Portacath removed 29th October, 2010

‘These blades don’t fit.’ The head surgical nurse was talking out loud to a nearby nurse.

I was supine on the theatre bed. My left arm had a canula in a bulging vein in the crook of my arm. My right hand had an oxygen peg on my index finger. Both arms rested against padding. The image of being cut into was not something I wanted right at that moment.

‘These blades don’t fit.’ Sshh … I wanted to put my finger to my lip. Instead, I turned away from the fussing and fixated on a wall of Andy Warhol type repetitions of the previous patient’s brain. It appeared her skull contained an old oak tree with its branches twisting and turning. The image was in black, grey and white x-ray relief.

‘What’s that?’ I asked the interventionist radiologist.[1]

It’s a gobbledygook he said: some vaguely recognisable medical term that I promptly forgot. I think there was a dodgy vessel. That scientific enough? Well fifteen minutes later when I decided that I really wanted to know what was going on in the Warhol x-rays I asked the head surgical nurse the same thing and she said, ‘that’s a brain’.

The doctor was still examining the brain, so I amused myself by trying to control my heart rate and oxygen saturation numbers. My oxygen level hovered around 98. My heart rate was around 70. The numbers beeped in second intervals. At first I held my breath then I did some big breathing exercises. I hardly dinted the beeping numbers. Oxygen maxed out at 99. My heart rate went between 68 and 82.

For a portacath removal you’re put under a twilight which is different to a general anaesthetic. The sedationist doesn’t control your breathing like an anaesthetist does. An anaesthetist will intubate you after you go under as your breathing is suppressed by the drugs and needs external controlling. When under sedation the doctor can ask you to respond – say something or move a limb. What is odd about sedation is that you can’t remember a thing when you wake up even though you’re sort of ‘consciously out’ while the surgery is underway.

When my sedationist started the medication my eyes were drawn away from the x-rays to the fibres of the blue tent that was stuck to my chest, neck and went right over my face (they cut out a peep hole once they’d fixed the tent in place). My senses went foggy as if I’d run out of a cocktail party into the fresh night time air.

In the pre-operative interview with my radiologist I showed him the letter from the anaesthetist who assisted in my lumpectomy operation describing the intense nausea I get with certain anaesthetics. In response to this the radiologist had the private hospital it had been performed in fax through the amount and type of drugs he had administered when installing my portacath: ‘In case I did something clever.’ It worked. He had been clever: twice.

I also informed him of my double mastectomy, immediate reconstruction to which he responded, ‘I’ll make sure not to break your new boobs, don’t worry.’


[1] I sought out the same doctor who put my portacath in. He’d moved practice from a private hospital to a public one. I figured it best to have the same person take it out as put it in. Plus I trusted him.

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