If you’re reading this right now then I commend you for your dedication to my melodramatic tale of veins, ribs and blue arms. Ten points for Gryffindor! However, if you ask me whether I got to keep my rib, I will be deducting 50 points from Gryffindor for unoriginality and making me feel a bit queasy. (For real though, it’s been incinerated and is most likely to be in heaven with my other rib and Elvis Presley.)
A week ago today, I was back in St Thomas’ Hospital, this time to have my top left rib removed. Once more I was back on the ward of old ladies, this time with Doreen, Brenda and Caroline, all aged between 60 and 85ish. Things we had in common included a distaste for hospital food and blood thinning injections administered 8am and 7pm.
The whole experience was thoroughly enjoyable and one that I loved so much the first time round that I just couldn’t wait to do it all again. I would seriously recommend it. I’m lying. And if anyone is thinking about getting a rib removed for cosmetic reasons (or reasons regarding sexy time) then don’t. It really hurts.
Don’t judge me but something really uncool happened when I came round from the op. In Recovery (the bit where they bring you round from the anaesthetic) the first thing I heard when I drifted in an out of consciousness was Heart on the radio. Yep, so the first thing I said when I came round from my op was ‘Is this Toby Anstis?’ CRINGE. The nurses were like ‘er… what?’ I tried to tell them I meant on the radio and that I work there, at the radio station – which thank God they understood because otherwise I would’ve come across as a weird Toby stalker. Then they continued to ask me if they could win the 50K May competition… Not my coolest moment.
Doctors, nurses, friends and family keep asking me how I’m feeling and I don’t really know how to answer. Honestly, I’m feeling really positive and I’m laughing at how long it takes me to do things, even if it does feel like I’ve been beaten up on the inside and I can’t tie my hair up. I think I’m a bit draining on everyone else though. Sorry, lads.
The area around my left collarbone, shoulder and boob doesn’t really feel bruised on the outside, just a bit numb and hypersensitive at the same time. My nerve endings are all over the place and I have to kind of retrain them to get used to feeling again – like training my skin to not mind wearing a t-shirt. The incision site is right in my armpit again and that feels like I’ve got something uncomfortable wedged in there, like a scrunched up t-shirt and it’s quite sore.
Inside, I feel like I have a sticky out bone at the top of my spine that keeps scratching on my muscles when I move. This just needs a little adjusting to. My left lung keeps giving me a sharp pain when I breath deeply, or change position. Coughing is a nightmare. Everything hurts but you can’t stop a coughing fit – trust me I’ve tried. So, upon the recommendation of the physio, I’ve taken to clutching a rolled up towel to the centre of my chest which I push down on if I need to cough. I’m not sure how it helps but it does a bit. But, as Oli lovingly points out, it does make me look like I’m substituting a baby with an NHS towel (which I stole from the ward. But that’s what I pay my taxes for, right?)
I can’t lift my left arm any higher than a 90 degree angle yet, which makes doing absolutely anything take forever and is seriously funny. Getting dressed on my own is something else. I’d show you if it weren’t for my horrendously flabby bod.
The only thing that worries me a bit is that I have a tingling sensation in my smallest finger and my ring finger on my left hand. It hurts to touch and grip anything. It was fairly traumatic when I spent 10 minutes buttoning up my pj top only to discover I’d done them up wrong… This could be caused by the swelling pushing down on a nerve or it could be because the surgeon might’ve nicked the nerve. I’m hoping it’ll go away of it’s own accord so I’m trying to use it as much as possible, to get the strength back. Even typing kind of hurts.
One of a kind
Remember that I told you that it was a really rare thing for the problem to happen in my left arm as well as my right? Well, having the operation twice is almost unheard of – so I’m one of the lucky ones. A rare gem. I’m a vascular student’s dream.This meant that, as Tommy’s is a training hospital, there was always a student around eager to learn something new from my diagnosis. When I had the drain removed from my arm (it’s as horrendous as it sounds. Post op, I had a long ass tube coming out of my armpit which was connected to a bottle that filled up with all the gunk from my insides. When I went to the loo, I would carry this gross bottle in my left hand in front of me, like a really harrowing Florence Nightingale) the nurse told the student that ‘upper limb drains are really uncommon, you don’t see them often.’ I was like ‘Mate, I’ve had two in my lifetime’ to which he kindly informed me that in all his years working on the ward, he’d never seen someone go through this op more than once. Cheers Jesus for choosing me to do it all twice.
When I told my consultant about the pain I was in, he told me that it was likely to last three weeks because it’s like having a broken rib. Weirdly, I can’t tell you what that feels like but I recognise this pain as I’ve had it before.
Ps. In the pre op phase, my consultant began the preparation process by filling me in on the risks of the op, you know the normal bleeding/paralysis/winged shoulder blade/death blah blah blah. And then he casually added that with one patient, post operation they realised that they’d removed the wrong rib and had to do it all again. He’d not told me of this risk before, so it must have happened since my last op… I laughed – because what can you do? You’re about to be butchered! – and once again put my trust, and my body dressed in the most hideous pair of polyester knickers and a gown, in his hands.
The NHS ain’t perfect
Now, don’t get me wrong; I am grateful in every way for all of the help I’ve received from the NHS and it should 100 percent be protected from privatisation. Maybe it’s because I know what I’m doing now, but I’ve not had a nice time dealing with the NHS this time round.
After developing another clot in January, I’ve known that I would need the op, it’s just been a case of when. Through past experience – and advice from consultants – I knew that I couldn’t really be left more than a few months . Working on the same timescale as before, I was looking at a date in March. March came and went and I was told I could expect to have the op at the end of April. The end of April came and went with no word. I became a nuisance and chased every week but you’ve got to do it. I didn’t want to be forgotten about and it wasn’t fair to keep me waiting. I’d not even had a pre op assessment (you can’t have an operation without one) so I knew it wouldn’t be a case of just getting a last minute slot. I was in pain and miserable to be around because I was whinging all the time, because without plans, I had nothing to look forward to, nothing to work towards.
Not knowing a date was seriously frustrating for me. Working at a desk was painful to say the least and all the while I was injecting myself twice a day with blood thinner – something the haematologists told me they really shouldn’t do for very long. I ended up taking a big dose of them for much longer than had been anticipated. As a result, the bottom of my belly is bruised green and purple from the needles, and often, if I was out, I’d hit up in public loos, like a true junkie, only I wasn’t getting any joy out of it.And then there was the aftercare. For the first time since all of this started, I didn’t feel entirely safe in the hands of some of the nurses. There were a lot of bank staff and nurses who had serious attitude problems and no one really told me what was going on or what medicines I was taking and why. And to top it all off, the morphine was making me so sick I couldn’t even argue or ask the nurses anything without throwing up.
The radiators were stuck on full for the entire 72 hours of my time in hospital, providing perfect breeding conditions for germs and bacteria, not to mention the uncomfortable sweatiness. It was vile. I couldn’t wait to get home. As predicted, on the day I was told I could go home at 10am, my blood tests showed that there was too much thinner in my blood (they’d bloody told me that back in February but said it was temporary) and then spent the entire day getting my new dose of thinners changed. I didn’t leave the hospital until 7pm.
The only saving grace is that by process of elimination, I don’t ever have to go through a rib resection ever again. I physically can’t. Whoop!
Change of Lifestyle
I’ve got some changes to make ahead of me. I’ve had a year now to come to terms with the fact that I’m never going to get rid of this problem completely and I’m totally okay with that. I’m not done with hospitals yet but I don’t have to go through any more major surgery, which means I can now focus on all of the good stuff.
I can’t wait to get back into the gym. I’ve not been since January because my clotty arm didn’t really let me but I can’t wait to get rid of my flabby belly and return to my cardio, which is good for the lungs and great for circulation.
Yoga. I need to stretch all the time. I’ve spent over a year now, hunching one arm or the other up to my ears in a bid to create better circulation and now it’s become habit. Its not good and I’m scared I’ll become the Hunchback of Notre Dame if I’m not careful. Anyone know of any good online courses? I’d love to go in for classes but they’re super expensive in London.
Massages. I’m going to need a whole load of massages to help my Hunchback of Notre Dame not to develop any more. They’re good for circulation too. Also they’re just lush aren’t they?
Nails. This isn’t a medical thing, I just really need them done. I deserve it, right?