February 27, 2012
Under the knife
Today was a day I have not been looking forward to - except now that it's over, I can put it down as one of life's experiences.
I went to the NHS Treatment Centre at Cirencester for a long-planned minor operation: the removal of a harmless lump called a lipoma. In my case, the lump was about the size of an egg, on my torso, approximately under my elbow when I had my arms by my side. I had always known it was harmless, especially as it had been there for five or six years.
As lipomas are often called fatty tumours, I might have expected it to shrink when I lost a significant amount of weight, 12-18 months ago. In fact, it stayed the same size, but ionically gave the impression of actually getting larger in comparison with the now-slimmer me. Even this might not have turned it into an issue if it wasn't for the fact that it was perched right on top of a rib, which made it so conspicuous.
If I said I wasn't the bravest person in the world when it comes to medical things, it would be an understatement. Everybody is entitled to a phobia, and whichever one you have, it doesn't make you are a coward. And medical scenarios - especially when they involve me - is my big phobia.
As Gonzo said in A Muppet Christmas Carol - which is, after all, one of the greatest movies ever made - that one thing you must remember, or nothing that follows will seem wondrous.
Despite this, towards the end of last year I decided to bite the bullet and see the doctor about having my lump removed - almost entirely for cosmetic reasons as it was making me feel increasingly self-conscious when I took my shirt off and may even have become noticeable under tight-fitting shirts.
The day for the dreaded surgery arrived today, but thankfully it was not preceded by sleepless nights because I was due to have it under general anaesthetic. This also helped me through today's delays as a backlog of operations meant that despite originally being told to report at 11.15am, the theatre nurse finally told me "Your time has come" - a slightly unfortunate turn of phrase - at 3.30pm.
Fortunately, I only had to endure the last five or ten minutes of this in the knowledge that the surgeon thought it inappropriate to do it under general anaesthetic as it could easily be done under local. I wasn't as keen as him because a) I've never had a general anaesthetic before and was therefore quite keen to find out what it was like, but mainly b) I didn't want to know anything about what would be happening after I was knocked out and before I woke up.
The anaethetist offered to sedate me instead and let me breathe through an oxygen mask, but it didn't reassure me all that much, especially as he admitted I would be conscious throughout. I tried to point out how anxious I was, but I knew I was fighting a losing battle.
So pretty soon I was led to the pre-op room (walking, surprisingly) and then having the cannula put in the back of my hand, which until ten minutes earlier had been my worst fear and was now a trifle in comparison. Another five minutes later I was being wheeled into the theatre itself, wondering when the sedation would start to take effect.
It didn't, not really. I would have been no less sedated if they had used three pints of bitter, because I heard and understood everything that was said and, although I kept my eyes shut for the duration, had a perfect picture of the scene in my head - which was exactly what I was hoping to avoid.
And that's not all. It hurt.
I'm not saying the anaesthetic didn't have some effect, because the oiginal incision would obviously have had me leaping off the trolley, but at certain points - apparently when the lump was being dug out - it was as if the surgeon was prizing it out with a sharp fork, and it was really sore. Although this obviously wasn't much fun, but in a strange way it actually helped.
The mistake people always make when you tell them you are squeamish and have a medical phobia is they assume it's all about pain. In fact, the pain has literally nothing to do with it whatsoever, as the phobia is, I believe, rooted in a deep fear of losing control. Indeed, in this case, the pain of the surgery was extremely sharp and in a sensitive area - where people are likely to poke you in the ribs - but temporary. And if it's temporary, it's bearable.
Possibly even more surprising than all this was the violence of it all. I obviously avoid watching explicit medical dcumentaries or even dramas on telly, but the operations I have seen - presumably because they were longer and more serious - have seemed fairly sedate and controlled.
But mine wasn't. Maybe because there is no point in leaving a wound open longer than is absolutely necessary, they didn't hang about and were actually quite rough. The blanket that was put over me was roughly placed too, whereas I expected them to place it carefully, turn over the edges and even fix it in place. There wasn't any time for nicities.
Not that I was complaining, because I really didn't want it to take any longer - and they must have done a good job because it didn't give me any pain when it was over, and even when some more feeling started to come back, an Ibuprofen tablet and then even puny parcetamols did all the painkilling required. And when I finally got home and looked in the mirror, I was surprisedby how small (albeit bloody) the dressing was and how small the scar is therefore likely to be.
I can't say just how relieved I was when the operation - which must have been half an hour of surgery - was over, but I was so relieved that I even had a morbid curiosity to see what they had removed. My colourblindness prevents me from giving an accurate description, but to me it looked like a ball of yellow pork fat, swimming in a mixture of blood and possibly some other (unidentified) liquid, dumped in a round margarine pot.
It's been a like it or lump it day for sure - although I'm glad that I have one less lump than when I started.