121. A cog in a machine


26 April 2015

I am a cog in a machine, and it's a tiny cog. Insignificant, even.

My pre-operative appointment involves a meeting with the pre-operative nurse (to check my height, blood presuure, and the presence of a responsible adult to look after me on discharge), the breast care nurse (to give me yet more leaflets, this time on how to reduce the risk of lymphoedema and what kind of shoulder exercises to do after surgery) and a very young doctor (to take my blood, check my alcohol intake and explain the whole procedure once again - he was actually the most personable of the three).

I sit in the waiting room for an hour before each of these short meetings. It takes all morning. I am calm, in control, competent. I make no fuss, ask only sensible questions, smile, make a few jokes. I act lighthearted because they act lighthearted; I act unconcerned because that is the message I get.

This is routine.
This is not a problem.
This is small.

But when I come home, laden with leaflets and a pink card to take in for another lot of bloodletting next week, it occurs to me that in all my contacts with doctors and nurses so far, not a single one has asked me how I feel. They hardly looked at me.

I am a small lump that needs to be removed, so that I can be handed over to the next lot in the hospital machine.

I am sure this is good news in itself. It is how I present myself to the outside world, before others get a chance to get overly upset or even concerned: Don't worry, this will be fine, this will be over and done with in a couple of months' time, come September I'll be back into the swing of things as if nothing has happened.

When I tell my husband how I was never asked how I am, my older daughter listens and says, "Go on then Dad, you've got to ask her!"

I explain to her that I am talking about hospital staff. Family and friends have, on the contrary, been extremely supportive and ask me how I am all the time.

[They did. You can read about that here.]

"Well," my daughter reasons, "you don't need the hospital doctors and nurses to ask you how you are. Family and friends can do that. Doctors and nurses just need to make you better."

Perhaps she is right. And I completely trust the hospital staff to do just that.

But then I text my Knee Owl Friend to ask how her pre-op appointment had gone (on the same day). Since we are both the lucky owners of an owl to help us through it (and mine had come along to all my appointments, peering prominently out of my handbag) I added...

"Owl survived his pre-op day although there was a lot of waiting involved and not a single person asked him how he was..."

What is it with this owl? I had told my husband and daughter exactly the same thing and was absolutely fine. But when I write how Owl was ignored, I am suddenly choked up.

Poor owl, poor owl. No-one asked him how he was. No-one noticed him.

No-one noticed me.

They talked to me and measured me, but they didn't see me. They noticed the outward competence and responded to it. They didn't see the inward shaking.

I must arrange to go and see my lovely GP.

To be continued...