Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's gone... and I don't miss it.

Today’s the day I’ve been waiting for for months… actually years. When they put this thingin my chest back in October 2005they said it would probably be removed 2 or 3 months after the end of treatment. It’s three years later and they’re finally removing it.

I had my special shower last night with the special red liquid soap (Betadine) and again this morning. I get out of the shower smelling like a hospital and the shower itself smells like an operating room for a couple of hours. I had a normal breakfast as instructed and puttered around the house for an hour killing time. I took the taxi to the clinic, went through the front doors and it hit me.

I hadn’t been back to the Clinique Hartmann since the end of my treatment. There was never a good reason I could come up with for returning. Now I had a good reason to be there and I didn’t want to go in. I had to go down to the chemotherapy department to fill out my file. As soon as I hit that down-sloping ramp (to allow wheelchairs and stretchers down) to chemo I started feeling nauseous. The smell of the chemo chemicals hit me and the atmosphere was like a stab to my chest. I was actually feeling sick and wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of there. I looked at all the other patients in the waiting room. I tried to remember what it was like. I had, and have, completely forgotten the experience. I didn’t want to remember. I didn’t want to realise that three years ago I was one of them: sitting in that uncomfortable chair waiting for my name to be called so they could do to me whatever they wanted. I, like almost everyone else there, would let them do anything and everything it took to get the cancer out of my body. I was in “fight mode” and “survivor mode” focused on one and only one thing in my life. Now it seemed like it had seemed before I had cancer: the sort of thing that happens to someone else.

I luckily was out of there pretty quickly and on my way to the 4th floor for the pre-op preparations. I know the routine: take all your clothes off, put on the ridiculous blue gown which never closes properly, add a silly looking white shower cap and to complete the clownish images add a couple of paper slippers on your bare feet. As we’re in December this time they threw in a blanket which I got to wrap around my shoulders in back which, in addition to providing a bit of warmth, provided a bit of cover as I knew I was going to be paraded through the waiting room and a few hallways before hitting the operating room on the fifth floor. While waiting in the wheelchair and on the stretcher I had a lot of time by myself to think. I had almost completely forgotten all that I had been through and it was coming back in memory flashes like someone suffering from post traumatic stress nightmares. I talked about it with Desney much later and explained that I thought it was like childbirth. You forget what it was like because you need to. You need to forget in order to move forward. I imagine that if women really remembered every detail of childbirth there would a lot of families out there with only one child. I had wiped out practically all of the memories of treatment, fears and side effects in order to move on to the next phase of my life. I needed to forget in order to imagine life after cancer and forget life with cancer. If I couldn’t completely envision life after cancer then I could not make it real. Now that I feel as though I am actually living life after cancer I can safely remember. I actually went through quite a lot. Looking around at all the others in the waiting rooms hurt. I know all too well what they are going through and what they are going to go through. It sucks. Many, unfortunately most, of them are probably not going to be as lucky as I am. Although looking around made me remember what it was like I feel good that it felt completely foreign to me. This was no longer part of my life. It was part of my past. But lying there and looking up at the ceilings I kept trying to tell myself that I have got to start appreciating what I’ve got and not taking it all for granted as I did before cancer and as I certainly have been doing recently. Easier said (to myself) than done.

I was finally wheeled in to the operating room and I had a pretty good idea what I was in for. The bright white lights above me, the surgical tools all around me and the nurse with the mask across her face. This wasn’t going to be like removing a splinter from my foot with a pair of tweezers. I started trying to remember everything I had ever learned about sophrological breathing. Not that it helped any. But it was at least something to work towards. The surgeon was actually quite a nice guy. He joked around a bit with the nurse as they debated whether or not to shave my chest around the area. He felt it would be easier for removing the bandages afterwards. She felt he was doing it because he was jealous as I have some hair on my chest and he, apparently, doesn’t have any. Luckily I had a nurse who likes a bit of hair on her men’s chest and they didn’t shave me. They bantered amongst each other, as they swabbed the area around where they were going to cut, about men who have themselves completely shaved and waxed and such these days. Definitely not the nurse’s type of man. I liked her more and more. The doctor said he was going to do all that he could to make this hurt as little as possible. I started to like him as well. But, as he said, there is no easy way to get the local anaesthesia in to the body. The injection of the anaesthesia itself is “uncomfortable”. I learned, already many years ago, that the French medical profession’s use of the word “uncomfortable” is such an incredible understatement that it would be like referring to a heart attack as a hiccough. As he kept talking I wanted to yell, scream and strangle him. Instead I just lay there looking away with tears swelling in my eyes. Then it was over. He had actually used the stuff correctly throughout to such an extent that when he did something to me and asked if I felt it I could honestly reply “Non”. He said that no matter what I should let me let him know if anything hurt at all during the whole procedure. I was in love with this man. He said he was going to open the same original scar so as not to create a second one and to make things easier. He had already cut it open and I didn’t feel anything. He then started working on the “chamber” part of the thing to be removed. He was having difficulty getting it to leave my body as my body had firmly attached itself to it. He asked how long it had been in there. At this point I didn’t think what I thought later: didn’t he look at my file before starting to open me? Wasn’t this sort of thing mentioned somewhere on all those sheets of paper. I said “il y a 3 ans” (3 years ago). He was surprised. He said it’s rare that they are left in so long as it’s usually a matter of months. My immediate reflex was to sit upright, look him straight in the eye and say “Yeah. I know. Right?” Instead I just lay there as he and the nurse worked on getting the thing out of me. It took much longer than he thought it would. The nurse said it was obviously quite happy in my chest. I mentioned that the feeling was not mutual and she giggled. I wanted to take the 2 of them out for drinks and hug them close. Just to add a bit of suspense to what is obviously a very routine procedure to them the doctor mentioned that with a chamber that’s been in so long he had to be careful to get the tube out with the chamber. Sometimes the chamber comes off leaving the tube still in my chest. Then they would have to knock me out, open me up completely and go find the tube which goes right to my heart. I shuttered at the thought. The thought passed as he grabbed the tube at the same time and said everything was fine. Next thing I knew he was talking about stitches as he started his sewing. He had to redo one of the stitches as he had pulled on one of my chest hairs instead of the thread at one point. A few stitches later he pasted on the bandage explaining what would happen afterwards and he was saying his goodbyes. I thanked him over and over again. “Merci” just seems such an insignificant term in situations like this. The nurse started cleaning me up and then I was jumping in to the wheelchair and on my way out. I thanked the nurse over and over again while being wheeled out.
I got downstairs where I was allowed to redress myself. No medication this time. No surprise injections in the stomach, or anywhere else for that matter, this time. When they said I could go home on my own I was overjoyed.

I got back to the reception, an area I still know so well, and called a cab. I got home relatively easily and put myself to bed. I slept for about 3 or 4 hours later and got up to see how I was feeling. I wasn’t doing bad. I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening laying on the couch, propped up on one side, watching television with Alexandra. I can’t possibly imagine how she could be watching this movie (Bratz) for a third time. But I was still pretty groggy so it didn’t really matter.

I was able to eat dinner without any problems and I was actually hungry. I rented a relatively silly tax-shelter movie (Flight of the Phoenix) on the Apple TV and then off to bed.

The bandages are pretty cool as I can shower with them and I can take them off myself in 8 days. My calculations put Christmas Day as the day I take the bandages off. The stitches are self-dissolving and should disappear by themselves. He said if there are any left after 2 weeks I can pull them out myself with a tweezer.
My whole upper right side is sore and hurts. But I just keep saying to myself this I nothing in comparison to what I’ve been through and pain is relative. This ain’t even a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. I keep telling myself: “I’ve been through chemo. I know what 10 feels like”.

For once a medical procedure was actually easier and less painful than I had expected. If only they could all be like this!

I will soon be getting used to the fact that I no longer have anything implanted in my chest. Yet another lingering factor of cancer has been removed. Time for me to move on and live my life without cancer. I will probably forget all over again. But it’s wonderful that I can forget!

PS: It's my mom's 69th birthday today. How many men my age have a mom who's got a video on You Tube? Check it out. She makes me proud every day.

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