I had the lymph node biopsy on Thursday 11th July, just two days after seeing the haematologist. On Tuesday night I had mentioned to my husband that tomorrow, I might call a friend who is a surgeon and works in the city. My husband called him that night. I was going to disguise his name for this blog, because I thought that was the done thing, but I figured if I am not going to insult him and I have his permission, why not use his real name? Anyone who knows him would have worked out who I was talking about, and anyone who doesn’t know him still won’t know him when I mention his name. His blog name was going to be Calvin Klein. His name is Christian Kenfield, Mr Christian Kenfield. Not a very creative disguise.
I worked with Christian at Geelong Hospital for several years beginning when we were both interns. During those years there were many drunken nights. One of us may have even fallen asleep on the floor of a crazy German restaurant one night. Despite knowing how much he liked to party out of work, I knew that at work he was dedicated and meticulous. I trusted him to perform my minor surgery. I spoke with Christian that Tuesday night after seeing the haematologist and he asked me if I’d like him to take a lymph node out. I said I would love him to. It turns out the timing was perfect as this man travels a lot and he was off interstate or overseas the day after the biopsy. He offered to do it on Wednesday but we decided Thursday would be better for both of us. It gave him more than 12 hours to organize it and it meant I could still do reading with the preps on Wednesday.
After reading, Wednesday was spent organizing a pathologist to look at my lymph node. I was pulling a lot of favours from colleagues already! I texted another friend, Saurabh, a pathologist who I have known since our registrar days and who I last knew to be working at the hospital where my lymph node would be sent. He said he didn’t work there anymore and asked why I was asking. I sent a casual text back saying I was being investigated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the phone rang within seconds. There were a few expletives (anyone who knows Saurabh will not be at all surprised by that) about just dropping that into a text but he basically said to leave it with him and he would make sure the pathologist who is most skilled at diagnosing lymphoma looks at it. He said if I had the operation on Thursday, the pathology report would be completed by Monday, Tuesday at the latest. I texted Christian and asked him to write the pathologists name all over the request slip. Everything was set. I also rang and made an appointment with my haematologist for the following Tuesday, one week after I had last seen him. Much quicker than the three weeks it would have taken if I’d seen a local surgeon.
I fasted from midnight, woke up early and my husband dropped me at the hospital in the city and he went to work. My mum stayed at my place the night before so she could drop the kids at school and childcare. Things moved pretty quickly in hospital. Straight into a room, changed into a hospital gown, a quick chat to the anaesthetist who discussed whether he would intubate me or use a laryngeal mask depending on whether Christian took a lymph node from my neck or supraclavicular region (above the collarbone). I was then wheeled down to theatre where I met some nurses and the anaesthetist again. An intravenous cannula was inserted and then Christian appeared. He gave me a kiss and I asked if he greeted all of his patients that way. He felt my nodes (that almost sounds rude) and decided to go for one above my right collarbone as he thought that would give the best cosmetic result. I really wasn’t worried about the cosmetic result. I knew the scar would be small and a little reminder of this adventure didn’t bother me. I was wheeled into the operating theatre, transferred on to the operating table, given some fentanyl which made my head spin and then some propofol and I was gone.
I have no idea what happened after that but the next thing I remember is waking up crying and having absolutely no idea why I was crying. Something to do with having cancer perhaps? There was a male nurse sitting by my bed and he told me I’d woken up earlier with a really stressed look on my face and had then gone back to sleep. I asked how long the operation had taken. He looked at the chart and said “40 minutes”. I was surprised by that. It seemed like a long time for a fairly simple procedure, but not being a surgeon I really have no idea. I concluded that Christian must have been meticulous. Christian then appeared and told me everything went well and gave me instructions on when to get the stitch removed. He’d put in one continuous subcuticular (under the skin) stitch to achieve the best cosmetic result. He also told me he had hand delivered my lymph node to the pathologist I had arranged to look at it. What service!
I was taken back to the ward where I spent the next two hours feeling very spaced out and lying very still. When I reached for my phone after that two hours, I knew I was feeling better. I sent a few texts and took my first cancer selfie.
I also took a photo of my lunch, not exactly sure why. Lisa take’s photos of her surgeons shoes. I take photos of my lunch. Don’t worry, it’s not an ongoing theme.
I was given some discharge medications; quite a lot for what I thought was a small procedure. There were three different types of pain killers and a very strong drug for nausea. I didn’t think I’d be needing that but thought I might as well hold onto it for when chemo starts.
As I was leaving the hospital Christian called to make sure I was OK. I said to him, “I meant to ask if you minded operating on me, because I wouldn’t do your autopsy”. He said that he doesn’t make a habit of operating on friends but he knew that he would take better care of me than anyone else. And that was true! The follow up has been pretty amazing. Text messages from the top of a hill when he can get a signal in remote Queensland, text messages from the Solomon Islands. He has even offered to cook dinner for the family. I don’t think there are many people out there who have a meal cooked for them by their surgeon. That is pretty extraordinary patient follow up! But my God, won’t he be in trouble if he doesn’t come through with the goods now? Christian is single by the way ladies. If anyone is interested, drop me a line and I would be happy to conduct interviews. Imagine if I got a wedding out of this blog. Now that would be an achievement and would have to go down as something good to come out this not good cancer!
I went out for dinner with the extended family that night. A strategically placed scarf covered up the surgical dressing and those who knew were under strict instructions not to look at me sympathetically and not to mention the ‘c’ word. I still wasn’t ready to talk about it, but then again it had only been three days since I saw my GP.