Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Remember, remember

I’m waiting for my PET scan results and to learn what the ENT experts plan to do. In the meantime articles in the “Sunday Times” and “Sunday Telegraph” have made me revisit my experience of ductal carcinoma in situ. In the late 1990s I could not get NHS reconstructive surgery after mastectomy because I had refused to be televised or to have my operation at a crucial of the academic year. I had to find a solution. My friend Marion, also engaged in adult education (short-term contracts), put her logical mind to the problem. She calculated that if I paid for my operation this might equal most of my part-time salary for that year, but I would be able to opt when I had the operation and thus save my employment, not just for that year but subsequent years.

Reconstructive surgery after mastectomy required two operations. The first removed skin and muscle from my back to the front so a new breast was built up and the second a built up a realistic-looking nipple.

Unfortunately, because I had these operations privately, my then GP (yes the one who had encouraged me to have the mammogram) would not allow my operation wounds to be treated by the practice nurse. I had to have a district nurse from another area who put on her rubber gloves to protect herself and then rummaged around in her handbag for a pen. I ended up with MRSA - I was told to take a couple of paracetamol.

Fortunately, the consultant who carried out the operation did assist me. I remember my husband driving me down to a private hospital somewhere between Portsmouth and Chichester and carrying me in to see him. I remember the fluid being drained off. I remember knowing that nothing counteracts MRSA. I remember the incredible pain. I remember listening to Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto and knowing, yes knowing that I had reached the crisis point when I would live or die.

I remember the helplessness felt by my family, my refusal to go back into hospital where I knew I definitely would die and I remember my daughter searching Southsea for manuka honey which she thought might save me. The practice nurse took matters into her own hands and rang me offering help. Miraculously I recovered.

After the second operation I contracted MRSA again, although less badly than the first time. This was because the dressings were not fastened securely enough at the hospital. But I did recover and you cannot spend your whole life looking back or being bitter about other people’s mistakes. I am assured that my lymphoma is not related to either the operations or the MRSA but the fact is we don’t know. People should not have mastectomies if they don’t need them – then they would be spared all the suffering.

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