15 May 2020, 5:06am

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Conrnucopia: Breast Cancer Surgery

May 11, 2020, Monday:  We were up and at ‘em by 7:10AM to go to the drive through Covid-19 nasal testing location on S. Clinton Avenue for a 7:50AM appointment. We were a bit early, but they were ready for us and efficiently  administered the test. A slender stick with a gauze sleeve on it was put into my nose up to the rhinitis area above the bridge of my nose. It was uncomfortable for a second and withdrawn. We were back home in no time. The results were e-mail to the University of Rochester Medical Center “My Chart” the following day. The results were also sent to my Primary Care Physician, Dr. Jenifer Jerome-Roberts. The results were negative. I do not have the Covid-19 virus.

May 12, 2020 Tuesday: Our first challenge was to find a parking space at Highland Hospital. We went around the building once and found lots of exit signs. On the second go-round, we found an entrance to a parking lot. It was a handicapped parking slot. We pulled up our face masks and went to the main door.

At 8:00AM we entered the Main Lobby, screened and went toward the Pre-surgery Center. We were again screened and handed hospital masks and guided through a maze of hallways to the Pre-Surgery Center. I signed in on the little electronic box after it had been wipe with a sterile square. Every other stiff-backed, arm  chair had been taped off to keep people 6-feet apart. When the nurse called “Kathryn” we found out that there were two Kathryns in the waiting room. She was Kathryn B. and I was Kathryn C.

Originally, I was scheduled to have the guiding wire inserted at 7:30AM with surgery at 12:30PM, but that got changed to 8:30AM wire and 3:00PM surgery. It was going to be a very long day.

Eventually, I was called. I knew it was a wheelchair, but not like any I’d ever imagined. The nurse said to sit down, then swing my feet around. Huh?  As it turned out, that the foot rest was immovable. the side arm went up to let you sit, then you swung your legs toward the front to rest your feet on the foot rest.  If they’d told me the big picture first, I might not have been so awkward entering the chair.

Off we went with Dave trailing behind. Due to the Covid-19 Virus, only patients were allowed in the hospital, however, I listed him as my sighted guide/assistant and he was allowed everywhere with me except wire insert, radiation injection, and lumpectomy surgery.

Dave sat in a narrow, arm chair while I was wheeled into the mammography room to have a titanium wire inserted into my left breast to guide the surgeon to the cancerous lump. One of the nurses was great. She let me feel the contraption she’d use to mark the location of the mass. The guide had lead numbers along one axis and lead letters along the other axis. During the needle biopsy a month ago, a titanium chip had been inserted to show where the nips had been taken out. The nurse today kept saying it was a clip. She decided to compromise and call it a ship and that she was going to play Battleship, using the numbers and letters to pinpoint the mass. Although, they didn’t not know what metal the wire was, it was most likely titanium, as that is the metal of choice for medical items.

Once the wire had been inserted and firmly taped to my breast, we wheeled over to radiation. The nurses switched my hospital gown opening to the back, to keep me decent flying through the hallways. Dave found a wooden bench to perch on while I went into the inner-sanctum. The doctor injected a saline solution containing a radioactive substance into the edge of my areola. It was a very slender needle and I felt very little, which surprised me. The surgeon will use a Geiger counter to tract the radiation from the breast to the sentinel node(s). The tech said he had ten patients that morning and I was number two.  As he retired my gown, I asked him if he did back rubs, too. He chuckled and handed me my long, white, cane.

My transport came and we went back to the Pre-Surgery Center and into a cubicle. The gurney was comfortable, especially when the aid put a warmed blanket around my shoulders. Dave patiently sat on a small, plastic chair as we waited.

Nurse Jennifer came in to confirm my history. Highland is part of the University of Rochester Medical Center, but they also have their own protocol charts on a computer in each cubicle. Any time a nurse came in, she tapped something into the computer. The surgical oncologist, Dr. Kristin Skinner, came in shortly after 10:00AM to initial my left breast, presented me with the tiny lavender, water based marker,  and confirm I was ready. Then, we waited.

We’d brought bottled water and apple juice to keep us hydrated, and a crossword book to help while away the time. The book got wet from the sweating water bottles and besides, the Pre-Surgical Center was filled with bells, bongs, dings, and people talking. It was too noisy for us to do a crossword puzzle.

The camaraderie within the sisterhood of nurses was wonderful to hear. They were cheerful, helpful, and competent. Even the beleaguered secretary, Janet, never lost her cool, professional voice as she tried to find nurses to staff the increase in patients, organize work areas in the newly re-opened building, and put files in locations easily accessible to the doctors.

Around Noon, Dave went down to the cafeteria to eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he’d brought from home. I hadn’t eaten anything since 6:00PM Monday evening. He didn’t want to tease me with the aroma of his pb and j. I dozed off and on, while he calmly observed from his little, plastic chair.

As the afternoon wore on, we heard a nurse say that the breasts had backed up.  Apparently, Dr. Skinner’s  first surgery was due to start at 12:30PM, but had gotten pushed to 2:30PM. That made my 3:00PM surgery bumped to 5:00PM. Stoically Dave sat on his little, plastic chair as I dozed off and on with an occasional brake to walk me to the bathroom or say when a visitor had come. He did make the comment that with my lenses painted with daisies on a green background and the blue hospital face mask, I looked like an exotic bug.    Interestingly enough, the nurses would say hi and their name so I knew they were there. The doctors never did say hi or their name. The nurses were also very apologetic about the delay, but we assured them that it wasn’t their fault and that if I were in trouble during surgery, my doctor would stay with me until I was out of danger.

At 5:30PM, Dave went to another waiting room as they rolled me up to Operating Room 13, my mother’s favorite number. I maneuvered myself from the gurney to the operating table with plenty of assistance. There were arm rest angled out to left and right, I hoped it wasn’t a new type of crucifixion. Dr. Hoffman was the anesthesiologist and was alarmed at my blood pressure of 225/95. He administered something to bring it down as I was telling him that was sky high for me, but, that it would come down to tree top level soon enough. That was the last I knew. The operation began.

Dr. Skinner called Dave on his cell phone at 7:00PM to tell him I was in the recovery room. She’d found the cancerous matter appeared to be a small, localized tumor that she completely removed, along with one sentinel node. The node, too, appeared to be healthy and would be sent to pathology to be sure. Nothing was said about the clinical trial for Axillary Reverse Mapping.

The next sensation I had was of violently shaking as they put another warm blanket on me. Dave said the nurses had put him in one of the Pre-Surgery Center cubicles to stoically sit on another small, plastic chair. I was still out of it when they rolled me in on a gurney to his cubicle. I woke up soon after that, so, Dave went to bring the van to the front lobby door. The nurse helped me to dress and she commented that I had on a pretty, little sport’s, aka post-surgical, bra on. All its ‘seams’ were Velcro: sides with slits for tubes, if needed; shoulder straps; and front closure; plus two rings on tabs under each breast, presumably to hold bags of fluids in and/or out . The nurse pushed my wheelchair out of the hospital to Dave and our waiting Odyssey van at 10:30PM. Fourteen and a half hours  from the time we entered the hospital front door to when we left out of the front door!

To add insult to injury, McDonald’s was all out of crispy chicken sandwiches.  We went home hungrier than the “Very Hungry Caterpillar”.

I nominate my husband as the Husband of the Decade!

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