Third Time Is A Charm

There is a Latin phrase, “omne trium perfectum” which means everything that comes in threes is perfect. That was my mantra on the Monday morning when I went in for my 3rd lumpectomy.

This was my final chance and it had to be perfect.

I felt like a celebrity when I arrived at the surgery center….everybody recognized me or my family. The elderly volunteer that worked the information desk greeted my husband like they had known each other for years. The woman working the registration desk expressed her condolences.

I took an all too familiar seat in the lobby and waited for my name to be called. Emotionally I was having a much harder time with this surgery. It had been 14 days since my last surgery, the last steri-strip had fallen off and I finally had a day where I didn’t feel like I needed a nap.

And now here I was again.

I was emotionally exhausted. Tired of having to make such big decisions and scared of the scars that will be left behind.

I would have 3 surgeries in 22 days.

The lobby was full that day and every one of us shared the energy of uncertainty and hope. I said a silent prayer that this would be my last time.

When my name was called I took a deep breath before rising, I stood up tall and gathered my energy. A round of hugs from the family sent me out of the room feeling loved and protected even more.

As I approached the nursing assistant that had called my name I saw a quizzical look on her face, I could tell she thought I looked familiar but she couldn’t place me. “This is my 3rd surgery this month”, I tell her. She looks shocked and relieved that she has a good memory.

Just a few steps into the pre-op and I hear an excited voice shout my name…it was my nurse friend from last time. “I recognized your name on the schedule this morning and was excited to see you but not happy it was under these circumstances”, she says as she gives me a big hug. “I’ve got to go finish up with another patient then I’ll be back to take care of you”, she says as she heads off down the hall.

Well at least if I was going to have to be here it was comforting to know people.

The nursing assistant took my vitals and I was surprised to see my blood pressure was elevated to a level I had never seen it at in my life. She recorded the information, gave me my gown and slippers and pulled the privacy curtain as she left. As I stood there alone I had a moment of panic, was I doing the right thing?

I took a deep breath and found my courage again. I changed my clothes and hopped into the bed. I laughed as I thought that no matter how many times I put them on, the hospital gown and non skid slippers still didn’t make the fashion statement I wanted.

I snuggled under blankets that had come straight from the warmer and tried to stop shivering. I wasn’t sure if it was nerves or the cold room.

The pre-op was as busy as the lobby and I waited a while before my nurse friend came in wearing a big grin. My face lit up in response. We talked briefly about the injustice of a 3rd surgery and she asked all the required questions as efficiently as possible. I asked how she was healing from her tooth extraction. She excitedly shared what herbs she had used, how well they had worked and her gratitude for my advice.

I also learned that the other nurse that shared my passion for herbs was on duty that morning as well. She would come by to see me as soon as she was free. It was my lucky day…sorta.

We got down to business about why I was here. I told her that the back of my hand was still not feeling right from the last IV and I could even see a flat spot in the vein where the needle had been. Again my veins were not cooperating and she was challenged to find one she was comfortable with and we agreed that she should try the back of my hand away from the last spot.

We both knew when the vein blew. She had hit it fine but it was too weak. “You are going to have a bruise”, she says apologetically as she holds pressure to stop the bleeding. “Well it’ll match my boob”, I reply laughing.

By now I know how things will look after surgery.

My second nurse friend comes in and we exchange excited greetings. Her timing is perfect. She is the nurse they call for the hard sticks. The three of us talk about herbs and other fun things while my hand gets bandaged up and she looks for another vein. The choices aren’t good and she goes for one on the inside of my forearm.

It hurts when she sticks me. They are both concentrating on it intently when it blows too.

Damn. That’s gonna leave a mark.

I already have two bandages and still don’t have an IV in place. I can’t miss the irony of having to be stuck three times at my third surgery.

The next stick is successful and they both feel bad about the bruising that is sure to show up. I assure them that I understand why my veins didn’t want to be here today…I didn’t want to either.

Soon my room is again filled with family and nurses when my doctor arrives. She laughs when I ask if there is any chance she is having a buy 2 get 1 free sale.

We go over the procedure. It will be more invasive this time with two incisions, the same cut around my areola and an additional cut up in my armpit to get the lymph node. I would be injected with a dye that will lead her to the sentinel lymph node that would come out to be biopsied.

And I would pee blue when I got home.

Well that’s new.

When all my questions have been answered she pulls out her sharpie and writes the all too familiar “yes” on my left breast. I’m getting tired of scrubbing that word off.

The nurse comes to get me for the operating room and I say my goodbyes. She unlocks the bed and asks if I’m ready. No. I don’t have my blue hat. She digs around under my pillow and comes up with it as I realize that I know the routine way too well.

I force myself to breathe deeply as she wheels me down the hall. I was more scared this time. This had to be the last time.

I woke up with some pain that was quickly managed as I struggled to focus. I had told the anesthesiologist before the surgery that I wanted whatever they gave me at the second surgery because I didn’t feel nauseous when I woke up. Thankfully it seemed he had listened.

I was out of there as soon as possible. My ice pack, pain medicine and sleeping nest were familiar as I took up my healing routine again.

I was awake the next day at 4:15pm when the phone rang. The caller ID said it was the surgeon’s office. The last time she called this quick it was bad news. I was in a panic as my husband answered the phone.

The surgeon identified herself and said “The third times a charm. We got clear margins and the lymph node was negative.”

I was speechless. There were no words that could express the emotion I felt in that moment.

I cried.

I found my voice and expressed my gratitude to her. She would see me next week at my follow up appointment.

We sat for a moment just staring at the phone, tears of joy streaming down our faces.

No more surgery would be needed.

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