Surgery day – Part 1 February 13, 2014Posted by Judy in Musings.
Tags: breast cancer, healthcare, mammogram, surgery
My day started out at 5:10 when my alarm went off and I dragged myself to the shower, an important step that I couldn’t miss given that I wouldn’t be able to shower for 48 hours. Hubs and I bundled up and headed into the very cold, -10 degree morning. We walked into the one-day surgery center at 6am and I was quite surprised to see a full waiting room. Apparently one day surgery is a hoppin’ place! They took DH’s cell number just in case they needed to get a hold of him, and then gave him a number that corresponded to my case. They had this big computer monitor in the corner, kinda like what you see in an airport, listing all of the different case numbers which were color-coded with where they were in the surgery process (surgery prep, surgery, recovery, etc.)
At about 6:30 I was called back to get vitals taken and to change into my lovely hospital gown. Those things are horrid and fit no-one! I eventually had to tie a double knot because the crazy gown kept coming undone. They gave me a flu shot and placed a hep lock in my arm, then they let DH come on back. We then experienced the first communication breakdown. The nurse said that the people from the Mills Breast Center would be coming to get me for the wire placement at around 7:30. That time came and went, and no-one showed up. Come to find out, the one day surgery people were supposed to take me over. Whoops! Then to top it all off, the transporter didn’t really know where she was supposed to take me. Maybe I was their first breast surgery patient ever. Or, maybe they were just having an off day. In any case, we eventually made it over to the breast center. DH was going to go home to eat breakfast, but he decided to hang out and get a snack at the coffee shop instead.
In the meantime, I was taken back to one of the mammogram rooms. Initally, I was under the impression that the radiologist would be placing the wires using ultrasound guidance. I was wrong. They would be using mammography to guide them. It was definitely one of the strangest things I’ve experienced. I recognized the nurse from one of the previous mammograms and she informed me that Dr. X would be placing the wires. My heart immediately sank as this was the original radiologist that had been so cold and robotic when this whole “you have a mass” process started. I was pleasantly surprised when she came in, though. She was like a totally different person, great to work with, kind and compassionate. She even patted me on the arm firmly as she was leaving and said in the sincerest of manners, “Best of luck to you.” In retrospect, I’m glad it was her doing the procedure and not the other radiologist, who was a male. While I’m sure he would have been just fine,me and my cancerous boob were placed in such strange positions, it just would have been awkward to have a male doing the procedure.
So back to the procedure. I was seated in a tall, padded, wheeled chair. They wheeled me up to the mammogram machine and squished me in there. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the diagnostic mammo, but it was still awkward. They have to be able to get enough of the breast into the machine to see what they are doing, but they can’t have any of the chest muscles in the way. In addition, your arms and head have to be out of the way too, so sometimes I was in a completely unnatural and uncomfortable position. Once they found the proper squishage and took a few pictures, they then located the wire clips that had been placed during the biopsy in December. The next task was to find the exact place where the wires would be inserted. I’m just guessing at the specifics of this next part since I couldn’t really move to see what they were doing. They had a grid that was placed over the breast to help them pinpoint the location. The doctor would call out, “Okay, place it at C-12.” The nurse would then move what she called the “crosshairs” to that location. I’m guessing maybe there was a laser light or something that then showed the radiologist where to insert the needle. Again, this is strictly a guess. Anyway, so she inserted two needles, they took another picture, then I was released. Yes, I was in a squished and awkward position while the needles were being inserted. I’m telling you, it was very weird!
The mammogram machine was rotated and they set it up to take a pic from another angle. More awkward squishage ensued. At this point, they inserted the wires. One was about 5cm long and the other was 9cm long, the latter went into the tumor at 3 o’clock position since it was further away from the surface of the skin. The wires were very skinny and quite floppy, not stiff at all. I didn’t feel anything while they were being inserted (the radiologist gave me a numbing injection), but afterwards, while I was waiting for the surgery, I did have pain from one of the wires. It was like I could feel it just under the skin. I didn’t want to move it, though, for fear of messing up the careful placement.
Once the wires were placed, they wheeled me away from the machine and laid the chair back to give me the injections for the radioactive tracer that would be used in the sentinel node biopsy. (Quick refresher: the tracer is injected just behind the areolar area and it then gets sucked up by the lymph system. During surgery, they use a geiger counter to find the lymph node/s that are the most radioactive.) Generally, they numb the skin with lidocaine. Lidocaine makes my throat swell up, so I couldn’t have any numbing. The surgeon initally said that maybe he would just skip the radioactive and use only the blue dye. I assured him that after having four natural childbirths, I could probably handle a few injections. Also, my BFF who’d had this procedure done back in December had it done without numbing and said it hurt, but only for like 30 seconds, so I felt pretty confident that I could manage. Still, I asked for a squeeze ball, just in case. The injections turned out to be no big deal at all. I didn’t even feel the fourth shot! Honestly, having the hep lock inserted was much more painful. Another nurse who was training was present during the procedure. As I was leaving she said, “Now I’m going to think that all patients should be as calm and as easy as you!” Ha! I guess I was a good patient=)
So that whole process took a little over an hour. They wheeled me back to the one day surgery area at about 9:30, and I thought DH would be coming back in a few minutes. An hour later, when he still hadn’t shown up, I hailed the nurse and asked if I could use a phone, “I have no idea where my husband is.” And here is communication breakdown number two: he was in the waiting room and had been the whole time. They were supposed to notify him when I returned from the Mills Center. Clearly, that hadn’t happened. Alas! All’s well that ends well, though. He came on back, we chit-chatted, he took a nap, I played on FB and we both were VERY bored for the next hour and a half, just waiting. waiting. waiting.
Stay tuned for the second half of surgery day!