Hospital Visitors

S went with me to when I checked in to the hospital on the 12th so he could hear the surgeon's explanation and sign a few release forms. He seems to have a hospital phobia and looked rather ill until it was time to catch his bus back home to be here when the children came home from school. The hospital visiting hours were from 2 to 7 p.m. and children under 12 were discouraged from visiting, so S gave me 3,000 yen to take a taxi home with my luggage after discharge.

I spent the day (and the next two) resting up for my big day, Monday, and getting various tests to make sure I wouldn't have any allergic reactions to the ingredients in my anesthesia. People from the various teams of nurses and doctors who would be caring for me came by with more explanations and forms to sign. The woman in the bed across from mine in our quad had had a mastectomy the Wednesday before and was all bright and chipper about how relieved she was to have it behind her. The other two women were more serious cases, but they were pleasant and seemed happy get a new chat mate.

The nurse gave me a list of things I would need from the hospital shop; 2 tournequets, a velcro fastened "bust band" and a spiky rubber ball. Then she measured around my calf to see what sized elastic stockings I'd need for preventing blood clots while I was under anesthesia. My good friend from Maine and her husband and daughter came by with a banana bread muffin (She also dropped off some loaves to the kids at home.), some hugs and a nice prayer for me on Sunday evening, leaving at 7 p.m. The chipper lady from across the room told me "You'd better eat that right away because dinner is the last food you can have until the day after tomorrow, and remember not to drink anything after 9 p.m." I thanked her and enjoyed my last solid food for 36 hours, glad that it was banana bread and not soaked and simmered dried daikon radish and grilled mackerel.

Early Monday morning, the nurse came to prep me for surgery. After I'd been to the toilet, I stripped and put on a hospital surgery gown with velcro seams. I know that hospital gowns are not usually very modest, but I think they could have found a bigger one somewhere. Apparently most Japanese mastectomy candidates are shorter than I, and don't have very wide shoulders. Then I put on the lovely cream colored elastic stockings with light blue trim which came up to mid-thigh on my legs and had a "peek hole" on the top of each foot so the nurse could monitor any discoloration or swelling. She tapped the top of my feet in several places and wrote some X marks in a few places in magic marker. An IV was established on my right arm and I was told to lie down on the dolly the team of nurses from downstairs (the surgery theaters were in the basement) brought. Mondays and Wednesdays are regular surgery days, so there were a few dollies lined up in the hall. My team arrived a few minutes before the others and had to wait until 9 a.m. on the dot, when all the teams and their dollies advanced through the big doors into the surgery area and each to their own operating room. I was glad I didn't get the room with the big glass window and peanut gallery, not that I would have noticed after they removed my glasses anyway. (If I can't see them, they can't see me.)

I was able to slide over from my dolly to the operating table on my own with 8 pairs of hands around guarding my trip. They explained what they were doing as they went along and I heard everything up to "You'll be unconscious in about 10 seconds." and was barely able to reply with a smile and a good night." They were all quite busy after that inserting tubes for the artificial respirator, a catheter and applying EKG monitor nodes in a few places, but the next thing I remember is eight people calling out "Sugio san, we're finished." and waking me up. They didn't ask me to do any sliding back to the dolly and they didn't grimace under my weight as they did the transfer there. There was a little bit of heave-hoeing from the dolly to my hospital bed but nobody herniated any discs.

All day Monday they monitored my recovery from the anesthesia, leaving the bloodpressure band on, the IV dripping away, the chest EKG nodes on, the catheter in and an oxygen mask on. I also had a drain from the incision (which is about 7 inches long) and the sexy hospital gown and stockings on. With all the wires and tubes across me, I couldn't even scratch my nose. I was in an out of sleep all day, waking when the nurses came by to take my blood pressure or check my oxygen levels with a finger clamp type machine. The principal of L's kindergarten decided to drop by with flowers about then, and must have been a little overwhelmed by the bandages and wires visible because the velcro wouldn't stay closed over my wide shoulders (so dignified!). I don't really know though, I slept through her visit and woke up to a huge floral arrangement from all the teachers on the table beside me. I guess I can sit back through a few PTA meetings now.

Monday evening, the head surgeon and another doctor stopped by with a stainless steel kidney shaped dish to show me what they had removed. Apparently they usually show the family member who sits and waits for the duration of the surgery (probably to make sure that a third party can verify that nothing unnecessary was accidentally removed), but I'd warned them that I wouldn't have anyone around then and asked if they'd be taking any pictures so I could see. They seemed surprised that I'd want to see for myself but happy to comply and again surprised when I didn't acted grossed out by the contents of their dish. They removed a wedge (about an eighth) of my left breast and 4 lymph nodes, stretched the edges of unremoved breast together and stitched me closed from the back of my armpit to about 2 inches from my nipple. The tumor was very conspicuous, about an inch long dense and grey mass against the back drop of milk glands, ducts and fat.

Tuesday morning, the nurse came to remove all of my trappings but the bandage, drain and IV needle. The IV needle, she promised, could be removed after I proved that I could eat all of my breakfast. I was happy to be back in my own pajamas (bought while talking to brother F on my cell phone a few weeks ago.) The rice porridge (gruel seems like a more appropriate word here) was tasteless, so the chipper lady from across the room gave me a bag of soy simmered dried bonito flakes with sesame seeds she'd asked he husband to pick up for me the day before. She said it made the porridge easier to eat. I thanked her and diplomatically mixed a little in, secretly thinking a few raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon and heavy cream would be more comforting but sacrilegious (to my Japanese friends) additions.

The nurse congratulated me and removed the IV needle and I was free to sit up and read magazines and books all day, punctuated with visits from doctors and nurses to check on me or dab iodine on my stitches (once a day for the iodine.) I was shown a few things to do with the spiky rubber ball to keep my arm and shoulder from getting too stiff and, on Thursday, encouraged to practice reaching for the left hand drawn on a piece of paper and taped to the wall where I'd reached on the previous Friday soon after check in. The nurse had had to stand on a chair to tape it there, as she was about 8 inches shorter than I, and all visiting staff marveled at the high goal I'd set.

A few friends stopped by with more treats, one of them (originally from Pennsylvania) with beer and cigarettes, knowing that I'd appreciate the humor. I enjoyed my (Dad's Root) beer and (chocolate) cigarettes and the Nescafe Cafe Latte packets she'd brought with a beautiful floral patterned Noritake cup in addition to other treats for me to bring home for the kids. The coffee was much appreciated after so many days of green tea after every meal. I did find a coffee machine near the hospital store, but wasn't able to go there mornings, when I most wanted to. Hot water was availble down the hall, so the coffee was perfect.

Lab results will be back next week and I'll learn more about whether I'll need hormones, radiation or chemo (or none of the above) on my next check up on Nov. 30. when I also have to pay my bill, as the business offices were closed when I checked out on Sunday. The kids all fared well but were happy to see me and very helpful when I asked for assistance in getting the futons out at bedtime. L was a little clingy, requesting my company on every trip to the toilet and sitting on my lap a lot but he cheerfully went to kindergarten this morning. The vice principal was driving the bus this morning and looked surprised to see me up and around after what he probably heard from the headmistress about my dire condition.