Last Friday I went in for a left sided neck dissection (Google it, there’s some wonderfully gory videos online) and a thyroid removal and I’ve come out six days later on the other side hopefully cancer free, or at the very least the worst of it is gone and they can kill the rest off with radiotherapy. The fact I’m in this spot is a relief because there was a very, very large chance I’d not have survived the surgery last week. The fact I am is down to the skill and care of some truly amazing people that don’t get the day-to-day credit they deserve but they should and then some.
Firstly back to last Friday. My friend Tess, picked me up around 6.45am as I was digesting the Scottish, Welsh parliament and assembly elections and the English local elections. I wasn’t actually, I was shitting bricks.
Just after 7am we got to the Bristol royal Infirmary so I could be admitted. There I met my case worker, Darren, who guided me to my room where I awaited what would happen and hoped they’d operate early. Knowing that the surgery would be complex, I hoped I was even first up but I wasn’t, but all the signs were that I’d be done that morning so with Tess still hanging around we were on the verge of transposing the palpable sense of fear into tedium as you can see…
Then the anaesthetist Doctor Syme came in, Explained the situation, made it clear again of the risks and what her team would be doing. She was followed by Doctor Baldwin, the surgeon, who explained exactly the risks and that death or stroke were running high but seeing as they think they’ve discovered the cancer early, it’s the best thing to do. Operating now would take the mass out and well as some lymph nodes plus my thyroid in an operation they reckoned would take 3-4 hours or so.
So Doctor Baldwin having explained all marked me up.
I think he may have been having a laugh a bit…
I’d been moved up as the chap due to be done before me had stupidly drunk a cup of coffee an hour before he arrived (even though it’s spelled out clearly what you can’t do before any surgery) so his stupidity benefited me as around 10am they took me down to the operating floor and left me to relax in a side room while they finished off prepping the theatre.
Now, I wasn’t doing much relaxing. All bravado was gone and the last inch of courage was being worn thin as I sat in a little waiting room with my locker full of what possessions I could bring with me courting out my time in this wee room with an old chap waiting for his operation moaning about everything he could moan about but he was taken away and for five minutes I was all myself before my doctors came in and took me to theatre.
Once you enter an operating theatre it sort of sinks in about the enormity of what’s going to happen to you. As said, any operation is risky, but there’s risky and there’s risky. I was RISKY! By now though adrenalin was pushing me on, plus a wee bit of gallousness emerged from my primordial Glaswegian DNA to get me to the table where I had my first needle inserted into the back of my left hand. It’s this one where they obviously fed me something to take the edge off things as I was lying there laughing and joking with Doctor Symes, even when she stuck a huge 6-inch needle into my wrist to help monitor my blood pressure to ensure I didn’t have a stroke. As the blood from my wrist felt curiously warm and comforting the last things I remember is her voice and then nothing..
No dreams. No fear. No awareness. Nothing. For all effects and purposes I was switched off as unlike sleep where you’ve got a sense of chronology this felt like death, or as close to it as I want to experience for the next several decades or so.
Then BOOM! I’m back surrounded by people frantically sticking in tubes and needles and putting masks on. All I remember is Doctor Symes saying something, I dunno what, but I reacted to her voice and then I broke out in a massive sweat as my body upon awakening went into shock as it realised what had been done to it. My temperature went through the roof, so my first clear memory is of croaking a cry of ”water”, and having a straw stuck in my mouth where I went though three pints before stopping. They’d also stuck a fan on me, and icepacks to bring me round, bring my body temperature back to normal and lessen the shock.
I then remember an I.V of morphine being stuck in me that took off the edge, which was good as at this point I experienced an enormous pain in my knob as the doctor explained they had to stick a catheter in and then told me it was 7pm and the operation took around six hours, with another couple of hours to tidy me up and close me back up. I’d been under anaesthetic for about eight hours! A hellish amount of time if you’re fully fit, but a couple of months out of having a stroke is an achievement as indeed, was the fact that I’d woken up.
Once they’d stabilised me in recovery they took me up to the ward where for most of the first night I had no idea what happened. I do remember a nurse by the name of Anne and another called Rachel who helped me get out of bed to go to the loo as I was determined not to just lie in bed feeling sorry for myself or moaning like the old boy in the bed near me was seemingly happy to do. More morphine mixed with tramadol meant I had as comfortable a night as possible, but Friday night, Saturday morning is a blur of things. Come Saturday morning I’d been taken off the morphine and left on tramadol so I was more coherent as I texted a few people to tell them I was still alive..
Tess and a couple of other friends visited and the next day I looked like this.
I’d also realised that as warned. I’d lost a lot of feeling on my left side. My shoulder was numb, and my lack of feeling went from there to my jawline leaving me without any sensation, but after being visited by Doctor Badlwin and the preliminary test results from the tissues removed around the mass was negative I didn’t mind. He also explained that although the thyroid removal had went routinely, the dissection took far longer due to the size of the mass, which was around the size of a small egg that’d been crushed into the side of my neck. This meant the drain from that wound was draining a load of fluid because there was now a huge cavity where the mass was. At this point I got a hint the 2-4 days in hospital might be pushing it a tad.
I really couldn’t face being on a shared ward, even if it was only with three others who ranged from their 50’s to 60’s but they may well have been centuries older in attitude. Imagine the joy then to be told on Saturday afternoon that you’d be moving and to a single room!
It’s here I spent the next four and a half days and I’m grateful to have been given the chance to recover physically, and mentally as you can’t regain hope if you’re four metres away from a sucking pit of negativity.
By Monday it was clear I was draining a lot of fluid and although everything else was fine, I couldn’t leave, which was good as my pain fluctuated too much but a succession of fantastic nurses like Amy, Tanya, Charlotte, Sue and many others ensured my mind and body recovered.
As for the wounds they were looking dramatic!
I also hadn’t realised how far back on the neck they’d dissected.
And by Tuesday my bottles started slowing down.
One had to be even changed, but had turned into a slow drip.
This wee community that’d built up around me helped push me on through the often severe pain, the rush from morphine (which is a horrible, but effective drug) and the dawning realisation that I’d been through something amazingly major. In fact nurses were coming to look at the work I’d had done as this sort of level of work is uncommon. The enormity of the last six days hasn’t really sunk in yet, and although I’m far from being given the all clear hopefully the worst is behind me and what is still to come is about mopping up the last few possibly affected lymph nodes via radiotherapy.
And after six days I’m home. Exhausted. Hot. Shaky. But recovering. I still have much to do with recovering from the stroke and fighting off cancer but I have to say it again because it’s true. The NHS is an astonishing thing that since February has kept me alive and is making me better while the people that work for it are amazing people who’ll do their best, and seeing in this case that ‘doing your best’ means a six hour operation goes successfully or five days in hospital goes well for someone then that all I need.
I’ve had all my staples removed which is amazing. As for the wound, it’s healing very well but the left side of my face is a bit swollen which is a part of the healing process but I’ve got to visit my GP on Monday to clean my wounds, check up on everything and wait for the next steps. Til then it’s home, rest and recovery.
A massive thanks to everyone. It’s been an amazingly hard week, but I’ve gotten through it and once I’m recharged and healed, I’ll take whatever comes next with the same fortitude I’ve done so far.