We had to be at the hospital for 7am, which meant leaving the house before Joseph woke up. My parents were staying with us to look after him, and they got up to say goodbye. I was feeling a bit shaky, and Mum and I both started crying when we hugged, so I stepped out of the door and walked to the car with tears streaming down my face. It was a beautiful, sunny morning.
I was nervous. I’d never had a general anaesthetic before, and although I knew how unlikely it was, I was terrified of being awake but unable to alert anyone. Especially because I’d been told they would give me a smaller dose of anaesthetic than usual, because of the pregnancy.
I was allocated a bed and Paul put away some of my things. I was hoping to be back home the same day, but there was no guarantee. A nurse came to ask me some questions, gave me a gown. Paul tried to think of ways to pass the time. ‘Do you want to guess your NHS number?’ he asked. ‘No,’ I told him. ‘Come on, you can do it one digit at a time. The first one’s an even number.’ ‘No,’ I said again, laughing. ‘Did you say two? I’m afraid that’s not right.’
My doctor came round and asked if I had any questions. I hadn’t seen her in scrubs before. She looked very pregnant, all of a sudden. I thought that it must be getting hard for her to do operations. She asked me how I was feeling and I said that I was hungry. I’m pretty sure she bumped me up from second on the list to first, after that, because I was told to change into my gown much sooner than I expected. It was about 9am.
Being wheeled down a corridor in a hospital bed when you’re perfectly capable of walking is a really strange experience. When I was about thirty-five weeks pregnant with Joseph, I was being monitored and the midwives lost track of his heartbeat for a minute or so, and they ran down the corridor with me to get me into theatre (where they found the heartbeat again, and an emergency C-section was called off). This was much more leisurely. The healthcare assistants joked about the bad steering; we talked about supermarket trolleys.
Then it was time to say goodbye to Paul, and I cried again. He told me later that he did too, but I didn’t notice at the time. I couldn’t really hold it together after that, but I remember being pushed into a little room where someone put a cannula in my hand and a man with heavily tattooed arms squeezed my other hand and said ‘we’re going to take good care of you.’
The next thing I knew, I was waking up and two nurses were talking to me, and I was absolutely furious because all I wanted was to be asleep. They asked me whether I was having a boy or a girl and whether I had any other children, and I could barely summon the answers. Still, I must have seemed like I was doing all right, because they wheeled me back to the ward, where I said about two words to Paul before falling asleep again.
As soon as I was awake and a nurse asked whether I felt ready to eat something, I said yes to everything she offered me. It was probably about lunchtime. I took one bite of chicken sandwich and knew I was going to be sick, so I got out of bed and walked towards the toilet, but then inexplicably stopped in the middle of the ward until a nurse came along and guided me back to bed. She brought me a cardboard sick bowl and drew the curtains around my bed, and I vomited several times, but it was all water.
I was hungry enough that I carried on eating anyway, even though it seemed to take about ten minutes to swallow each bite. My throat was dry and sore, but I didn’t have any other pain. When I got up to go to the toilet, I pulled my gown down from the neck and looked in the mirror. My right breast was significantly smaller than my left, but it was covered with a dressing, so that was about all I could see. My doctor had told me she would have to take the nipple off, and I couldn’t imagine how I’d look without it.
I thought I might be able to go home by mid-afternoon, but my pulse was a bit high, so they kept me until about 6pm. I was still feeling quite queasy, so a nurse gave me a cardboard sick bowl to take in the car with me. I remember thinking that if I didn’t need to use it, Joseph would almost certainly decide it was a good hat. I didn’t, and he did.
We made it home ten minutes before bedtime. I heard Joseph shout ‘that’s my daddy!’ from the top of the stairs, and my mum said ‘and look who’s with him’. I peered up at him and he stuck his tongue out at me, and then we went upstairs and read him a couple of stories. He inspected the dressing from where the cannula had been and asked me if I was poorly. ‘A bit poorly,’ I said. ‘But getting better.’