June 8th, 2011 – part 2

Dizzy and starving I left behind one of my breast’s at Women’s College Hospital. We didn’t expect to be driving during rush hour traffic. I thought for sure I would have been up and out of the hospital by 3pm. It was day surgery. Yes, that is correct. DAY surgery. All I have to say is, a mastectomy ain’t as lucrative as having a hernia operation! Men from all over the world come to stay for 3 nights at the Shouldice Hospital to have the special Shouldice hernia procedure, which is now the standard surgery procedure for all hernias, done ALL over the world. If you are an Ontario resident, the Shouldice is free. I know, some of you are saying, women are treated at the Shouldice too. But let’s not kid ourselves. I first discovered the Shouldice when I had just moved here and received a phone call from my 22-year-old friend, Jon, telling me he was going to the Shouldice, for the best hernia care possible and I was to visit him at least once while he was staying there (I took public transit for 2hrs to get up to Thornhill). Jon and I could see for ourselves, hernias, for the most part, affects older men. Just like breast cancer, for the most part, affects older women.

Jon could be so melodramatic, back in the day. He put out notice to his entire family in the west coast and his friends from university how he would be staying at the Shouldice for 3 whole days.  He even received a care package of home baked cookies sent to him at the Shouldice. Nurses looked after him and all the men who stayed there 24 hours a day. He would tell me of how some of the old guys would scheme to escape the beautiful private hospital grounds to the local mall across the highway, just to do something, they would get caught by security and the nurses who would chide them like they were 13-year-old boys.  It was a place where they could relish acting like little boys again.

Anyhow, I’m clutching barf bags Magdolen has given me, and my pillow strapped onto my chest with the seatbelt holding it in place, to avoid pain from any sudden braking. Every so often, I look up out the front window and try to estimate our time of arrival in Scarborough. I just want to lie down in my bed. Why did we decide to go to Scarborough again? At one point I realize we are on the 401, in bumper to bumper traffic, “We’re ne-ver going to get there.” I mumbled and dropped my head down.

Cory and Mom help me out the car and I stumble towards the front steps.  Yul and Shirley opened their front door and their usual cheery demeanour are replaced with surprise and concern as I head up towards them with Mom holding my left arm.  “Careful, how do you feel?” “Where do you want to go?” I’m asked.  I tell them all I’m hungry but I guess I should sleep off my dizziness. Shirley on my right and my Mom on my left I am led to the basement where Stephanie’s old bedroom is equipped with a private bathroom. I notice a barf bucket Shirley has lined with a plastic bag, placed on a small step stool beside the bed. As she pulls the covers off the bed. I plop the pillow, I am still clutching, down in position on the bed to elevate my arm in a comfortable position.

My family leaves the room and alone I feel the side where I used to have a breast.  It feels hot, sensitive, and at some parts I feel nothing. I look down and I see a white bandage across the middle where the nipple should be. One drain, I take a deep breath, follow the white silicone tube connected under my arm towards the ball, collecting my blood and fluid, pinned to my shirt. Here we go, I drift off to sleep.

Two hours later I awoke still a little dizzy but starving.  Gently, I manage to rise up from sleeping. I ache but it is manageable, so I wobble my way up the stairs. As I approach the kitchen, I smell the food but I hardly see any grub on the table. I’m expecting a feast but the others have something else entirely, in mind. “How are you feeling?” I’m asked again.

“Hungry! Is dinner ready?”

“We already ate! We have your dinner ready.” I sit down at the table and Cory comes in from the back deck after putting away the bbq. He places a juicy steak down and I’m ready for all the other fixings to appear. My mother brings over a small rice bowl filled with spaghetti and I look over at Cory cutting into the steak and realize it’s for him only! I only get the half cup of pasta.

“Where’s mine?” I ask him. He seems unsure what I’m asking. Shirley explains, I’m not allowed steak I just had surgery and a small bowl of pasta is all I’m getting. They don’t want me to get sick.

“But I’m HUNGRY!  Didn’t you tell them I haven’t eaten since 6:30pm yesterday evening?” I plead to Cory. He stares at me, looks over to Mom and Shirley, and no one says anything. “I’m STARVING!” and why can’t my brain express more desperation, more anger, more give-me-something-more-to-eat!

Cory finally gives into my incredulous stares, “Alright, alright…” and he begins to slice me millimetre morsels of his juicy, medium rare barbequed steak. Four. tiny. morsels. dumped into my child-portion sized pasta bowl. I inhaled it all in 3-4 huge mouthfuls.

“I’m done!”

“Wha’ so fast?”

“Where’s my BRAT type meal.  Didn’t you guys discuss it with Maggie while I was in surgery?”

“Oh, I have just the thing for you.” Mom says.

“Look what your Mammy, make for you?” Shirley exclaims.

I knew it! They were all just toying with me I would get something much more substantial to nurse me back to feeling half of normal. My mother is a fabulous cook and family always look forward to her elaborate meals which she makes seem effortless to everyone. She would not partake in this BRAT-type menu, I just hoped she wouldn’t bring over a bowl of congee, truth be told, congee is probably everything the BRAT diet requires.  Mom starts telling us how she spent a whole hour toasting the rice in a frying pan so that there would be enough for me to take home to store, for a little while, to make this for myself when I feel better. She brings over a mug and places it in front of me and I see toasted rice bits floating on top of boiled water. Is she serious?!! She is feeding me rice water. Not even, congee. Rice water. Pardon me, toasted rice in hot water.

This arrangement, staying here in Scarborough with Steph’s family and my mom – this not eating much of anything, is not going to work for me, I think to myself. A little annoyed, my drug induced mind starts to spin in motion to devise a plan to escape back to my apartment on College St. where I have access to coffee, croissants and pho whenever, I so do please. Stephanie calls, just in time, to see how I am doing. They’re not feeding me, I tell her. She reminds me I just came out of surgery and there is a good chance I could still vomit. They are not being mean to you, she reasons! Nonsense, I have not eaten in 24 hours, I tell her, and Cory is eating a steak in front of me, feeding me scraps, there is nothing to vomit! She asks if I want Montreal bagels, I tell her an emphatic ‘yes’. At least I will have bagels soon.

Cory shows me the medication I was prescribed, Tylenol 3s to be taken only when I need them, orange anti-constipation pills to be taken with the T3s, and antibiotics taken 4 times a day until I finish the bottle. I take one T3, Mom warns me to not take them if I don’t need to.  I need to, I tell her. My brain turns to mush within 30 minutes and I head back downstairs to rest.

My en suite washroom has two entrances. One access from my bedroom and one which is accessed from the tv/livingroom area, where a mattress is made up with bedding, and I realize it was where my mother would be sleeping. I lock her bathroom door from the inside and go over to lock mine before I step in front of the mirror and sink. I unbutton my shirt and look at some of the left over magic marker, Dr. B had drawn for a guide. White gauze is taped to the middle of the form of my new breast shape which is flatter than the one I am used to, and under my arm the white silicone tube connects to the white bauble pinned against my shirt. The ball is filled with reddish fluid which is a mix of my blood and whatever. I like the colour, not as deep as red blood, but almost a tomato colour. A little nervous, a little weak, a little grossed out, I empty the ball, as all the nurses had shown me up until now, and record 30ml next to Magdolen’s record in the drainage record they had given to me from the hospital. I did it and I unlock all the bathroom doors again.

The melange of hospital narcotics and T3s induces the best sleep. I wake up and my room is still dark. Oh, it must be 6am, I’ve been waking up early these past few months, I guess I’m still on the early schedule. I have a harder time getting up now, the pain is sharper, but I get up and turn the lamp on and I take my laptop out to search for the time. It is 11:30pm, I am wide awake! I try to blog but my brain doesn’t have the capacity or willingness to do so. I take two more T3s and turn on the tv.

At 2am, my mother comes into my room all groggy, she asks if I’m in pain. I told her I was and she asks me if I need a glass of water to take with my medication. It’s okay, I told her I used the one in the bathroom. She warns me to only take the painkillers if I need them.  I need them, I tell her, again. It has been a long day for her.  My personal 24 hour nurse goes back to sleeping across our shared bathroom.


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

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