Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Istanbul and Surgery: no "dear"s please

As I lay under my comfy duvet and hand made batik quilt in what I call my "chemo nest," I am contemplating whether I will get out even for a short walk today.

I had chemo #2 late yesterday afternoon and though I had tried hard not to anticipate another rough night, my best description is that it was weird. But before talking about chemotherapy I want to describe the events following the "waiting and mind games."

Sept. 3 I flew home from Turkey with our neighbours Cathy and Doug who had been sailing with us and who spent two days with me in Istanbul before our flights. Istanbul is probably my favourite city after Vancouver and I always feel at home there, especially when staying at the Empress Zoe Hotel, owned by an expat American named Ann. We first stayed there in 1996 and I have rarely missed a year since. They treat me like family with many hugs and kisses and it is a haven in the middle of the Old City, so within walking distance of most of the ancient sites. Cathy had her first Turkish bath with me in the cavernous Cemberlitas Baths, built in the 15th century. It is now touristy but nevertheless invokes what community bathing would have been like way back then. Cathy noticed a woman with two lovely young daughters bathing together. The mom had had bilateral mastectomies with no reconstruction yet was totally comfortable naked with her girls. How positive is that?

We spent time with an old friend in the Arasta Bazaar, Hasan. Hasan's wife Sariye had given him two scarves for me, knowing about my upcoming surgery. I honestly did not know that I would lose my hair, still thinking that I was going to have a lumpectomy and radiation, but I was so touched by her kind gesture, especially since she had done the hand embroidery on one of the scarves herself for her dowry 25 years before! She could not have been older than 9 or 10 then but the work is exquisite. The other beautiful scarf came from her sister-in-law. Hasan and Sariye tried for many years to have babies and now have 2 delightful young daughters. I am a quilter and for each baby, Sinem and Savaal, I made a quilt. Western quilt making is not common in Turkey and hand embroidering scarves is not common here, so our sharing has been special.

I came home to Vancouver with 3 days to go before surgery. Cathy and I were both jet lagged but not enough to put off visiting a farmers' market the next day. I had hoped that pickling cukes would be out of stock so I would have an excuse not to make dill pickles, but sadly they were available. Wednesday, 20 quarts of dill pickles later, I did some yoga and a walk.  Another old friend John calls me the "energizer bunny" and though I am not sure this is a compliment, I do tend to do a lot. But dill pickles are a family favourite and for me this is important too.

Since my husband Dick was still in Bodrum putting our catamaran away for the winter, I had asked my friend Liz to accompany me Friday. We met Liz and Doug nearly 28 years ago at prenatal classes. We were by several years, the oldest couples but the other younger couples seemed so serious  that they led us to gravitate to Liz and Doug. I think that in group situations there are often reasons people do gravitate to one another but for us this meeting is still considered a bonus. Today is their daughter Katie's 27th birthday (yes, Halloween) and Nov. 16 is our daughter Mary's birthday. In 2010, several of us celebrated Katie's birthday part way through the Annapurna Base Camp trek, so clearly our families go back a long way. Some day I will digress further about how blessed I am with such amazing friends!

So Liz picked me up in the dark Sept. 7 to head to St. Paul's Hospital for a radioactive dye injection right beside my right nipple. I had read about horror stories and even called the nuclear med dept. earlier in the week. The technician was amazing and no pain beyond a tiny prick and I could not help bt say "no pain, no gain." She quickly came back with, "I can do it again." We started our journey that day with a good laugh. Then it was off across Vancouver to Mt. St. Joseph Hospital, chronicled in an earlier post. We crossed the Cambie St. Bridge as the sun came up on a beautiful Vancouver, surely a harbinger for a successful surgery.

My breast surgeon came to my pre op stretcher with a kind of geiger counter device to trace the radioactivity, making sure that the dye had done its job. Once in the OR, the usual process started. Back a zillion years ago when I was a nurse, I had taken an OR nursing course so it was old hat. The first nurse to greet me made the mistake of calling me "dear." Why do some medical staff do that? I said clearly, "no dears please," and said no more. I wonder if they discussed "dear" once I was anesthetized!

Recovery I remember well, even coming in and out of consciousness. I was bouncing off the stretcher with shivers and the nurse hooked up a machine which blew heat into the bedding. Nice! But I clearly was not breathing deeply enough and that nice nurse became an irritation as she kept waking me up telling me to "blow out candles." A woman next to me got into even more trouble and her nurse actually shouted at her. I did my candle blowing, interspersed with deep sleep and then got to move back to the first room for discharge. Liz arrived and we waited for the surgeon. Briefly she gave us what news she had; a second lump 1cm from the first and several "pearly" looking nodes. Not good news. But we would have to wait for pathology, which in BC can mean waiting a long time. Each patient has an assigned patholgist and if he/she is sick, goes away, whatever, the pathological examinations wait. My follow up appt. with her was Sept. 24 and she hoped the report would be there by then.

Liz took me home and Katie, now a nurse, came and checked on me later.

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