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My New Boobs Series | “Whatta Mess!!!”

On September 27, 2004 – just 12 days after that weather graphic led to me finding my first lump, Bruce and I were on our way to NY Hospital for what we thought was an early morning surgery. We had been told to arrive at six a.m. so we left our house in NJ around 4:30, leaving plenty of time for any sort of mishaps that might slow us down. The first hour or so flew by in a flurry of admissions activity. Then we waited, hour after hour, with me sitting with a cap on my head and those sticky hospital socks on my feet while my husband and his brother wandered the halls, trying to find out what could be causing such a massive delay.

By the time I was called for surgery, it was dinnertime. I hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink since midnight and was parched, ravenous, tired, and very put out with my surgeon, who had clearly booked so many procedures, one on top of the other, that it took almost ten hours to get to me. Coming out of my anesthesia-induced stupor late at night, I was dazed, nauseous, and not able to understand much of what the surgeon was saying to me. Recovery room nurses hovered as he reeled out some instructions. Once he was gone, they handed me a bunch of papers to sign, waited for me to stop throwing up, then sent Bruce and me home.

I was a good little patient, did everything the papers said, and on the third day rose from my bed and padded to the shower for the long awaited clean up I’d been denied for the past 72 hours.

Bathing felt glorious, with hot water sluicing down my legs, under my arms, taking away the stains and smells of surgery. Once clean, I wiped down the steamy mirror and examined my newly scarred skin. The incisions were raw, covered with small slices of translucent tape now so thick with blood the edges fluttered away from my skin. I pulled a particularly funky piece off and raised my left arm to see where the underarm scar, a result of the node biopsy, ended up.

In slow motion, my breast separated from my body. The surgical wound opened up as a deep, ugly gash on my chest. Blood poured out of me, bouncing off the vanity and splashing onto the white tile floor.

“Bruce!” I barely was able to get the word out. “Bruce!”

He was on the computer, free from caring for me for a few minutes. His distracted, somewhat irritated ‘what’ bellowed up the stairs, followed by the tapping of fingers on a keyboard. Below me, in the living room, the theme song for Elmo’s World filled the air, making it that much harder to be heard.

“Bruce!” I screamed.

He came running up the stairs, through our room, ready to tell me to calm down, I’m sure, until he saw the Armageddon where our bathroom used to be.

He looked at the room, at the floor, at me, his face a mask of disbelief. I tried to explain, pointed to the tape, the wound – “Call Caren,” I rasped, trying not to faint. “Tell her we need her. Hurry.”

He ran to the phone and got my sister in law, the best nurse on earth, I am quite convinced, who dropped what she was doing and hurried to our house. It took her half an hour, during which time we tried to hold my breast up and somehow tape it back into place. The bathroom became intolerably hot, the smell of blood unbearable.

I sat on the edge of the tub and tried to catch my breath. Then I heard them, the tiny footsteps of our son coming upstairs to see what all the fuss was about.

“No,” I said, panicked that he’d see the gore and be damaged for life. “Don’t come in here –“

The bathroom door swung open and there he stood in his little jeans and Mickey Mouse shirt, looking in wonder at the blood stained walls and floor.

“Whatta mess!” he declared, shiny saucer eyes taking in the scene. “Now Mommy has to clean it up!”

He turned his radiant little face to me, confident that the spiller of all this blood was likely to get a serious time out.

“It was an accident, honey,” I told him. “No one’s going to be mad.”

And being two, this struck him as reasonable. He went to his room to play with his toys. Bruce and I laughed, and cried, and waited for my sister in law to put me back together. Once finished, she called my surgeon to tell him of this event. He was exceedingly put out.

“I told her not to remove the tape,” he declared.

Listening from an extension, my jaw dropped. I never heard that instruction – and neither had Bruce. It wasn’t on the papers that got sent home. And even if he had warned me to leave the tape intact, it would’ve been helpful to reiterate that point once or twice as the whole time he was talking to me I was puking my guts up.

Being extremely successful and sought after, his office schedule was solidly booked, but he somehow managed to make room for my emergency appointment the next day. I hardly got a chance to settle in my waiting room seat before he called for me. He examined the repair Caren had performed and complimented her on her skill, but said in a sad voice that the scar would be much more prominent now.

“I don’t care about that,” I told him. “I’m getting mastectomies once chemo is over.”

He was clearly annoyed by that pronouncement. He spoke to me as if I had a comprehension problem, his white cheeks growing pink with indignation as he reiterated that the new approach to breast cancer was to preserve tissue, not remove it. “We are trying to save your breasts,” he said to me as if I had missed the essential point of his work.

I almost laughed. Save them? For what, so they could come back and kill me in a couple of years? Was he kidding me?

I thought of him a few days before, plowing through surgery after surgery, ringing up maybe $150,000 in fees – none of it based on reasonable and customary charges, since he didn’t take insurance — and realized that in my quest for a humane, princely doctor, I was uncovering some very egocentric frogs.

I buttoned up my blouse and put on my shoes as he spoke. Once he finished, I looked him straight in the eye.

“You never told me not to take off that tape,” I said. “You know you didn’t. It was late and you were tired and maybe you said it to the thirty other women you worked on that day, but you didn’t say it to me. The only reason you bent over backwards to get me in here today was because you’re afraid I’ll sue you for negligence and maybe I could, but you know what? I have better things to do. I’m getting chemo. I’m getting mastectomies. Have a nice day.”

We had a balance of $1,800 left on our bill. His secretary called our house the following week to say it had been ‘forgiven.’ Picking up on his cue, I decided to forgive him, too.

It couldn’t be easy for a man of his wealth and stature to have his work denounced. I imagine it bothered him quite a bit – and I also think, being ever wary of malpractice accusations, this was a way to get in front of my wrath.

The funny thing, however, was that I didn’t have any. Anger and negativity and all those types of emotions struck me as a colossal waste of time. With so much work to do to before I would be able to replace my existing weapons of mass destruction with a pair of new girls, I put my head down, my fist out, and prepared to fight until this cancer of mine was conquered.

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