By the time I return from the MRI department, someone has been to my bay and left some cycling porn and a copy of the Guardian on my bed.
Just as I’m beginning to browse, my surgeon – the big cheese, the boss of the theatre, the one who’s been on TV – comes up to see me. He’s so relaxed, he practically gets into bed next to me.
“So, you know what we’re going to do?” he says. “And you know about the risks? OK, great. It’s going to be just fine. We’re still working on the guy before you, but once we’ve got him closed up, we’ll get you down there. A couple of hours. See you in a bit.”
My wife comes up 10 minutes later. She’s sheepishly clutching a cup of Costa coffee. She’s knows if there’s one thing I’d love more right now after 12 hours nil by mouth – even more than an arm full of cycling magazines – is the half-litre of steaming hot Americano she’s brought in for herself.
Our good friend arrives. She’s gone out of her way to arrange childcare, so she can sit with my wife while I’m downstairs. It’s great to see her, but I feel guilty because we’ve got a long wait until I do down.
I’m just about to say this, when a nurse arrives at the end of my bed.
“Come on then, you’re up.”
Everything then happens in a flash. All feelings of nervousness or reticence have gone. This is happening, it’s happening right now. There isn’t a chance to think. The three of us troop down to theatre with the nurse, I’m handed over to the anaesthetist, who goes over the consent forms with me again.
I kiss my friend. I kiss my wife.
Within minutes I’m lying on a thin theatre bed in the anaesthesia room, ever so slightly flirting with the anaesthetist as she pushes a syringe into my arm. Then I’m gone.
If you’ve ever had a general anaesthetic, you’ll know it’s nothing like being asleep. Narnia like, you’re out for hours and hours, but when you eventually wake up you have no sense that even a second has passed.
It’s like you’ve blinked your eyes.
I’m lying, looking up at the ceiling and wondering. There are people milling around, but I get a moment to check myself over. Fingers: right hand, one, two, three, four, five. Toes, the same. I count to ten out loud. I can hear my voice, it sounds normal.
The registrar comes, the same guy from last night. He welcomes me back, checks my vitals, gets me to do the pushing/pulling thing. He asks me my name, the date, where I am. I get the quiz right.
All faculties apparently in tact.
I drop back off, and he comes back ten minutes later and repeats the whole thing again.
Sometime soon, my wife arrives and they wheel me upstairs. Inexplicably, I’m already lying in my hospital bed, and they reverse me back into my parking space.
Standing alongside, there are two familiar faces, both beaming: the good friend who has been with my wife for the five hours I’ve been under, and her husband who has just arrived from work. Their welcome, their smiles, their simply being there, brings a tear to my eye.
We hug and kiss and laugh and take photos. We tell inappropriate jokes about the tubes going in and out of my body. I realise now, I was still sky high on the drugs. But at the time, it felt like we were the funniest comedians in town.
Sometime time later – it could have been ten minutes, it could have been two hours – my friends have gone, and another great friend arrives. He brings more cycling porn and flowers. Though I’m falling in and out of sleep as we speak, it’s amazing to have him there. More photos for the album.
An hour later, he leaves, not long followed by my wife.
I spend the rest of the evening and night intermittently sleeping, being woken up every two hours for my ‘obs’, and unsuccessfully trying to pee into a cardboard container. I am obliged, it appears, to prove to the nurse my body is processing fluids properly.
Gone 3am she’s almost threatening that if I don’t wee soon, she’ll have to stick another needle into my arm to get more fluids going round. The threat does its job, and when the flow does come there’s plenty of it.
The operation, I am led to understand, went well. No complications, no problems. It took longer than we expected, but only because the surgeons needed to send tissues down to pathology to ensure they got some tumour.
But they did get some, and in just over a week’s time, I’ll hopefully find out what they got.
There’s a hole in my skull, with two inches of skin sewn back up over the top. Unexpectedly, there are staples in either side of my head: this being where the surgeons screwed my head in place, to prevent it moving during the operation.
It looks like some sadistic teacher has gone crazy with a desk instrument, pinning me down and stamping in staples with little regard for either neatness, nor my comfort when some poor nurse has to untangle the mess and remove them with a pair of pliers.
As I’m tucking into breakfast the next morning, another good friend comes. He of course makes more fun of me, sitting there like a whale with a blow hole in my head. At least I can drink the Costa coffee my wife brings up for us both.
Then – after some paperwork and the booking of follow up appointments – I’m released back into the wild. The buzz of a city going about its business.
It’s as if nothing had happened. And it feels good that way.