My Thyroid Operation
The best thing, the only good thing really, about being a pessimist is that when things don’t go as badly as you expect it is a real bonus. Things went as badly as I expected in some areas and a whole lot better than I even hoped for in others.
I arrived for check in five minutes early. Hospital staff arrived 7 minutes late and I was not hoping for things to get any better from there and, for a little while, it didn’t. They checked my details, took the information sheet I had filled out prior to arriving, asked to see my medicare card, added the information sheet and some other papers to a folder with my name on it which had a big red sticker on it that said “Closed File. Do not add any documents to this folder.” I can only assume it was the file they started almost three years ago when I went in to have a broken ankle fixed. Then they put a hospital bracelet with my name, date of birth, age, address and surgeons name on my wrist and sent me back into the waiting room.
Next step was seeing someone who was pretty new to the job. She asked me my name, date of birth, address, type of surgery I was expecting to have and checked that the answers I gave matched the information on the bracelet. She asked about allergies and other things that I had already been asked and took my blood pressure. She put the cuff so high up on my arm that it hurt worse than it ever has before or since and it left my skin bright red and sore! She then insisted I take two pain killers but I told her I didn’t want them. She turned to her supervisor who asked me why and I said I have a big lump in my throat and can’t swallow pills the size of the ones she gave me. She said “Oh I forgot to ask that question” then she gave me two dissolvable pills instead which tasted truly awful!
Next she measured my legs and chose surgical socks that were way too big for me but the nurse who checked them pulled them down so the feet of them hung off the end of my feet and she said they were fine. I was told to strip and put on a hospital gown which I did.
It was too short and did not close at the back and, with no panties underneath, my modesty was a major concern for me from that moment until knockout time. As they put me onto the operating table my modesty was severely compromised and they told me I could have worn my undies since they were not operating on that area. They did cover me with a blanket which solved the problem but I really wish someone had told me I could keep my undies on!
Sigh. For anyone who can benefit from this info – you can keep your panties on if they are not operating on that area!
They issued me with a hospital dressing gown, surgical booties, a hair cap and made me put all the clothes I was wearing into a plastic bag despite the fact I had my overnight suitcase right there with me. I am not a snazzy dresser but this outfit made me feel like a clown. My daughter took a photo which is so awful I will never let it be seen!
My overnight bag and the bag with my clothes in it went off to somewhere and was not reunited with me for hours after I was already awake and complaining to my daughter that it shouldn’t take so long to get my things back. So much for my plan to stash a packet of smokes in there in case I was ready for a smoke before my daughter came back with my handbag!
After I was “surgically attired” I was handed over to someone who, again, checked my name, date of birth, age, address and type of surgery I was expecting to have before walking me to the room before the operating theatre and handing me over to someone else.
She also asked my name, DOB, address, type of surgery I was expecting then put me on a trolly and added another hospital bracelet with all my details written on it to my ankle. She even checked that both bracelets carried the same information.
She put a hot blanket on me while a man came in and crouched down near my left hand and began patting it and investigating it for the best place to insert a needle.
He told me I was a very lucky woman as I was getting both the head of surgery and the head of anaesthetics for my surgery and he pointed to two older men who walked in while he was speaking.
I was relieved to hear it as the chances of things going wrong in this particular surgery are lessened in direct proportion to how much experience your surgeon has and both these men looked to have many years of experience under their belts.
To tell the truth, they both looked like they were retirement age and I am firmly convinced they were there to supervise not work, but their presence reassured me.
The man who introduced them inserted a needle into a vein on the side of my left wrist then he wheeled me into the next room where they put me on to a very narrow operating table. The head anaesthetist was on my right and he told me to look at him while the other man fiddled with the needle in my left wrist.
The next thing I remember is waking up in the ward with my daughter beside me but I kept drifting back to sleep so I can’t remember much about that period except that my throat and mouth were painfully dry and it took a fair bit of complaining to get them to give me some ice chips to suck on. I didn’t get ice chips in the end, I got ice cubes, it was harder to suck on them but it helped.
There were three thyroid operation patients in my ward and each of us had a package by our bed containing all the things staff would need to save our lives if we began to bleed out. This is, apparently, the main risk of this type of surgery and if it happens it happens fast and is quickly lethal. The emergency package contained all the things staff would have to use to open us back up and release the blood if there was no time to get us to theatre. This risk was the reason I had to stay overnight and they told me it is only a risk for a few hours after surgery so the longer I was there without it happening the less chance there was it would happen at all.
Gradually I regained consciousness and began suffering from the usual irritability and anxiety that I always get when I haven’t had a smoke for a while. My daughter had my bag and I was reluctant to ask her for my smokes for some reason so I began complaining about the fact that my suitcase had not arrived in my room. I wanted it because I had another pack of smokes stashed in it.
I guess I was also suffering from the whole “loss of personal power” syndrome that I get every time I am admitted to hospital. I wanted to have a smoke without having to ask anyone, not even my daughter, who probably would have given me my bag without questioning me if I had bothered to ask.
In the end I remember chasing her away by telling her I was going for a smoke and if anyone tried to stop me there was going to be a scene and she might not want to be around if that happened. She gave me my bag and left. I made the trip downstairs and outside and had a smoke. Nobody tried to stop me but, then again, I didn’t tell anyone I was going.
I was feeling a bit weak so I had a smoke then went back to bed and dozed off again.
I was woken by dinner and told I was allowed to eat and drink now.
This is the first time I have ever been made to fast after surgery as well as before it but this is the first time I have ever told them I always throw up after surgery and it is now the first time I have NOT thrown up after surgery.
I ate the meal and went from strength to strength. No pain, minimal discomfort, no need for painkillers. I felt great! I was not tired as I usually work nights so I was awake all night and I made several trips downstairs for smokes, diet coke, and packets of vending machine junk food.
The hospital staff made no attempt to stop me from doing this so I became very much the model patient. They asked me to let them know when I was leaving my room and I did and also notified them of my arrival back in the ward each time. I even timed my trips to make sure I was there when they needed to take my blood pressure etc at four hourly intervals.
In the early hours of the morning they took blood and said they were sending it off to check my calcium levels in case my parathyroid glands had reacted badly and begun playing up.
A group of doctors visited me a few hours later and told me I could go home as soon as the drain was removed and the paperwork was completed and they said that would be at around 10 am.
Things were going so well I was amazed.
Then the night shift team went home and the day shift team took over.
One nurse, in particular, started throwing her weight around as soon as she came in the room. She told me and one of the other patients we were not allowed to have any breakfast because the “Nil Orally” signs had not been removed from above our beds.
She told the old lady next to me that her surgical socks could not be removed until a doctor gave permission. After she left I told the old lady I thought that was a lie because I was told, three years ago after ankle surgery, the stockings only had to stay on until patients were able to control the blood circulation in their legs themselves by getting up out of bed and moving around.
When the nurse came back we sorted out the mix-up on the “Nil Orally” signs and she let us have our breakfast but didn’t bother removing the signs!
She told me the doctors had given permission for my drain to be removed so someone would be coming by soon to do that and I should not go anywhere until it was done and she wanted to know how I was getting home.
I told her my daughter was taking me home and she wanted to know if anyone was going to be with me when I got home to monitor me in case anything went wrong. I said my daughter would be with me and I asked her what time I was being released so I could let my daughter know. She said they had some paperwork to fill out which would take a little while but I could tell my daughter to pick me up between 9:30 and 10 am.
I went down for one last smoke and sent my daughter a message telling her when to come then went back to my room to wait for the drain to be removed.
The nurse came back some time later and said I wasn’t going to be released at 10 am after all. When I asked why she said the doctors didn’t sign the paperwork that allows them to take the drain out so we would have to wait until they come back and she had no idea when that would be.
I went into tantrum toddler mode, controlled version, and said I was leaving at 10 am whether they were ready for me to do so or not.
She went off, presumably to speak to her supervisor, and came back to tell me I was not allowed to leave until the drain had been removed and they could not remove the drain until the doctors signed the paperwork. I went into a less controlled tantrum mode and said I would remove the drain myself if I had to but I was leaving at 10.
She went away and came back with another nurse who told me I would have to sign some papers releasing them from liability if I leave without doctors permission.
I said doctors have given me permission to leave and I am leaving but I am happy to sign a release if you insist. They both went away then and the first one came back a few minutes later to tell me I must stay for four hours after the drain is taken out because there is a risk I will bleed out and need surgery to save my life.
I said I will take that risk. I knew it applied to the hours after surgery not to the hours after drain removal because the surgeons had already said I could leave as soon as the drain was removed.
When I saw the nursing staff were determined to delay my release I began trying to remove the drain myself. It was a bluff because I wasn’t willing to force the thing out and it did not respond to a very gentle tug. When it began to hurt I went and looked in the mirror where I saw it was being held in place by a stitch. By that time there was a bit of pink ooze on the dressing. When I got back to my room the nurse was there and she heard me tell my daughter there is a stitch and I need to cut it and saw me head to the emergency pack which contained scissors. She asked me to stop and promised someone would come to remove it for me soon so I waited.
Within minutes someone arrived to remove the drain. She cut the stitch, told me to hold my breath, then gently pulled a very long drain out of the wound.
The nurse then put a dressing on it and told me I would have to wait four hours to see if there would be any problems. I refused so she asked me to wait at least 10 minutes and I agreed. My daughter said the wound is oozing and snapped a picture to show me so, to avoid adding to her distress, I said I would wait and see if there was any bleeding.
About this time a chemist appeared and said she had been told I was leaving with or without prescribed medications and was that true. I said I am leaving at 10 am and she said that did not give her enough time to fill my prescription so I asked her how long she needed. She asked for an hour and I said OK.
I said that would give us an hour to monitor the ooze and the nurse said she would change the dressing then and we could see if I needed to wait any longer.
An hour later the medication arrived, the wound had stopped oozing, the paperwork was done and I was released without any need to sign myself out.
The minute these people stopped telling me what they were going to do to me and began asking me for my cooperation I began cooperating.
I lit a fire under them and forced them to prioritize my release and that probably meant someone else did not get released as soon as they were expecting it which upsets me but I have been the person whose release was delayed by DAYS many times and I am done with letting them do it to ME!
Someone needs to teach these people they are not as powerful as they think so they will think twice before giving people the wrong information or changing their minds!
If they had TOLD me they were running late today and asked me to be patient with them while they tried to catch up I would have said no problem but they told me a crock of lies to try and FORCE me to be patient.
The other patients began staring at me when I started digging my heels in and I said I’m sorry but I won’t be messed around and they nodded knowingly. The old lady in the next bed took advantage of the nurse’s flustered reaction to my mutiny and asked her, again, about removing her operation socks.
The nurse asked her if she had been out of bed yet and, when the old lady said she had, she told her she could take the socks off as long as she was mobile and she even helped her take them off which was a very different response to the one she had given her previously. No mention of needing a doctors permission this time!
That is exactly the sort of thing my mutiny was about – the needless power play they get up to if permitted. Those socks are uncomfortably tight because they are meant to prevent blood clots from forming. The old lady had already endured a whole night in them despite being mobile within hours of getting out of surgery and she was very uncomfortable. If the nurse didn’t have time to help her out of them why not just tell her she could take them off herself?
Any way, after my release was finally achieved, my daughter took me home. Both of us monitored the dressing for any sign of continued problems and it is still clean.
My recovery, however, took a bit of a step backwards. In the pictures my daughter took you can see my skin is very red and my daughter said she thinks it’s because I was flushed with anger. In the hours following the scene my level of discomfort got higher and, for the first time, I felt the need for a pain killer.
My throat began to hurt, I began to cough every time I walked anywhere, and the site began to feel sore because the staples seemed to be pinching me.
The major discomfort, however, seems to be coming from a badly applied dressing as it feels like it is pulling on my skin all the time and stopping me from holding my head up properly.
I have been told to see my usual doctor on Monday and get her to remove the staples and I am to go back to the hospital in a week which is when I will find out if I do have cancer or not.
I asked what happens if it is cancer and they said I will have to go back and have the rest of my thyroid removed and undergo radioactive iodine treatment to kill off any residual thyroid cells.
The good news is they said they know they saved one of my parathyroid glands and they are almost certain they saved the other one as well and, if I do have to have the rest of the thyroid removed, at least the loss of all four of those will no longer be a potential risk.
Whatever happens now I will have at least two functioning calcium regulators.
I’m glad I refused to let them take the whole gland even if I do end up having to go back and get the rest taken out. If it is not cancer, and it most likely is not, I can get on with my life with only a scar to show for it. If it is cancer, I will go through a second surgery, and face the potential misery I have read about online of life without a thyroid then.
The risks of a second surgery seem to be less than the risk of losing all my thyroid gland to a benign growth and spending the rest of my life regretting that decision.
They said if cancer is found I will be going back for the second surgery as soon as they can schedule it. I won’t be put back on the waiting list.
It is now about 45 hours since I went into surgery.
Most of my discomfort is due to the pulling of the dressing but there is a little bit of tenderness when I swallow and a little bit of pain when I cough. I cough a bit more than I would like and it seems to be caused by exertion but it might be a side effect of continuing to smoke.
There are a couple of sore spots on my tongue and I am guessing some damage was done when they put the tube down my throat but I feel a whole lot better than I thought I would at this point that’s for sure!
Here are the before and after photos I promised.