It's over

Pure terror. I managed to hold it off until the last minute, but there it was. Piggybacking into the room on the shoulders of the nurse who arrived to take me to the operating theatre.

I'd done quite well up until then. Apart from a teary moment just before me and the bloke left the house, I was quite calm. There was that faintly sick feeling - the one you get before taking an important test or exam - but it had diminished over the course of the three hours I'd been sat in my pyjamas, waiting in the room at the clinic.

Then there it was, the terror. On like a switch. With the nurse telling me matter of factly to say goodbye to the bloke and his mum, take my glasses and socks off and put my slippers on - we would walk to the operating theatre. Walk?

Everything I had read about the operation I was about to have made me believe that I would be given some sort of chill pill and I would be wheeled there. Every single report said it was so. What a double shock then to be walking, completely lucid, through the hospital towards the surgeon's knife.

When I had to stop to put plastic covers over my feet, and a green shower cap over my hair, my hands would hardly do what I told them. The nurse helped and remarked my skin felt cold.

"I think you're scared," she observed. "You don't need to be - it'll be fine." Easy for her to say.

Through a set of double doors and there it was - the operating table. An ominous looking bed with a thin panel jutting out at a right angle for the arm. My arm. Half way along that - a strap that they would tie to help my veins stand up.

Lethal injection, I thought suddenly, and fought off a manic urge to laugh. My eyes took in a block off three tiny steps leading up to the bed and the blood started to roar in my ears.

For an awful moment I thought I was going to faint or have a panic attack as I stood there gawping like an idiot. Then out of nowhere a friendly voice said in English: "How long have you been in Madrid?"

The anesthetist - he spoke my first language. I wasn't expecting that.

"Four years," I replied, the panic subsiding.

"Are you from London?" He asked.

"No, Durham. it's a place in the north east of England."

"Ah, yes, near Newcastle"

"Wow, you know it?"

"Yes, I know it. I have many friends in Newcastle - it's so important to learn English."

I was so amazed that he knew my home town, I momentarily forgot about the panic attack and what was about to happen. I was having a nice conversation with a Spanish person who had actually heard of my home town. Who actually had friends in Newcastle. That was a first, and I wanted to know more.

But there was no more time. The nurse was back.

"Take everything off," she said, so I did. Wrapped in a blanket I took the three tiny steps up to the table and lay down, sticking my arm out on for the anesthetist to strap in.

Medical staff swarmed around me, sticking things on to my body which would probably measure my vital signs when I was out. I looked up at the lights in the ceiling and the upside down forms of scrub wearing phantoms darting about.

It looks like a film, I thought. The part where the hero's fighting for his life on the operating table and you're seeing what he's seeing. And the sounds are all muffled and it's a bit blurry. It looks like a film.

"Sorry, now you will feel a little prick," said the anesthetist. "It is unavoidable."

"That's OK, I told him. It's perfectly necessary."

"And now you will go to sleep," he told me.

I was glad there was going to be no countdown from 100 for me. I had been worried that in my panicked state I was likely to mess it up, and count in the wrong direction or miss out a number.

Instead all I had to do was say: "Night night."

"Yes, but it's evening, not night, so you should say 'good evening'," corrected the anesthetist.

"You're right. Good evening," I agreed.

Then a sense of euphoria began to wash over me. The panic was gone. The fear obliterated. I didn't really care what happened next.

"Wow, that feels amazing," I said. "Really amazing."

Then there was nothing.

I'd been told that I wouldn't remember anything from the time I was under - I wouldn't dream, or at least I wouldn't remember dreaming. Even so, I'd been secretly hoping for some sort of wild vision, or conversation with god. but there was nothing - just a big black hole that only lasted for a fraction of a second.

One minute I was telling the anesthetist how amazing I felt and the next I heard: "Honey, wake up."

I opened my eyes to see the bloke stood over me, smiling. and behind him, his parents.

Wow, that was quick, I thought immediately, and secondly - wow, I'm back, i didn't die! Because even though I knew it was routine operation with a low level of risk there was still that little voice whispering deviously in my ear: "You might not wake up, you might not come back."

Do you remember the first time you became fully aware that one day you would die? In theory most of us realize that we won't go on forever when we're kids. The death of a family pet or a grandparent puts it into focus. We accept it, because usually it's smoothed over with "Rocky's gone to heaven with all the other dogs who died and he's having a lovely time chasing rabbits in the fields".

But when do we really process it? For me, really I think it was only a few years ago. I was walking down the road on my final stretch of the journey to work with the sun in my eyes and I suddenly thought - One day I will just cease to be. I won't have thoughts, or feelings or memories, I'll just be nothing… forever. And my brain struggled to process that one huge statement. and I had to stop and hold onto a tree while the feeling of total unease passed.

Anyway, it wasn't my time to go. I was back. And as I listened to the bloke tell me the operation had been a complete success and the endometriosis had been minimal - only in one place - I felt the euphoria back again. Only this time it was natural.

I'd been asleep for an hour, and now everything had changed. The unknown was no longer hanging over my head. the relief was total - a blinding white light filling my head.

I was in a lot of pain but it hardly seemed to matter. It would go eventually. I would get better in the end. It was over.

Hours later, as painkillers and antibiotics dripped into my arm we watched a colorful and trippy Japanese Anime film. Then we settled down to try and get some sleep.

"I don't think it's hit us yet, how good this is," said the bloke. "This could have been so bad, but it's all worked out great."

Two nights later, it finally did hit me. I was in my own bed at home with the bloke sleeping beside me. Replaying the whole thing over in my head. Silent tears of gratitude began to snake their way out of the sides of my eyes and run down my face.

It's over. I'm going to be ok. The two phrases played over and over in my head like a mantra before I fell into a deep sleep - my first proper rest since before the operation.


  1. I really, really liked this. Superbly written and such a relief to know you are okay.

  2. Yes great post.. Operations are scary. I had one recently and .. I have had a few over the years...I always think .."Will I wake up?" .. so far I always have .. and as for the drugs, its worth every second. I am glad that your problem was minimal, I envy you living in Madrid. I used to live in Marbella and then Tenerife for a while, my partner then was from Palencia, he had also lived in Madrid for some years, we were always going to go, but sadly never did. I will take my husband one day, and try and remember my failing Espanol xx

  3. I empathize - I remember that conscious terror well. But you've captured it in words with beautiful bare eloquence.

  4. Thanks so much guys, I'm glad you liked the post. It was strangely therapeutic writing it all down.

    Wildernesschic - I love Marbella, got a holiday lined up in August there actually. You must get to Madrid - it's a fantastic city! x

  5. I want to share this clip with you:

    This piece really is meaningful. It speaks to some really powerful emotions and thoughts.

    Your paragraphs about realizing that one day we will die really resonates with me. It's nice to know, to see, to read...that I'm not alone in having been shattered by the thought of no longer existing, clinging to something solid as you did to calm down. Powerful stuff.

  6. “Do you remember the first time you became fully aware that one day you would die?” Yes and it wasn’t that long ago. I hate the thought that everything just carries on without me once I’m gone, but what can I do? I bet you’re so relieved to get the op out the way. And it’s nearly the weekend... enjoy.

  7. Dude your blogs are getting better and better!! Love it!!

  8. Mike, thanks so much. it's easier to write good stuff when the emotions are strong.

    EW - Argh, it sucks doesn't it?

    Wild Celtic - glad you found my blog, and glad to know i'm not alone! I guess all we can do is just try and concentrate on living and not dwelling on what's to come at the end. hard though isn't it?

  9. Amazing chica! And so sorry you had to go through this. I kept meaning to post before, especially since I was wrapping up my Ob/Gyn rotation around the time you were diagnosed. So happy it was only in one spot and there were no complications, and that the anesthetist spoke English (I can only imagine how much scarier an operation would be with an OR full of foreign-language speakers). Your fear was palpable in the way you described everything, and reminded me again to view every surgery from the patient's perspective, since it really does becomes an everyday task after awhile until you hear about someone else's experience or go through it yourself. I'm so so happy you're okay :-).

    And on a side note, I definitely have had that fear of not being here anymore. It's a strange feeling that comes over me periodically, that I have to chase away so I don't get extremely anxious. Hopefully I'll be able to accept it one day...

    Miss you!!


  10. Miss Mariss! Hola love, how's life in the Big Apple? Hope you're not working too hard at med school. Glad you found the post useful. the medical team were all fantastic and the hospital was more like a posh hotel - there's a lot to be said for Spanish healthcare.

    miss you too - i'm planning a trip out to NYC in October so hopefully we can meet up if you're not too busy? xxx

  11. Criminally small following is right! Add me on.

    After having three children, I looove anesthesiologists. I'm not afraid of dying before operations, I mean, not really. However since I was little, I've always been afraid of dying in general.

  12. Mister Lomdon Street, that wonderful worrier of words, the humerous Hombre, and fabulous bloggy friend has tagged you, and I and had to come and visit. He is right-you are a writer-and I shall join your group of fellow followers.
    This is as superbly descriptive piece and mirrors my own experience [new hip] six months ago. As for realising one is not going to beat the odds and live forever...well...I can even now feel Dr. Deaths hot breath on my neck. Best not to dwell eh?

  13. Miss Welcome, Moanie, thanks for following, and commenting. I owe Mr LS a drink!

    Miss Welcome, props to you for going through childbirth three times - that's one thing i'm yet to cross off my 'to do list'.

    Moanie, hope the hip is treating you well. That's got to be a scary op?