The challenge of a lifetime
This was only the second time that I had been admitted to hospital – the first being a few years ago when I had dengue and had to spend 4 days at OMI. That was bad enough but this stint has been the most challenging. To be diagnosed with cancer, to have major surgery, to be immobile and dependent, to not know what lies ahead. I have had to muster up all my strength and positivity to get through it this far. There have been many who have helped either from a distance or from being right there every step of the way.
I must admit to being very scared. Going under the knife (scalpel) was not something i was looking forward to. I had watched enough medical shows on television to know that things could go very wrong. The consent form i had signed spelt out all the possible risks. I would have to be stupid not to be scared. Nonetheless I put up a bravado and maintained a sense of humour for the sake of family and friends. The fact that I had cancer had already traumatised them. If they saw how terrified I was they would not be able to handle it. I did however ask my old friend Rukhsana to draft out a will for me – I am not rich but I didn’t want what I do have to go into limbo in case something happened to me.
I was admitted into AKU on the 30th of October. I would be third in line for the surgery the next morning. There were 2 minor operations scheduled prior to mine. As I was taken away on the stretcher at around 10 a.m. my friends followed until they were finally restricted from going any further. I waved goodbye, took a deep breath, said a little prayer and got ready to face what lay ahead.
In the prep area, my doctor Dr. Aliya Begum Aziz came and spoke to me. She is young, very professional and inspires confidence. I was so glad that she was my surgeon. She explained that the anaesthesiologist would present me with two options – one was the epidural which was better in terms of pain management post-op. My threshold for pain is extremely low so I opted for the epidural. I do remember asking the well- spoken and pleasant anaesthesiologist if there was any risk associated with the procedure. He assured me there was not. Of course implanting the epidural took some time and several attempts due to my body mass (note – must try and lose weight).
Thankfully, the next thing I remember is seeing my doctor through a haze telling me that although the surgery had taken 3 1/2 hours, it had been totally successful; that she had managed to take out all the cancerous bits and the disease seemed to be contained and early- stage. She looked happy. That must be good, I thought to myself.
In the recovery room, I remember seeing my friends Afia and Rukhsana reassuring me and asking how I was. I must have dozed off after that until they moved me to the Special Care Unit where I was tied to machines and tubes which monitored my progress post-op. Quite a scary sight!
Fast forward to 18 hours later when I was moved to my room because the doc thought my condition was stable enough.
The next few days were tough. I had always been the caregiver, never the patient, so this was a new experience for me. I had never felt so dependent on others. My Chief Attendant, Afia Salam – a friend for decades – was a blessing. Having been through this herself, she knew what to watch out for. She also knew when not to panic and transferred much of that calmness to me. Other than one day when I remember being a grouch, I think I was a pretty good patient.
Afia stayed with me at the hospital and took on the duties of Executive Secretary answering all the enquiries regarding my health, putting up health updates on Facebook and Twitter so that family, friends and well-wishers would know how I was doing. Some of these were photo updates. She screened all my calls. My Florence Nightingale team also included Nuzhat, Rukhsana, Farieha, Sana and Seema all of whom took out time to be with me, to provide cheer and support.
Family is very important when you are going through a rough time. My siblings were a great source of strength and support through this period. They kept in touch letting me know that they were there for me and that everything would be okay. My brother Samar and his wife Faiza came over from London and spent some time with me prior to the surgery. They also insisted that I have my room refurnished and wrote out a cheque so that I would be pressurised into getting it done.
My brother Zafar who is a very busy chap and never leaves his office for more than a few days at a time, flew to Karachi from Hong Kong to be with my father during my hospitalisation so that I would not worry. He also came to the hospital daily and other than spending time with me, brought various gadgets to cheer me up – the primary one being the new iPad Mini. Wow! That really brought a smile to my face.
My uncles, aunts, cousins (especially the ones who are doctors) offered support and advice pre-op as well as post-op.
I spent 8 days in the hospital. Some of these were extremely rough – the pain, the nausea, the weakness, the dependence, needles being poked into me – it was all quite challenging. I don’t think I would have got through it if not for the prayers, support and good wishes of friends and family, the bouquets, the calls , the visits that Afia “hitler” Salam allowed :).
Several things occurred to me as I lay in that hospital bed:
1. How had my dearest mother gone through so many years of illness and hospitalizations and retained her sense of humour?
2. Ammi had been right about how lucky we are to be able to afford such good healthcare. If we still went through so much discomfort, what happened to those who couldn’t afford these facilities?
3. Men and women who are not compassionate and who don’t consider nursing as a mission, should not become nurses. When a person is ill they need gentle, tender, loving care coupled with professionalism. Nurses can make a patient’s stay a pleasant bearable one or a nightmare from hell.
4. When you keep telling someone who is going through pain that it will be okay, it doesn’t help. All it results in is silly platitudes that eventually tend to irritate.
5. When someone tells you that they can’t eat or drink something, listen to them. Their body is telling them that there is some reason why it won’t accept food or drink. Don’t insist!
6. Do what the doctor says! Sit up, walk, do your exercises. The healing will be quicker.
7. Hospitals should have more nurses to go around. It is a tough job and for them to do it well, they need to be well rested.
8. Hospitals should have better chefs. This is when patients need palatable food the most.
While I was in hospital, my two activists-turned-interior designers, Farieha and Sana, re-furnished my room. Technology was used at every stage as they sent pictures of bookshelves, mirrors, cushions, bedspreads etc on What’s App and got my approval. They even used Skype to show me the designs of the blinds. By the time I got home the room was re-done. My brother had helped by putting rods in the bathroom and by installing the television on the wall of the bedroom. It was all made very comfortable for me.
I have always known this but the one thing that has been re-established in my mind and in my heart is that I am extremely fortunate to have so many people in my life who care about me and are willing to rally around whenever I need help. They are there to share in my joys and are there to offer prayers and support through the most challenging times. That is such a blessing. To say thank you would never be enough. From the core of my being I pray that they are showered with God’s blessings always.