I’ve just discovered it’s over 7 months since I updated my blog
– time flies when you go back to real life after being ill!
What better time to come back to the keyboard than when I am back in hospital with Gertrude and myself under observation!
For any new readers, Gertrude was the name chosen for my breast reconstruction from the many suggested by readers at the time of her inception.
Before I relate the very recent events which put me here – it feels very familiar – like I’ve never been away 🙂 – I just want to update you on what’s happened between Christmas and now:
The post-cancer period
It took a good few months to start feeling human again after all the cancer treatment. I was back to teaching in January, although have cut down a fair bit on the number of classes I offer. Just lately I have started to feel super-human, due to a development in my thyroid treatment, but that’s another story …
After-effects of cancer and chemo:
- Muscle and joint weakness/pain – particularly in limbs. Arms most noticeable – uncomfortable to lift a cup of tea at times – wine glass seems easier for some reason. In fairness, although these effects followed on from the chemo, and were severe at first, they are now just a part of life and no big deal. In fact they are perpetuated by the ongoing oestrogen-blocking cancer drug, Letrozole, and so I’m not expecting them to go away any time soon.
That’s not to say that I’m giving in to the above symptoms – determined to keep as fit and mobile as I can, by swimming, walking, Pilates and cycling.
- The gradual demise of Gertrude – It wasn’t long after Christmas that Gertrude started gradually morphing from a soft, supple beauty, to a hard, shrivelled shadow of her former self. She changed from feeling natural and relaxed, to being stiff, creased and tense. Photographs will follow, but as with previous posts, I have placed them right at the end of the blog to avoid offense: if you don’t want to see them, don’t scroll down past the main text – you will be warned again!
The reason for this deterioration, I discovered, was the gradual build up of tension in the scar tissue encapsulating the silicon implant, on the inside of the breast skin. This was as a direct result of the radiation treatment, which had finished at the end of November. Apparently its effects can stay in the body for a whole year!
Gertrude was effectively being slowly strangled!!!!
I saw my surgeon about this a few months back. He needs to remove the current implant, radially cut the scar tissue inside the breast shell to release the tension, and then insert a new implant, possibly slightly bigger, to even things up (although there’s no way he’ll be able to emulate the droop of Gertrude’s counterpart 🙂 ). The plan was to do this just before Christmas to make sure the radiation effects don’t happen again, and to fit in with my work.
Gertrude will have a makeover!!!
- Death of brain cells – I know it happens to everyone with age/ menopause/ whatever, but my degree of ‘dappiness’ (is that a word?) has massively increased since my cancer and chemo. I’m so bloody absent-minded, forgetful and
the polar opposite of ‘sharp’ at times.
A lot of times.
So – back to the present and why I am back in my second home.
I had a great day on Thursday. Getting lots of cooking done, a lovely walk with the grandog, and Bisley Teas on the Rec. Gertrude had felt a little uncomfortable, but I’d assumed it was just the way my bra was sitting, and hadn’t given it any further thought.
Then at about 5:30 pm I started to shiver uncontrollably and feel generally unwell. Plus Gertrude was feeling very painful to the touch. Took my temperature which gradually got higher, and by the time Greg came home at 7, I had started packing my overnight bag for a trip to A&E and beyond!
Gertrude had become extremely red in appearance, and inflamed.
Arrived at A&E by 8.30 pm, and admitted to the ward by about 11:30, complete with i/v antibiotics to treat the obvious infection. Saw the breast team the following morning. At first they thought it was a breast abscess, but this wasn’t confirmed by ultrasound.
The eventual diagnosis was cellulitis, so I’m very pleased I caught it early.
Several days later I am pleased to report that with my temperature having stabilised, and Gertrude looking like a different girl, I should hopefully be ‘let out’ today (Monday), with oral antibiotics to take home, and an outpatient appointment to see my lovely surgeon next week.
A free upgrade
I was on the Surgical Assessment Unit from Thurs night until Saturday evening.
The staff were amazing, making me feel well cared-for and respected.
I was told I would get a free upgrade to the private Parkside wing.
“Whoopee” I thought.
As much as I’ve enjoyed the private room, soft duvet and fluffy white towels,
the initial experience wasn’t great.
When you are feeling tired and vulnerable, the last thing you need is a stony-faced healthcare assistant greeting you and later, whilst just about to stab you for blood, asking “Are you private or NHS?”
“NHS. Does it matter?”
I asked, jovially, to be told sharply that my husband had to leave because 8:50 was beyond visiting hours for NHS patients. Despite the fact that private patients on the same wing were allowed completely flexible visiting. I was incredulous!!! I queried this, explaining that Greg had been staying until 10 each evening on the NHS ward downstairs. “Well we’re strict on it up here” said Bitch-Woman.
Needless to say Greg stayed put.
After a while, BW came and shoved a document in my hand, welcoming patients to the private wing (ha ha), and listing the restricted visiting hours.
So, if I was understanding this correctly, patients who had paid were allowed completely unrestricted visiting hours, whereas the NHS plebs in the same ward had visiting rights which were less flexible even than on the NHS wards!
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t expect to get all the genuine perks enjoyed by private patients – different food, free parking etc etc. I haven’t paid for them.
But different visiting??
It doesn’t cost Parkside a penny for Greg to stay here until 10,
or for me to have a friend pop in during the morning.
I HATE pointless, discriminatory rules.
I CAN’T STAND injustices.
I admit that my reaction was probably heightened because I was feeling ill and vulnerable, but this is the case for most patients. However, the whole experience made me feel disrespected: like a second class citizen. Bitch Woman certainly didn’t help, with several other unprofessional encounters over the following days. I don’t think I’ve ever previously experienced a healthcare ‘professional’ coming into the room first thing in the morning and starting to do my obs, without uttering a single word to me – not so much as a ‘good morning’, until I forced it out of her.
Phew – good to get all that off my chest!
I asked to speak to the unit manager this morning. Actually got the matron, who was absolutely lovely, when I explained how the visiting rule had made me feel, and when I made appropriate training suggestions for BW. She totally agreed that the visiting rule is unacceptable, and has said she will email round all the staff (she was under the impression that she’d already made this issue clear to staff anyway – yeah, Bitch Woman!!), and get rid of the document that I was so lovingly given.
If not for me, at least for future transferees from the dark depths of the NHS wards 🙂
So …. here come the photographs. They show:
- Pre-mastectomy Gertrude
- Immediately post-reconstruction Gertrude
- One week post-op Gertrude (alongside her friend, affectionately now known as Daisy) for an overall comparison view
- Supple, beautifully recovered Gertrude
- Partially-strangled and greatly-shrunken Gertrude, resulting from the radiotherapy
- Dot-to-dot infected Gertrude (The doc had to draw around the infected area when I first came in, to allow monitoring of changes. As he was on his knees, eye to eye with my breast, he muttered
“They don’t teach you this at med school”!
Think Art School would have been more appropriate under the circumstances 🙂 )
I’ll say goodbye for now. Thanks for reading, and for all those of you have been so supportive, in person, by ‘phone, and via Facebook over the past few days. xxx
Scroll down (or not!) for photographs:
For me, the difference between 4 and 5, directly resulting form the radiotherapy, is the most upsetting (although fine in a bra)
I’ll be pleased when Gertrude gets her makeover!!