Recalling My Double Mastectomy



Recalling my double mastectomy for breast cancer treatment and the strange experience it altogether was.

I checked in for my double mastectomy at around 5:45 a.m.

The surgery was to take place at a tiny hospital about 20 minutes down the road from where I live in the small town of Santa Paula, California. The city itself has a total area of 4.7 square miles and a population of fewer than 30,000 people. Santa Paula Hospital has a mere 49 beds with 19 private rooms. The hospital occupies a one-story building that sits atop a hill overlooking homes and orchards. If a hospital could be described as quaint or charming, that would be the Santa Paula Hospital.

The surgery itself was relatively quick, on my end anyway. The waiting around while the prep and the recovery room took the longest. I remember feeling a bit emotional that morning. The anesthesiologist was aware of this and said she would give me something to relax. Relax me it did, that was the last thing I remember before waking up in the recovery room.

Once I was settled into my private room with a view of avocado and citrus orchards, I was able to eat some Jell-O and broth for lunch. I was alert and feeling pretty good considering I had just had a double mastectomy.

I had a few visitors, made some phone calls and took in my new surroundings. The nurses decided I was ready to get up and walk around. With a little help I was upright in my standard-issue hospital gown, stylishly pale blue with snowflakes, with my walking buddy the IV pole ready to roam the short halls of Santa Paula Hospital. The first few laps were a success. I had very little pain and was gearing up to do a few more laps when out of the corner of my eye I saw a fellow patient in his doorway a few rooms away from my room, stark naked.

Where is his standard-issue hospital gown? Where is his pants? Why is he standing there naked as a jaybird? All these thoughts are running through my mind at once. The anesthesia fog had worn off by this time. I definitely was not hallucinating. Where in the world are the nurses? This is the smallest hospital ever. Why isn’t anyone doing something about this situation? I don’t want to see this man au naturel. I’m afraid this sight is going to trigger nightmares. In no way do I mean any disrespect to this gentleman, but this is something you just cannot unsee.

After the shock had passed, I decide my hallway stroll and self-guided hospital tour is over and I proceed straight back to my room and close my door. It’s now getting to be about dinnertime. It was an eventful day and time to turn in anyway. That night was one of the longest nights ever, with no nightmares since I don’t think I slept a wink. To this day I still don’t know what was going on with Mr. Jay Bird or what they put in his IV. The man in the buff was up all night, setting off alarms, getting out of bed, pulling tubes and lines from himself and who knows what else. Each time this happened a rush of nurses and other various staff would go running down the hall to his room, noisily passing my room on their way. This went on repeatedly until about 4:00am in the morning when the powers that be finally decided to move Mr. Jay closer to the nurses’ station. After surgery you are expected to rest and heal, though it was just not in the cards during this stay. If I could have gone home that night, believe me, I would have. It was almost as if I awoke from surgery and was teleported into an old episode of Candid Camera.

Needless to say, the next morning I was packed and ready. I moved myself from the bed to the chair and waited most impatiently for my ride to come take me home. When my boyfriend Josh did finally arrive to drive me home, he was taking his time that day for some unknown reason, he was surprised to see me almost pacing the room in anticipation of his arrival. He was unaware of my odd, sleepless night and the wardrobe malfunction of my neighbor. Boy, did I have a story to tell on the ride home.

Surgery is something not easily forgotten, but this experience “in the altogether” was one for the books.

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