September 29, 2005
It's not a tumour
Wasn't that line in Kindergarten Cop?

There is a moment before any non-emergency surgery that you feel truly alone. Even if you have a gaggle of support outside in the waiting room....there is that moment when you leave them. That time between leaving them and after being prepped, but just before the surgery.

For me, I remember that moment well. During my ulnar neuropathic surgery in 1995, I laid on that bed feeling utterly alone. The nurses were far off, and my family was several floors above me. The doctor was across the hall with the anesthesiologist talking shop. I was completely alone in my thoughts and I was scared.

My niece goes through that tomorrow morning. She has surgery to remove a ganglion on the top of her wrist. She found the small lump soon after she found out she was pregnant with Alex. Of course, at the time, nothing could be done until she gave birth and only then would she be put on a surgical waiting list.

In some ways, she was fortunate. It has only been 9 months waiting. But the cyst has grown. It is so large now that people often stop and stare when we go out. It has filled with fluid, and absessed to the point that she has little range of motion. Not too easy to live with when you're nursing an infant and running after a 3 year old ball of energy.

When she finally got into see the surgeon, he was understandably concerned and booked her into surgery as quickly as he could. The good news is this particular ganglion has not damaged the nerves. It will be a minor surgery, as far as these things go, but surgery none the less. She will also be only given local anaesthetic as she is still breastfeeding.

Shan has had surgery before, but that was emergency surgery. At the tender age of 14, she caught a linedrive on the baseball field with her face. Reconstructive procedures took place but she was very traumatized and has little memory of the actual incident or the immediate aftermath. Her biggest memory of the event was getting her puppy, Bailey. Yeah, we bribed her with a dog. But that's another story in itself.

Ganglions run in our family. My mom had one, and two of my brothers had them as well. Sometimes they go away, and well, sometimes they don't. Other times still, they cause major problems. As was the case in my situation. As I've mentioned before, my blessing in life is to have those rare 'I've never seen this happen before' experiences.

I noticed my ganglion in 1993 when I was the same age that Shannon is now. It was situated on the underside of my wrist and did impair movement. We tried several options prior to surgery - cortisone, aspiration, splinting, anti-inflammatories...even, I'm ashamed to say...smashing it (old wives' tale...don't let anyone ever tell you it's a good thing!). So I had my first surgery in 1994. It should have been simple, like what Shannon is facing tomorrow.

It wasn't. The doctor, from the best we can figure, hiccuped or something and damaged the nerve as he was attempting to separate the cyst. Over the next year, I lost complete use of my hand. By 1995, I had constant pain from the nerve damage and was put on medical leave from my job. You know the feeling when you hit your funny bone? Well, when the ulnar is damaged, that sensation is constant. Trust me, it is not funny.

It became obvious I had only one choice. To have major nerve reconstructive surgery. A muscle graft would be taken from my forearm and made into a sheath to protect the damaged nerve. At the time, it was a very new procedure and I was very lucky to be seen by the best hand surgeon in BC. It was a 6 hour operation, followed by 2 days in hospital while the graft 'took'. And while the surgeon was brilliant, he had the bedside manner of a wall. A very dull wall. His first words to me when I woke up were 'Well, you'll never have a pretty wrist again, and I am not sure what usage you'll get out of it, but it's done'.

Over the next 7 months, I made daily trips to the rehabilitation ward at the hospital to relearn how to use my wrist, my arm and my fingers. I met with other patients with varying degrees of disability ranging from strokes to severe injury while we struggled to re-train our fingers to tie shoes, cut food, brush our hair and many things most people take for granted. It was a test of character that I am very proud to have gone through. It taught me to be much more appreciative of our precious gift of health and life.

I sported an 8" incision running from my palm to my mid-forearm. I was extremely self-conscious for a very long time and became obsessed with wearing long sleeved shirts almost obsessively. My ex would refer to my arm as 'the claw', which most certainly did not help. He would later use my disability as a reason for why he felt the need to begin dating other people, while engaged to me.

It was a challenging time. I found strength that I never thought I had. I proved that doctor wrong and have full use of my hand now, and am even able to flex to almost full extension. I may have lost about 15% of my range of motion but considering what the expectation was, it is an accomplishment I've been always proud of.

Now, I see my niece getting ready for her operation tomorrow. She is very nervous, and apprehensive. She was just a young girl when I went through my experience, but she was old enough to remember it. Today, she confessed to my Mom that she was terrified that the doctor would slip with her too and she would have to go through what I did. Of course, when I spoke with her not long after, she kept a brave face and only admitted to being slightly apprehensive about being awake during the procedure.

I know she'll be fine. But at the same time, I don't envy her. I know she's going to have to go through this alone, and nothing anyone can say will help her. We can be there for her before and support her during her recovery, but the procedure itself will be on her own.

Vancouver, British Columbia
A patriotic Canadian full of visions of a better Canada, random thoughts and a lot of hot air. Who am I? A struggling writer and photographer, who looks forward to a better Canada. I read. A lot. I learn. A lot. I push myself. A lot. The world is a small place, and getting smaller every day. I'm proud to have friends in every corner of the earth, and abide by the old adage that there are no strangers, only friends we haven't met yet.
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Turning thirty and a half
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