This is the garden at Queen Victoria hospital in East Grinstead where I spent all day today at appointments. It pretty much sums up my experience. And it’s the first time I’ve felt moved enough in a medical setting to take a picture of something beautiful. There may have been other beautiful things in other places but I’ve never felt relaxed long enough to notice, nor been sob-free long enough to focus.
Today was different.
For the first time I felt unequivocally listened to, treated like a whole human person and put firmly at the centre of everything that will happen in the coming weeks. It was such a new feeling that I got over-excited until I remembered that this is how it should feel. This is how it should be.
My first appointment was with the health care assistant who within two minutes had jollily told me she had just been diagnosed with diabetes. We spent most of the time together comparing notes on our various diseases.
She weighed me. My ridiculously unscientific plan to gain more fat in my belly by eating as much cake as possible seems to have paid off. I’m one and a half kilos heavier. No guarantee it’s gone where it’s needed though. But the nurse did commend me on my efforts and reinforced the idea that maybe I was on the right track.
She measured my height. To test for MRSA she got me to stick very elongated cotton buds in my nostrils and down the sides of my thighs. Yes alright, in my groin. I’m not sure why I don’t like that word. It’s a perfectly good word. Perhaps because I link it with the word ‘strain’ and imagine some parallel universe where I attempt to do the splits and it goes predictably wrong.
The MRSA results will be back in two days but even if I have it, they still go ahead with the surgery. I’ll just have to apply some anti-MRSA bodywash before I go in. The hospital has never had MRSA in there but they’re totally up for putting their perfect record at risk to make sure I get into surgery.
Next up was my ECG to measure my heart. All was well as was my blood pressure, heart rate and all my answers to the medical questionnaire were acceptable.
Then I got a break for lunch and that’s where I found this wonderful garden outside the cafe. The coffee was even good and at the randomly awesome price of £1.48, who can say no. Cherry on top, the WiFi was free.
Last appointment was with the anaesthetist. Up to this point I was thinking maybe the nurses were different. Nurses are generally easier going and I’ve had less problems with them than the consultants. And the anaesthetist was not a nurse. Maybe this bit of the appointment would be tricker.
Nope. She was as awesome, if not more than the nurses before her. She told me in extreme detail what was going to happen before, during and after surgery. She even told me about procedures they’d do that would be invisible to me because I’d be asleep. That I wouldn’t have known about. That maybe I’d end up with bruising from but wouldn’t know where it’d come from. She told me everything.
When I told her the anti-emetics I had in chemo hadn’t worked at all and maybe I’d have problems with the same ones they give me during surgery. She didn’t blink. She didn’t sigh or fob me off. She carefully explained the difference between what chemo does to the nausea centre of the brain and how the anaesthia works. She was attentive and genuinely interested in the story I told of how vaping cannabis solved my nausea in minutes. She got passionate when we discussed the neurology of nausea and pain and the fine line between poison as medicine.
We spent most of the appointment discussing cutting edge research and exploring approaches to cancer and surgery that values good mental health and the benefits of informed patients who are in control of their treatment. She only saw these as positive things. Never once did she get defensive. Never once did she hurry me along or make me feel I was a problem. That my knowledge and need for control were annoyances.
I can see why this hospital is a centre of excellence. They take care of the whole person. They are passionate about their field so that when their patients ask questions, they get excited. They want to share their knowledge, not hoard it. They want to learn and are open to patients bringing them new knowledge. They do individualised medicine as much as they can with the tools they have.
Now I’m feeling confident and happy about the surgery next week. This experience is so hard and they just made it that bit easier.
And I had my boobs professionally photographed. In a properly lit studio and everything. What a day.