Bob and I are up early; check-in time is 6:30 AM. I’m not allowed to eat, but mercifully, black coffee is permitted.
I feel more resigned than apprehensive. Since I have to do this, let’s get it done.
I’m so rarely up this early that it feels other-worldly to be driving before 6:00 AM. Bob and I are quiet, absorbed by our own thoughts, the roads are silent, the houses dark. The mood fits because since the diagnosis, I’ve felt that I’m in a parallel universe. And, on this journey, today is the most eventful.
At the small check-in lobby for surgery patients, the bright lights are startling, like the neon glow of a convenience store when everything else is closed. I’m somewhere out of the ordinary, awaiting something even more out of the ordinary. We’re shown to a large private room, homey, in shades of brown, with a big chair in the middle for me, comfortable chairs around the perimeter and light from a large window.
I’m given a gown to change into and then a nurse comes in to start an I.V. “This is the most pain you’ll feel today,” she promises, as she feels for a vein.
But she’s wrong about that. When Dr. Fisher comes in to greet me, this time in green scrubs, a cap, and a surgical mask hanging around his neck, he tells me I’ll be injected with dye to guide him to my sentinel nodes. I nod, not realizing how the dye will get there.
Later, when they bring a wheelchair for me, I’m told that my breast will be injected with four needles. I panic.
“Oh, they’re tiny needles, you’ll barely feel it,” the nurse says.
I briefly consider bailing. Sorry, no surgery today—I’m out of here.
But no, I sit in the wheelchair, and I’m taken to an elevator, and then to a room with radiation warning signs. These are becoming so routine, I barely notice them. To take my mind off the shots, if possible, I think of a favorite place. I’m on a ferry boat on Elliott Bay, looking at majestic Mt. Rainier as we chug toward Bainbridge Island.
The hell I am.
I’m wiped with alcohol and then a numbing solution. The first needle goes in. It isn’t near the nipple, nor are the remaining three, a big relief. I can handle this. In a few minutes, it’s over and I’m wheeled back to my room.
All told, it’s a five-hour wait from check-in until the surgery. Bob works at his computer while I read. But finally, it’s time. My blood pressure is taken one more time and it’s the best reading since finding the lump, as if my body is signaling, “I’m good with this. Let’s get this parasite out of here.”
I lie on the stretcher and after a kiss and a hand squeeze from Bob, I’m off. If the pre-dawn drive felt other-worldly, the operating room eclipses it, cold—how do they work in such cold? Also, bright and much bigger than expected. It’s re-assuring to see Dr. Fisher amongst what strikes me as a crowd of strangers. But I don’t have time for more observations. Dr. Fisher is placing a mask over my mouth and nose, and there’s no air! He sees my alarm and pulls it away. “I couldn’t breathe,” I tell him. I’ve been put out before, for colonoscopy, but I didn’t feel like I was suffocating. Dr. Fisher checks with the anesthesiologist, and then places the mask again. This time, too, I can’t breathe, but I’m out so fast, it doesn’t matter. In the fleeting time for a thought, it’s this: it’s okay. They’re not going to let me die.