Zoe's Story: One-Two Punch (Week 9)
Monday, November 2, 2020 arrived all too quickly. My alarm sounded at 4:45 AM, like a sledgehammer next to me. I was immediately gripped by surgery panic. I have always had an irrational fear of anesthesia. Its not the actual surgery that I fear but the prospect of going to sleep and not waking up.
My girlfriend Lola and I had chatted multiple times about this and she told me “get your affairs in order and you will wake up after the best sleep ever.” With her advice ringing in my ears I readied my will, gave bank account access to Sonja, recorded videos and had a photoshoot. All were thrust into Sonja’s reluctant hands as she looked at me with equal measure of humor and fear in her eyes.
Lauren arrived at my house at 5 AM to collect Sonja and I for the journey down to Miami. We arrived at the UMHC Sylvester Cancer Surgery Center well before 6 AM and waited in the car for the check-in process to be complete. I hugged and kissed them at the curbside; COVID-19 has brought about so much change to our daily lives, and sadly this includes a no-visitor policy.
I made my way to the 2nd floor alone, and certainly apprehensive. I was directed to a curtained area and asked to put on a gown, cap, and bright yellow socks. All of this was complete by 6:15 AM. Then things got busy. A nurse asked a series of questions, connected me to a heart monitor, and inserted an IV. Once he had completed these steps, the plastic’s team arrived. Dr. Oeltjen marked me up with a blue sharpie; photos were taken, and we discussed both plans and outcomes. Shortly after the reconstructive team left, my mastectomy team arrived and Dr. Avisar discussed his plan with me. Each surgeon initialed me with the sharpie, on the locations that they need to carry-out work. Looking down at my chest and arm made me laugh; it was like a road map, but they assured me not all the lines were cut lines!
No sooner had they left, the anesthetist and his team arrived. They completed an EKG explained they would give me some anti-nausea medication and would reduce gas administered during the surgery (this is often what causes the vomiting and nausea following surgery). Because of the port being placed into my main artery, and my history of nausea and vomiting following surgery, they wanted to avoid this. The anesthetist stated she was going to give me an injection to relax me and then take me down for surgery; it was 6:43 AM.
That was the last memory I had until 5:47 PM, when I was awoken in the recovery room by the recovery team. My vitals were good; I had no pain and no nausea. Dr. Eli Avisar had started my mastectomy just before 7 AM. All tissue was removed and sent to labs for staging. My entire lymph system in my right breast, chest, and arm had to be removed and it took over five hours to complete his portion of the surgery. After he stepped aside, the reconstructive team (lead by Dr. Oeltjen) commenced the reconstructive process. This too had gone exactly as planned and was a success. Once my port was inserted, I was taken to recovery just before 5 PM.
I never left the recovery room and remained there all evening. I was flanked on either side by elderly ladies. The surgeons were still operating until well after 11:30 PM, and the recovery room was extremely busy. Between the sounds of snoring, moaning caused by post-surgery discomfort, and the busy surgical teams coming and going, sleep was never an option.
At 7 AM, Dr. Oeltjen stopped by to check on me. My vitals were so good, I was able to get up, which is why he decided to discharge me. Excitedly, I called Sonja and asked her and Lauren to come and collect me. At 9 AM on Tuesday November 3, 2020 I was wheeled out to Lauren and Sonja a free woman!
I got home to a beautifully decorated home (done by my amazing Addison family), a house full of flowers, and so many well-wishes; all were simply uplifting. The days after, I followed a strict timeline. Every four hours were for drain-cleaning, medication-taking, documenting, and walking. On Saturday, I felt strong enough to load myself into the car and go with Sonja and my beloved dogs to the marshes. The fresh air was amazing and cleared my lungs. It felt wonderful being out and strong enough to walk for an entire hour. I felt deeply relieved and profoundly happy to have round one behind me.
Tomorrow will be one week post-surgery, and my healing has been miraculous. My surgeons have done an incredible job. On Thursday, I have my post-operative follow-up appointments and I hope that these multiple drains, located around my body, will be removed so that I can get back to a little bit of normality. I will also receive all the relevant information to my pathology and staging from the tissue that was removed during the surgery.