flowers by Bloom and Wild

How many times can you begin writing a blog post only to delete and then rewrite the little you’ve documented before sending it to trash forever (the ultimate deletion of deleting), opening up a blank post a few days later, restarting the whole Groundhog Day process once again?

Blogging is therapy. It’s the revelation of what is hidden most days. It’s remembering, processing and sharing the good and in this case, the bad  both physically, emotionally and experimentally and ultimately, facing up to it all. It’s healthy and necessary. It’s a means of stopping it stop you. It lessens the harder parts of life’s hold on you.

If you’re reading this, it’s nothing short of a miracle because as you know, to start with, I failed to formulate a post at all. I wasn’t sure of the structure. I’m still not sure there is any to be honest.  I’ve simply had to let it flow and fall out of me (a bit like the flipping nodule that was removed) so here it is, a Morning Notes-style stream of consciousness I hope makes sense to you, but first and foremost needs to make sense to me so I can move on.

I’ve pondered, postulated, regressed, refreshed (the tabs) and mostly run away from this post since my operation in June, 5 months ago, and from what I needed to imprint onto (digital) paper (my clunky keyboard heavy from the weight of my frustrated fingers) in order to understand, overcome and hopefully, heal. To heal in every soothing sense of that rounded verb the Americans love so much. That I love so much.

So, let’s rewind.

Last winter saw me suffer with recurrent tonsillitis, pain so acute I’d sit for hours and weep. I, the woman the midwife didn’t know was having hyper-contractions with my firstborn, Oliver as I couldn’t feel the pain. The woman who endured a crash c-section (in part) because of her high pain threshold.

It was horrid.

The worst pain I’ve felt to date.

Below I’ve shared a ‘painometre’  to provide some context:

  • An acute water infection at 16 weeks pregnant with my second son which saw me hospitalised for 10 days.
  • Thryoiditis
  • Quincy/Tonsillitis
  • Recovery from 2 c-sections, the crash far worse than a tranquil elective.
  • Ovarian cyst pain
  • PMT

My throat throbbed and burned. My whole body ached. I couldn’t drive my kids to school. I could no longer lift my ‘light as a feather’ 5 year old or carry him on my back as a Mumma Bear would her cub.  Not when I was suffering, which was every day at that point. I’d stopped living really and was in survival mode, but like every ‘good’ horror movie, the worst was yet to come…

Waking in the middle of the night, ejected like a spring in a box from my slumber, gasping for breath, heart racing, I phoned for an ambulance and arrived at Wrexham Park Hospital 15 minutes later, soothed by the first doctor I saw before enduring a 4 hour wait at 3 am, dodging drunks in the Waiting Room, finally seeing an ENT who prescribed me much-needed antibiotics and steroids. The doctor praised me for being so vigilant and rushing in, informing me that I’d only just prevented quincy, something I’d suffered with at 23, and never wanted to experience again.

I improved (and want to say thank you to my school mum friend Carolyn for helping me with my kids when I couldn’t move out of bed) but I didn’t fully recover, and it was upon seeing an emergency doctor during this prolonged period of tonsillitis that he noticed what he thought was a nodule on my thyroid, as I spoke.

I, of course returned home in tears, convinced the nodule would be thyroid cancer (the majority are benign by the way), heightened by the fact I’d not long lost my young Aunt Zak to a rare form of thyroid cancer. It was a living nightmare.

A miniature camera on a tube through my nose and into my throat (as bizarre a feeling as it sounds) followed by a CT Scan revealed the nodule was not the rare, fatal cancer Zak had suffered but cancer was unlikely, it couldn’t be ruled out either. The nodule was found to be pressing on my windpipe (hence me waking up feeling like I couldn’t breathe) and Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland) was also confirmed, and  an operation was inescapable.

This is what followed…

Pre Op:

The appointments with consultant and surgeon Mr Stephen Wood, the ‘Hot Doc’ as my Mum and I affectionately referred to him as, (naughty Mum, sorry Mr Wood, we didn’t mean to objectify you-I did reveal his nickname which made him laugh and mentioned I’d be including it here), was an absolute saviour to me (literally).

Seeing him at Princess Margaret’s Hospital in Windsor and witnessing his limitless patience as I went over (and over) my fears with him on each and every appointment, offered me great solace during those worrisome months pre-op.

After several scans thanks to the also understanding Mr Matthew Bull, it was decided I needed a thyroid isthmusectomy for the large nodule (4 inches I was later told) which had taken me hostage for so very long (8 years potentially but undetectable until then by the eye, due to its position).

Tests revealed I didn’t have an over or under-active thyroid nor did I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis so it was ‘just’ the removal of the large nodule that was necessary…

Medicine is a vocation and I couldn’t have been in better hands with Mr Wood- again- literally.

I’ve come to realise, you fall a little bit in love with everyone who has contributed to keeping you/ and your loved ones alive, and Mr Wood will always have a special place in my heart.

Rather like the anaesthetist Alexander, when my own baby Alexander was born, and Toby Chelms, the psychologist who pieced me back together post-traumatic birth (and features in my book MUMBOSS), you never forget those who steer you back to mental and physical health.

….Importantly, I was reassured that whatever was to come, I would be OK.

My best friend Will (Dr William Wynn-Jones) an anaesthetist who was doing a fellowship at Harvard University at that time, spent hours on the phone to me pre-op calming me. He provided a step by step drill of what would happen during the op so to say I felt informed was quite the understatement.

My close friends Carlie, Ruth, Amancay and Caroline listened to my tears, and buoyed me up during that difficult time.

Those girls have always been there when I needed them.

My friend Jacqui of Mummy’s Little Monkey visited pre-op and reminded me I had to strength to overcome this difficult time, that I’d been through far worse just with trolls alone!

Good friends Harriet Thorpe, Michelle Reeves and Jessica Huie MBE also phoned me with wise words on their own experiences in theatre which helped to calm my mind.

Dr Juliet McGrattan, another pal too reassured me many times pre and post-op too. She was never too busy, despite being hugely busy (!) and was always at the end of a phone which meant so much to me.

The culmination of support from family and friends kept me going. As did my loving husband, Peter, my rock.

The op was early evening so I spent an hour calming my frantic mind doing yoga, with my good friend Louise, a yoga teacher, visiting before hand helping me reach the closest I’ve ever felt to absolute tranquillity and a meditative state.

Setting off for D Day that afternoon, I was as ready as I ever would be.

 

Op:

My operation took place at Wexham Park Hospital and I stayed in the private wing, the pleasant Parkside Suite whose front of line staff were attentive and kind throughout.

I walked to theatre (my choice) after chatting to Mr Wood where I half-jokingly enquired whether anyone had ever run away pre-op. Someone had in the 80s. How we laughed at the coward. At the coward I momentarily wished I was brave enough to copy.

Then it’s movie style flashbacks as I was on the theatre table, the anaesthetic starting to work.

 

Post Op:

Waking up in a haze, unable to see clearly for what felt like an eternity but was more like half an hour, to the soothing sound of a lady with a Spanish accent stroking my hand and telling me I was OK, that of course I lived through the op when I enquired (!), I  noticed Mr Wood standing by me telling me he was happy with how the op went, that all was well.

My first thought was how worried my Mum must be feeling back in my room, waiting, unaware I’d woken up.

I was grateful that what I feared, was now over and anxious to see her. Peter was now back home with our boys as we tried to keep life as normal as possible.

My throat, at that moment and for many months after the op, felt strange as if soggy toast was lodged within it, flapping around inside, and if I moved my mouth too widely, I felt as is I was choking.

This sensation later morphed into feeling as if a metal grate had set up unsolicited in my throat. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

Back in my room, I squirmed at the suggestion of a piece of toast to eat, or anything ever again for that matter. Scared, I slowly sipped on orange juice.

…I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to repay my best friend Will (we met during our uni days) who phoned me from America as soon as my Mum left.

We spoke for an hour or more, he, reassuring me that the odd sensations were due to the various drugs I’d been given, normalising that frighting time for me. I’m certain his support prevented me from becoming depressed post-op. He had me talking, however painful, from the off. I’ll never be able to adequately thank him but I’ll spend my life trying.

He likes to tell me I made sure he was fed through Med School so maybe this was my karmic-thank you!

Seriously though, reflecting back on that tough time has made me realise more than ever what a strong bond I have with my inner circle: my close family and friends and those I simply cannot live without.

My manager Jack Freud too, removed all pressure from my workload, ensuring I had the month off I needed to recuperate and recover. Being able to put my trust and business matters then, and now into Jack’s capable hands and not worry also helped me to recover.

 

Recovery:

The few days post-op were a blur figuratively, and literally. I wasn’t fully present. Weak from surgery, in immense pain and unable to eat, Peter initially bathed and dressed me. Even walking to the school gates felt a mammoth task in those early days and weeks. I was unsteady on my feet, fragile and worried about my mental health.

Relief came a week later however when sitting in Mr Wood’s office, I received the happy news my nodule was benign. The relief was palpable. My heart goes out to those not as lucky as I. I later discovered that a first cousin in Cyprus had suffered with thyroid cancer many years before, making a full recovery.  I was grateful she’d not told me about this during my week-long wait but was sad she too had experienced a similar operation to me.

….Over the coming weeks, I was sent so many flowers (thank you to Tim from Exposure Ninja, Uju of Babes About Town, Nomita of Your DIY Family and Mirka of Fitness 4 Mamas for the first mammoth, vibrant delivery of bouquets I received on arrival back home which made our home resemble a florists from day 1) and every single bunch, which brought me insurmountable joy. Those living flowers helped to revive me really. They reminded me that I could start living again.

From thoughtful readers sending gifts to my PO Box address to close friends posting uplifting gifts (my best friend Carlie read my mind and sent me Neoms Happy hand cream just as the lingering disinfectant hospital smell was overwhelming me) to house plants, trinkets, crystal and notepads. It was those and the messages full of love that helped combat the trauma and helped me emotionally.

I remember every single kind friend and colleague’s gifts and the strength it gave me.

My kids too, startled me with their emotional maturity and unwavering support, and wise counsel. I’d always held the belief that I had to be the strong one in the mix but quickly learned our relationship was a two way street.

Thanks to that love, day by day I became stronger, I was able to eat more, and the pain, while acute and the feeling my throat was blocked for many months, began to ease. It is only now, 5 months post-op my throat feels normal again.

Mr Wood advised it could take between 6 months and a year to feel 100% (and reminded me often that I’d undergone, ‘a big op’) so I ensured I was kind to myself and continue to be.

I have a short, red scar across my throat which is slowly fading. People sometimes stare, others, don’t give it a second glance. It will fade I’m told but I really don’t mind it it. I’ve even started to like it. Scars tell the story of your life, right, and this one has become a significant part of mine.

On first seeing the scar, Alexander looked me right in the eye, held my gaze and told me that I was brave, that I was, ‘a ninja mama’, like the one in a story I’d invented for him and Oliver, many months ago where the heroic mum fights adversity and saves the day.

I had no choice to be brave, but brave I was, I suppose.

You can’t possibly know your strength until you’ve been put under the most stressful of situations.

There’s a ninja mama in all of us…

Special thanks to my lovely friend Joanne, nurse and blogger at The Ealing Mummy for giving me the final push to publish this post. She reminded me at the latest Creative Women’s Network event that pouring my heart out, onto the page would be good for the mind and good for the soul. She wasn’t wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

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6 Responses

  1. Uju

    Oh darling, so glad you published this. Writing is indeed therapy and always grateful for blogs giving a space to share some of our deepest, most personal struggles. You went through such an ordeal, and you are beyond brave (and truly a ninja mama) to have carried on like a boss, launching and promoting a gat-darn book, while you were in the worst way! Very thankful to the amazing medical team who helped you pull through, and I’m chuckling a little to see ‘hot doc’ outed on your blog. He must have blushed to read it 😉 Onwards and upwards for 2019 and beyond, much love mama xoxo

    Reply
  2. Michelle Reeves

    Vicki thank you for sharing this – however difficult and painful – because it will help so many who have a frightening diagnosis that needs more investigation. As you know I had a benign tumour in my neck a few years ago and that wait was so scary but having solid support around me was crucial and I’m so happy that you had that too. Much love x

    Reply
  3. Angela Milnes

    Operations are the worst and whilst I’ve not been through your op, I understand how awful they can make you feel and know the feeling of being so unwell. I’m glad you had support and were able to get through this tough time.

    Reply

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