Progress reports to our readers detailing Franís recuperation from the latest major surgery (every two years whether she needs it or not) have become routine in this publication. Perhaps we should just host a web site or blog entitled ďThe Perils of Pauline, or, Operations on the Editor.Ē
As she related in her column a few weeks ago, she discovered that she had breast cancer (again) back in October, for which she underwent surgery Wednesday, lasting into the early hours of Thanksgiving Day. This was, as best we can tell, a brand new cancer in the same breast, not a recurrence of the old one from fifteen years ago. At that time she opted for a lumpectomy (removal of the tumor) rather than a full mastectomy, a poor choice in retrospect, but it made sense back then.
Enough of that lax regime Ė this time both of the miscreants have been banished forever. Fran is going to get a t-shirt like the one a friend of ours occasionally wears reading, ďThese are not my real ones. I got rid of them after they tried to kill me.Ē
The reason for the long lag-time between diagnosis and surgery was that nowadays, the surgeon who performs the mastectomy hands off to a plastic surgeon who does reconstruction to mitigate the work of his colleague. Coordinating their schedules is a tricky job and can take some time. We were assured that the delay would not have any long-term effect. A mastectomy is a fairly quick job, requiring only an hour or two, but reconstruction, which nowadays is a microsurgery requiring the suturing of tiny blood vessels, is laborious and time consuming, performed, literally, under a microscope. Anglers who tie #24 midges under powerful magnification might have some indication of the complexity of the work.
Franís operation, a double mastectomy and reconstruction, took an unbelievable 20 Ė twenty Ė hours, there being certain complications necessitating choices which the doctor had to consult me about while she was still on the table. It was a harrowing two days. My cell phone finally rang at 4:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, informing me that the patient would be brought up to intensive care from recovery in an hour.
I arrived at about 5:45 a.m., made my way through the warren of different units in the Eisenberg Center at Rochester Methodist Hospital, and found my way to Franís room not much later than her arrival. Now Mayo, of course, is a world-renowned medical center, but this scene is never reassuring. The room is like Dr. Frankensteinís laboratory, with the patient hooked up by miles of wires and tubes to a variety of machines, devices, collectors, meters, etc., which utter a cacophony of beeps, rings, whirring and generally scary noise. And after a long and arduous surgery, the patient inevitably plays the part of monster very well. When you visit a loved one under these circumstances for the first time, steel yourself.
The nurse, however, was reassuring and let me know that Fran had come through the operation just fine, and was doing well despite outward appearances. When asked what her pain level was on the scale of one to ten, she opened one eye half way and mouthed, ďten.Ē She didnít communicate much of anything else.
Thankfully, on my return visit that evening, she was alert and talkative and, though still in considerable pain, looking much better. The news from the doctors is generally good, as is Franís prognosis, thus, the relatively light tone of this piece. But as everyone knows, cancer is a life-threatening illness, so your prayers would not be wasted if, indeed, they ever are.