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Post Operation

I woke up a little later gagging and feeling very very thirsty.  I remember two nurses talking and one gave me some sort of stick with water on it to wet my lips. I was very drowsy and drifted back to sleep.

I woke up later with Tom and his mum by my side.  I remember just wanting them to be with me even though I was hardly in the land of the living.  Tom's mum had come up for the day as someone needed to look after him and make sure he was doing all right through all this.

I feel back to sleep which was what I did for the majority of that afternoon.

I woke up later that day with my parents sitting next to me.  I was covered in tubes, one going into my hand and two others in my neck which were attached to vacuumed bottles.

I needed the toilet.

I was determined not to use a bed pan, why should I, I was fit and healthy, I could make the short distance to the toilet, no problem.  Mum helped me along with my tubes and bottles to the toilet.  I walked there, all by myself, I even passed Tom who looked pleased that I was up and about so soon after my operation.

I couldn't get back, I was sitting on the toilet about to throw up and lacking in energy as well as turning a shade of pale.  I was exhausted.  I was wheeled back to bed to lie down before I was sick.  I was also slightly embarrassed about having to pee in front of my mum, I had gone past those years a long time ago.  As I was to find out, you loose a lot of your dignity in a hospital, you don't get much privacy and sometimes you don't even get a choice.  I did have to use "special chair" next to my bed for a few nights as I was too weak to go to the toilet alone.    Well at least I didn't have a catheter.  There was a chance, should the operation go over three hours, but thankfully for me, it didn't.

I  spoke with my parents, Tom and his mum for a while before visiting hours was up.

This is when my calcium levels dropped, this is called hypocalcaemic.  For most people it is over twenty four hours later, but not me, no, it took less than twelve for it to start affecting me.  I got pins and needles in my toes and fingers which worked its way up my arms and legs towards my chest.  Due to the extensive time of waiting for the blood tests, my fingers had gone into spasm and I started hyper ventilating.  This is something I have never done in my life and would never wish too again.  Due to my lack of awareness from all the chemicals I had being pumped into my body, the pins and needles felt like it had worked its way up my body and into my chest.  It was the worst night of my life.

I had a camera put up my nose (without any anesthetic, might I add) to check that my airways were clear as there was some speculation that I might be asthmatic.  Luckily all it took was a big brown paper bag and some calcium to sort me out.

I managed to get to sleep at about two in the morning, only to be woken at 6.30am by cleaners/food porters/noise from staff changes/ and a lack of curtains in the room.  How was I supposed to recover from this operation if I wasn't get my sleep.  And boy, did I need it.  In those teenage years I could happily sleep till midday.

This would become my routine, get woken up at the crack of dawn, have breakfast before the daily rounds of the doctors to come and have a stare at you and your charts.  I remember once being told I was looking pale, apart from being very pale skinned anyway, could they blame me, I was exhausted because I wasn't being left to sleep.  I think I snapped at that poor doctor.

I was lucky to have a lot of visitors, but looking back it was far too exhausting for me.  I should have kept it to the minimum as I was still having a lot of side affects and trying to be positive for everyone was hard.  I was so worried what my best friend would think of my new scar that I tried to cover it up which only made things worse as anything touching my neck would make it swell up even more.

I remember once, two days after my operation.  I was coming off my morphine and started being sick (by some strange co-incidence it was at the same point at which my dad was reading out my multiple choice food menu for the following day).  My biggest tip is as much as hospitals are boring as hell, it is better to have only a few people visit whilst recovering and once out and at home, then you can start accepting all the offers of friends adn family dropping round.

After five days I was able to have my first drain out.  My god, no-one prepared me for that one.  The nurse cut the stitches and then pulled it out, all 15cm's (in length) of it, yes that is right, it is huge!!  My I swore terribly that morning.  I was glad she took that one out first as the stitches had got knocked and were pulling at my skin for three days.  Not nice, believe me.   My drains were in the back of my neck.  I believe some people have them at the front.  I remember not wanting to sit up straight, I kept lying on my side, it was most comfortable for me.  It later transpired that the reason I didn't like sitting up was because when I leaned on a pillow it pushed on the stitches and drains, which obviously caused me great pain.

I remember the first time I got to look at my scar I was shocked, it was horrible.  I thought I looked like Frankinstein.  It had congealed blood around it and was such an unattractive scar, topped off with greasy hair and no make-up I was a right old sight.  I couldn't wash myself so one day after a good cry, (my emotions were up and down at this point) a nurse helped clean the wound and after five days of terrible night gowns I was able to put on a vest top (no bra, as this was too tight on my shoulder) and some jeans.  This was a turn around day for me, it was the first step in my recovery - getting back to normality.

Two days later I had the second drain taken out, and knowing what I knew from the previous one I was prepared.  It hurt, but it was bearable.   They also removed half of my staples.  This didn't hurt as I had lost all feeling in my scar area, which to this day has not returned completely.  I was given an appointment to see a physiotherapist as my muscles in my neck had seized up and I lost the use of my left arm.  I think a lot of the muscles tensing up was due to the fact that I refused to move my neck, in case I did any damage to the scar, I was worried it would split open.

I was finally allowed to go home, a week after my operation. I went home, to bed.  I saw my doctor at the surgery the following morning who was shocked to find out all that had happened to me since I saw him the month before.  He checked me over and said if I needed to see him to ring him straight away.  It was nice knowing I had someone there should I have had any problems.

I returned to the hospital a few days later to have the rest of the staples taken out and was informed that I looked like I was healing well.  I didn't want to go home straight away.  I wanted to go shopping!!!  I made Tom take me to my local high street.  I still didn't realise the full impact of the operation till I almost collapsed in a newsagents.    I don't think I realised how awful I looked or that I had this huge red scar around me neck, people starred and I just ignored it, I was too ill to care.

I spent the rest of the week in bed.  I was unable to wash my hair or myself, but thanks to Tom he helped keep me clean and looking good.  Well as good as I could seeing that I looked like the female version of Frankinstein.  The photographs below were taken on this day.  I wanted a reminder of how ill I was and to be able to see how far I had come.
 
These pictures we all taken on the first day I came out of hospital.  A week after my operation.  The quality isn't so good, but you can see the extent of the surgery.  The white plaster on the back of my neck was from the drain that I had had removed that morning.  It is easy to see the bruising on my neck though a lot of the swelling had gone down.
 

For the next month I had physiotherapy which helped to get some movement back in my neck and arm.  I was given exercises to do at home.  I am still slightly restricted in my neck movement and my shoulder joint will sometimes ache, but apart from that I am just as flexible as I used to be.

I continued taking the tablets I was given, thyroxine, calcium and alfacalcidol (a form of vitamin D).  I now take these every day and will have to for the rest of my life.   Which isn't so bad.  I clean my teeth twice a day but don't think I wish I didn't have to do it, it is something that you do, so taking tablets once a day is also, just something you do.  For those readers in the UK, there is one great little advantage of taking thyroxine, you get a medical exemption certificate, which allows you to have all your prescriptions for free for the rest of your life.

Two weeks after the operation I became hypercalcaemic, this is where the levels of calcium in the body are too high.   I was taking calcium because during surgery they removed and replaced my parathyroids which create the calcium.  They never began working properly so I was required to take calcium three times a day and the vitamin D to help me absorb it.  However, after weeks of taking this medication my parathyroids partially kicked in and started working.  So whilst I was taking this calcium my body was also producing it which meant I had far too much for my body.  The side effect I experienced was sickness and feeling very lethargic which resulted in loss of appetite.

I phoned the doctor who asked me to come down straight away to see him.  He took some blood tests and would call with the results.  The following day I was told I may need to go back into hospital as my calcium levels were very high.  But they decided to see what happened once I stopped taking the calcium.  As soon as I did I started to feel better.  But then my calcium dropped and I became hypocalcemic.  The side affects of this were what I had experienced in hospital.  I would feel pins and needles in my hands as well as have the muscles spasms that meant my fingers would close into a fist and had to be prised out.  This was to become a regular pattern for the next three years until after traveling I could be closely monitored and medicated correctly.  The only problem I have now is if I have a little more than usual to drink and didn't take a tablet the day before, otherwise my calcium levels are now thankfully stabilised.

I do have an on going problem with not having any feeling in my neck and shoulder.  A lot of nerves in my neck area were cut and have never repaired themselves.  I can't feel touch, hot or cold and consequently have a burn on my shoulder the size of a 50p.  I could not feel the heat from a hot water bottle being used to help with the pains in my shoulder socket that I was experiencing at the time.  Though I am annoyed I had another scar to add to my new collection, I consider it a saving grace.  People would notice that scar and not the one that went around my neck.  I do have good party trick which involved placing an ice cube on my shoulder and watching it melt, I can't feel a thing.  This seemed to impress friends whilst traveling.

I only took a month off work in total, which looking back should have been longer.  I felt bad for leaving my work colleagues and was quite bored at home.  When I went back I couldn't stretch my arm out to take paper out of the printer, but slowly with my physiotherapist I was able to gain strength and movement back in my arm.

Not one to be deterred from reaching a goal. I started learning to drive again.  At first, after the operation I could not even put the hand brake on as I lacked the strength in my left arm, but as time went on I was able to continue as normal.  Throughout that period in my life, my greatest achievement was passing my driving test first time.  It sounds silly to some people, but it was the first occasion where cancer had not stopped me from achieving everything I wanted.

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