June 8th, 2011 – part 1

“How terrible was everybody else’s sleep?” Maggie asked coming to sit down, in the front lobby of WCH, where she met us.

“Meh, I had 2 hours but I’m going to be sleeping all day today, anyhow,” I answer.  Cory, I had a feeling, slept a little better than both Mom and I.  Mom insisted we leave my apartment early, even though it only takes 5 minutes for us to drive to the hospital from where I live.  We had gone up to Surgical Admission but the doors were still locked at 6:15am.  I was less anxious than I thought I would be.  I mean, I was in the hospital, it was pretty much set in stone. I would have the partial mastectomy today but I would be open to Dr. C rushing up to me and announcing it was all some silly clerical error with my medical charts and I was free to go home.

We tried the Surgical Admission office once again and arrived just as a staffer was approaching down the hallway to open the doors.  I approach the front desk and the woman asks for my health card.  Yep, I’m the first one up as she takes my first chart off a shelf, grab a seat. We all sit together in a row of four at the back wall facing the hallway to the surgery suites.  Maggie asks, if I want her to take my purse.  Sure, but here is my little black note book, where everyone I bring with me to appointments, jots down info I when I am too numb to do it myself.  Check out the drawings Dawn made of the summer work dress she wants to purchase. Maggie pulls out some breast cancer pamphlets I’ve been given by nurses throughout this whole journey.  She scans the rehabilitation pamphlet and quickly points out,

“Oooh look, it says, under the not-to-do for 6 weeks list “avoid strenuous, repetitive movements (e.g. vacuuming)!”  Well, well, well, this breast cancer business is finally showing a bonus to be had. I chuckled a bit with Mag, I said I would post a status on facebook asking if anyone would come vacuum for me. My mom did not seem amused as we were. Luckily, I had washed the floors the night before, it should last me a little while. We read about the diet I should be having after surgery, I mention the pre-surgical admin nurse told me it should be bland, toast, soup crackers, bland plain food. Maggie told me it’s called the BRAT diet.  Cory seemed oblivious to the term. It stands for bread, rice, apple, toast, and Maggie reassured Cory, he would get to know it quite well, in the next few years, with the arrival of his new son.

Around 7:00am we are joined by, my sister Janey, who came in from staying at her friend in Brooklin, Ontario. I have loosely arranged, through Cory, for my cousin Soonying to come by, after I am admitted into the operating room, to take my family out for lunch. I know my mother might have wanted to stay throughout the whole time in the waiting room, but I knew there really wasn’t any point.

A man in purple scrubs came out and called out for “Mark?” I looked over. Is he calling me or some guy, “Mark?”

“Is there a first name to the Mark you are calling?”  I ask. Purple scrub guy looks at the chart, “Mark Norine?”

“It’s Norine Mark,” I tell him.  He checks the file, once more to make sure he’s calling for a woman and not a man. Of course, I secretly wished he was calling a dude.

“That’s never happened to me, ” he tells me.  I think to myself, I almost didn’t get accepted into my university program because of this name mix up, happens all the time. He asks me to follow him to the nurses station, Maggie gets up to come with me, I ask him if she’s allowed to come, he said I was coming right back to the waiting area after I change into a hospital gown.  I turn around to my awaiting family and tell them I will be right back.

I’m given a hospital gown, an overcoat, and hospital booties to go over the socks I brought with me to keep my feet warm in the cold operating room.  A nurse comes over and asks me all questions I’ve been asked by in pre-surgery admin with Nurse Jean.  And I stumble again on the when was the last day of your last period question (it’s important because some women become anemic during certain times in their cycle, don’t quote me on this, it’s what I think I recall). Allergies, Sulfa, I’m given a red warning bracelet for this along with the usual one I get with every visit to WCH, which identifies who I am by name, birth date, sex. I notice the nurse’s name, Magdolen, on her tag. I tell her it is a coincidence because my friend in the waiting room has the same name, Magdalen.  Magdolen, asks me the names of who I have waiting for me in the waiting room for the doctors to speak with.  I tell her my mother, Yau Fei, my brother, Cory, and my friend, Maggie.

I return to the waiting area and rejoin my group. They looked calm and I feel calm. It seemed odd I should have felt more anxious but I wasn’t.  I was feeling normal, like it was any other day. Was it because I had my family and good friend there to support me? Was it because I really felt it was time to be rid of this cancer? Was it because I became braver after months mental anguish over having to do this? Maybe!

My name was called I stood up to follow purple scrub guy. He said I would be heading into pre-op.  I turned back went back to my family and Maggie.  We hugged and they said good luck and then I proceeded to the pre-op with purple scrub guy. We walked through this heavy door into an open area where everyone wore scrubs and surgical caps. I was seated in another waiting area without relatives or friends. My mind began to go numb.

I watched as the scrubs looked like they were just arriving for work. Everyone seemed to gather and huddle around in teams. Oddly, it looked like they were going to have a fun work day and they had a protocol for how their day would begin. Charts were checked, another patient was seated by the wall in my area. A scrub nurse in blue-grey, Catherine came over to introduce herself to me.  We went through the same series of questions I had done with Magdolen. The only difference, she asked me what I was getting done, even though it’s written on my chart and she knows, I have to tell her. A mastectomy, I tell her and my eyes start to water. Catherine asks me which breast, and I have to tell her because she will mark the corresponding shoulder with the initials of my breast surgeon, Dr. C. Catherine sympathizes, puts an arm around my shoulder, tells me the rest of the procedure, the anesthesiologist will come soon and offer me a “cocktail concoction” to enable me to get through this.  She runs off and fetches me a box of kleenex. The anesthesiologist comes over, I don’t remember her name, she’s in good spirits, asks me several other questions along with what I am allergic to – Sulfa. Catherine comes back over and gives me the box of scratchy tissue for me to blow my nose on.

She passes me off to Dr. B. who had been waiting 15 feet in front of me chatting with a petit asian woman who looked to be someone who would assist him. Dr. B. introduces me to his cheery but professional assistant, again I do not recall her name. Dr. B and his assistant take me out to an examination room in the hallway. He makes sure to lock the door behind him, almost like he read my mind, or my blog(?!) to avoid incident, with regard to the curtain at TEG. He asks me to hop onto table sitting facing him, he asks me to drop gown to my waist and sit up with straight posture and to stay still. He sits facing my breasts and with a magic marker he finds my center point between those two bones that jut out in the front of my collar bone.  He marks a “V” and below the point of the “V” he draws the cutting line, which I have seen on the opening sequence of Nip/Tuck. His assistant watching my chest, comments, “Ah, very nice.” on Dr. B. work. I slowly look down as he marks the curve under the crease of my breasts.  My brow furrows, my eyes water and I start to tremble. I try hard not to move for Dr. B as he makes precise lines across both breasts. His assistant sees my body shake and is no longer oblivious to me, as a person and she winces. It’s just one breast I remind Dr.B. he tells me, he knows, the lines are for symmetry and a guide for Dr. C which he will also need for his part. I cover my top part once again, I pick up the box of tissues I brought with me and his assistant takes my arm and offers to take me back to the waiting area.

The anesthesiologist comes up to me with a small cup of pills.  My cocktail which I chase with a Dixie cup of water. I sit back down in the waiting area. Dr. Cil greets me. She is up first in my operation! Catherine comes over again and asks me to follow her. She puts her arm around my shoulder as we walk towards the anesthesiologist in another room. They ask me to lie down on the stretcher.

“Oh, we’re going to start?  Could I please use the washroom?” I ask. Catherine turns me around back out the doors and through to the waiting area, we bump into Dr. C, and she smiles “Bathroom? Always happens right before.” We head out the security door and back into the waiting area where I started my day. The room is empty.  Catherine says something to the effect that it’s the only closest washroom.  I lock the bathroom door pee quickly and then lift my gown to examine Dr. B’s line drawings. He’s made circles around my nipples.  They are taking my nipple, I assume this is where they are cutting, and I almost cringe thinking they will cut below the crease, as it is the same type of line around the nipple.  Why wouldn’t he use the (—) cutting lines, like the one dividing my ribcage, around the nipple instead of full lines. I decide not to decipher what he was going to do and pull down my gown and unlock the door. Catherine was nowhere waiting for me.  No one was at the front desk. There were no relatives in the waiting area.  Ya know, if I wanted to, I could walk out! There was no one in the hallway.  I could just… fuck, they have my clothes, I only have hospital booties on my feet. And I go back to the pre-op, back to the stretcher where Catherine, the anesthesiologist, and her assistant are waiting for me.  They take my overcoat, I lie down, they place a pillow under my knees, and they place an IV on the back of my hand. They work around me and just when they start to move the stretcher. I’m out.

I feel heavy, I open my eyes.  Magdolen is right up to my face and tells me I am in recovery, everything went smoothly and Dr. Cil and Dr. B have gone out to talk to my family. I close my eyes.

My eyes open, Dr. Cil smiles and tells me everything went fine. Sentinel node showed negative for carcinoma. Everything went better than they could hope for. She’s on a high. My eyes close.

Dr. B. comes towards me elated! He tells me everything was great Dr. C is just talking to my parents, he is ecstatic with the surgery. OMG does he want me to high five him? I close my eyes.

I am so stoned. My side hurts.

I open my eyes. The anesthesiologist is super excited. She tells me they didn’t take out the Axillary lymph node.  Yaaay!! I smile. Only one drain.  Will check later that there is indeed only one. Why are so many people talking to me? Clearly I am in no condition to be spoken to.

My brother and mother come closer to me. They say everything went well according to the surgeons. My mother comes up to my face I close my heavy eyes. She leans her cheek onto my forehead like she used to do to check for fever. Her cheek lingers longer than I remember her ever to have done.

Dr. B is back still excited.  He wants me to come in not this Monday but the following Monday to check on the incisions. He’s going to prescribe painkillers to be taken and antibiotics.  I think I am able to say to him, “You are telling my family this right?” He assures me they know, he just wants me to know. What the hell? I won’t remember. He asks if I’m in pain, I tell him yes and close my eyes.

Anesthesiologist comes back, she’s more concerned. She asks me, how much pain am I in.  I think about it and think it’s a stupid question, I don’t know I tell her.  On a scale of 1-10, she asks, how much pain are you in.  That’s even more ridiculous of a question, I’ve never rated my pain in the past.  I don’t know again, I say, with my eyes closed. If you had to choose on a scale of 1-10, what would your pain be at she asks again.  I guess a ‘9’. But again, I’m no expert on pain like this. I’m wiped.

Anesthesiologist comes back. She puts something icy cold on different parts of my chest and asks how cold the spots are compared to the various other spots on my chest. Why won’t people stop talking to me? I have to answer her. Cold, cold, colder, not as cold as the last, somewhere between cold and freezing.  I’m out.

Anesthesiologist has a needle, she tells me it’s morphine.  Yaaay!! Finally, the hard drugs I was hoping for. Waiting, waiting, ohhhh, why aren’t I high yet?

Cory and Maggie approaching me.  Why do people keep talking to me? How long have I been here? Cory tells me it’s about 2pm, I was out of OR around 11:30am. Maggie tells me my Mom broke down when she saw me being wheeled on the stretcher.

Mom is at my side. There is something going on about my medication. Magdolen tells me there is an anti-inflammatory the pharmacist doesn’t want to dispense to me because it’s allergic reaction is similar to Sulfa. Magdolen and Maggie are in the same room and I introduce them as Magdalen and Magdolen.  Neat.

I have to PEE!

4pm and I am feeling the pressure to leave this joint as everyone wants to be out by 5pm. Where are my clothes? I ask Magdolen. Right here, she helps me get dressed. And my shoes, Maggie is now here.  I tell Maggie, make sure I don’t leave the hospital wearing socks with my Birkenstocks. I need a wheelchair to get out of this hospital.  Maggie asks if I really need one. Yes. Really? she asks.



navigating my way through cancer with laughter, fear, and madness.

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