I already begun to hallucinate?
The next thing I recall is a brightly-lit room and a couple of masked men looming over me. From there on, it was lights out.