I rarely put my personal life out there. Apart from the news stories I write as part of my work with Myjoyonline.com, every article I’ve ever written is fiction. Except of course the piece I wrote when my colleague KABA passed last year.
My column, Confessions on Myjoyonline.com and any other website is pure fiction and nothing in any of those stories represent my life or experience in any form. But when Dr Florence Dedey of the Nyaho Medical Centre said “you should write about this: My First Theatre Experience,” I knew this one had to be real.
That may not entirely be my first though. As I have come to learn, my mom did not have a normal pregnancy so I was birthed on a table in a theatre at the Volta regional hospital over two decades ago. Maybe that cannot be counted as an experience as I was just baby and would certainly not have known what it felt like and that is perhaps why I agree for this to pass as my first experience.
I’m not one who is particular about her body, like other ladies. All I need is a good bath and I’m gone. No special soaps, creams or lotions for any specific part of my body, no exceptional treatment or pampering whatsoever, I don’t even apply makeup. Yes, it is that bad, or good depending on the lens you’re wearing. But really, all I need is a good bath and once that is done, fundamentally, one of my most important duties to my body is sorted.
But on this warm July Friday night, something changed. I was just about taking my evening bath before bed, when I had inkling to feel my breast. I almost let it pass but the voice was so loud I couldn’t ignore it. So I gave in. I felt my right breast everything seemed okay, then I moved to my left and there it was, sitting right under my areola.
That raised an eyebrow. I paused, felt the right breast one more time and went back to the left. Still it felt different. There was something in there that felt really out of place.
“A lump,” I said to myself, then moved my fingers to feel that same spot on the right breast just to be sure I wasn’t getting ahead of myself unnecessarily. When I returned to the left breast, the ‘unwanted visitor’ was still there, I don’t know for how long but it seemed to have found a comfortable place to call home.
What it didn’t know was that I am selfish, I don’t share my body with anyone, let alone a ‘thing’.
I didn’t panic. Had my bath as usual, got into a nightie and went to bed. While in bed, I thought “I am sure it’ll disappear by morning. It’s not a big deal.”
My alarm rang at 4:30am and after disabling it - which was strange because normally, I’d snooze and sleep for an hour more before I eventually get out of bed – the first thing I did was to feel my left breast again and my unwanted guest was still there, much to my displeasure. That morning the one more hour of sleep did not happen.
I simply lay on the bed, wrapped my sheet over my body and started thinking of the worst.
“Could it be cancer,” I asked myself, “no it can’t be,” I replied but it didn’t end there. “Are they going to remove my breast,” I continued, “oh no, God you know these breasts are already too small, how can I live with only one tiny breast.”
It didn’t end there, “which man would want a woman who hasn’t got breasts. How will I breastfeed when I have babies. Oh God, please let this not be cancer,” I prayed. The size of my breasts has always been a worry for me and I certainly don’t want to lose even the tiniest fraction of it to anything.
I got through the weekend without mentioning what I’d discovered but by Monday I couldn’t hold it any longer. While speaking to my sister on phone that evening, and later my cousin, I told them about my little discovery. With them, I didn’t express any fear or trepidation. As my friend would say I was trying to be “superwoman”.
However, by dawn on Tuesday, there was no doubt in my mind that the first thing I’ll do in the morning is to book an appointment to see a doctor.
After running a few options in my mind – should I see a general doctor first or a specialist and if I’m to see a specialist, who – I decided to book an appointment to see Dr Salomey Bandoh.
Dr Bandoh is a Physician Specialist at the Nyaho Medical Centre and since I’d previously been to see her for a different ailment and she was female, I thought to take my new problem to her.
She always had a smile on, if smiles could cure diseases, there’ll be no patients at the Nyaho Medical Centre just because of Dr Bandoh. After our usual felicitations, she sought to know how I was feeling after our last meeting.
“I am okay,” I replied, “but that is not why I am here,” I continued, “I think there is a lump in my left breast.”
“Let’s see it,” she said almost immediately.
So I got up and went behind the hospital cubicle curtain and with the help of the physician assistant, took of my top and my bra and lay on by back as Dr Bandoh directed. She washed her hands then came to conduct assessment of both breasts, right first, then left. She noticed the lump in the left and like I did, went back to feel the right breast then the left.
Satisfied with what she had noticed, she asked me to put my clothes back on and join her in the main consulting room. Again, she washed and dried her hands.
“Okay, that feels like a lump, but just so we’re sure, I am going to refer you to a specialist. She is very good and she will take good care of you,” Dr Bandoh said in her soft, warm voice as she pulled out a sheet of paper and scribbled the name ‘Dr Florence Dedey’, as I later read.
I walked into Dr Dedey’s consulting room the following Monday and Dr Bandoh was right when she said “she is very good and she will take good care of you.” I had nothing but the best of care from our very first meeting. Like Dr Bandoh, Dr Dedey examined my breasts, both breasts but the scrutiny was taken a notch further – of course because she is specialist in that area and is also a surgeon.
Once done, Dr Dedey explained what she felt when she examined my breast but will not conclude until further tests were taken. So straightaway, she ordered a breast ultrasound – which she believed will give some more detail of what the lump was – and with that, I was to return in a week.
I did. And as Dr Dedey explained on my first visit after her examination, the lump was a non-cancerous breast tumour as she suspected – a fibroadenoma as it is medically known.
She took her time and explained my options – a surgery or since the lump was not cancerous I could keep it in – and what could happen if I choose any of the options available.
My first thought, “take it off and take my mind off it,” but it wasn’t going to be that easy because by the time I got home and spoke to my dad and sister about it, the opposition to a surgery was so stiff, I couldn’t even cut through with the sharpest knife.
I’d mentioned a possible opposition on my visit with Dr Dedey and she was willing to speak to my dad if need be. As she explained to me, it was not going to be a major surgery, “in your case the lump is small,” she added.
But my family, especially my dad, could not stand the thought of having his daughter on a theatre table ‘being cut with a knife’. My dad’s concerns were genuine though. He has lost a number of friends to surgeries and he feared he might just lose me, a situation he was not ready to bear.
The uncertainty died down after a while, however. So after a long two-month wait, I scheduled an appointment for my surgery in October. Coincidentally, this happens to be the same month breasts are celebrated – Breast cancer awareness month – if you know what I mean.
Since I’d already had a discussion with Dr Dedey on the entire procedure and how it’ll all go when I decide on surgery, I didn’t bother to go back to her for any discussions prior to it. Personally, I read about my diagnosis and even what a surgeon is expected to do during surgery. I was confident of going through the surgery successfully, in my mind, “it’s nothing to worry about” and when I informed my worried friend about it, I again assured that “it’s a minor surgery, I’ll be fine, and it’s nothing to worry about.”
And there really was nothing to worry about. That day, I went to work, closed and got to the hospital on time, went through all the necessary procedures but by the time I got prepped for the surgery, I turned into a big ball of nerves.
Dr Dedey had to see other patients before conducting surgeries but while I waited in my room – a very cosy room I must say - I just couldn’t control my nerves. My mind started playing tricks with me, “what if something goes wrong…say I…”
But Samuel came to my aid. Samuel is a nurse and like the rest of the staff at Nyaho, he was exceptional. I think the guys at Nyaho are made to go to a special school on human relations before they start practice. Since I started patronising their services, not once have I been wrongfully treated by any of the staff. From the moment you walk into Nyaho, you can be certain of a warm welcome. There is this aura of “we’re here for you”, not as happens in other facilities where nurses and doctors do as they please because you need them.
Their motto says “Specialists working together for you,” and they indeed are.
So back to Samuel. He is good at his job, when he noticed my nerves had suddenly gone haywire, he asked if everything was okay. I responded in the affirmative, but Samuel was not about to have that. He’s had too many patients like me to be convinced that I was okay just because I said so.
“You’re not okay,” he said. Apparently, the room was so warm but I couldn’t feel it because my system was busily getting scared of what was ahead. Samuel asked another nurse who had come to take my blood pressure and temperature – which thankfully was just right - to turn on the air conditioning.
The cool air that came through blew through the room moments after and that made me realise that all along, I was sitting in an oven.
Samuel stepped out to get other paper work done and inform Dr Dedey about my presence and although the room had become cooler on his return, my nerves were still all over the place. He gave me a hug and asked “is there anything I can do to make you feel better”? I wish there was something he could say or do, all I wanted was for the surgery to be over.
He was juggling between his other duties and making sure that I was alright and every time Samuel came to see me, he’d smile and ask “are you okay”? He did all he could to make me relax. Like when he run out of the room after I told him I was a journalist and I worked with The Multimedia Group. He stormed out of the room when he heard “Joy FM”, I broke out into laughter and that calmed me a lot.
I was not entirely surprised by his reaction. As much as Joy FM is respected and loved by many, it is also feared. We are the best in the industry – yes, we are, you may not like it but you know it is true – and reactions like Samuel’s no longer come as a shock. People fear journalists, for some weird reason and I’m yet to understand why. People think journalists just go about writing and reporting about everything. People! We have a life, at least we pretend to.
Finally, Dr Dedey comes in, as usual, she says hello with a smile and then asked “are you ready for me”. Of course I was, “let’s get this done already,” I said to myself. But again, she went through what I was to expect during the surgery, and went through a patient consent form – I think – with me before I signed.
Now the real thing is about to start.
Samuel made me sit in a wheelchair to the theatre. I didn’t see why I should because in my mind, wheelchairs are for people who could not walk or were too sick, I was neither. But the nurse would have his way so much to my displeasure. I sat in the wheelchair and was wheeled to the theatre.
In there were two other nurses – who did not like to be called theatre nurses – took over. They seemed older than Samuel and the other nurse I’d previously met but even they ensured I was comfortable. They asked my name and a few other light-hearted questions about me before Dr Dedey came in. They all urged me to relax because I looked visibly shaken. I couldn’t believe I was in a theatre, a place I only saw in movies and series. A place very sick and ‘dying’ people were sent to, “oh God please take control, “I said before muttering a prayer after I was helped by one of the nurses onto the operating theatre table.
Once properly scrubbed and dressed, Dr Dedey started the procedure. The local anesthesia she applied took some minutes to kick in, “Naa has done something to my medicine” she joked and we all laughed. It worked eventually and I could feel the pulling and what sounded like something was being cut once in a while. But after many minutes, perhaps 30, it all came to an end.
“Ha, finally,” I thought to myself.
Before I was plastered up, I agreed to see the lumps that had been removed after one of the nurses asked if I’d like to have a look. They didn’t look anything like I expected. I thought it’ll look dark and grim but it looked colourful – tangerine I think and a tiny splash of blood – “well it looks beautiful,” I thought. I know that sounds awkward but yeah, it actually looked harmless, but I guess their place was not in my breasts.
About 20 minutes after the surgery, I was getting ready to leave the hospital. Realising that I’d been paranoid for nothing, I was embarrassed when Samuel walked into my hospital room and asked “how did it go, are you okay”?
Of course, I was. Pain-free but really hungry since I’d fasted all day as required before any surgery and I was in a hurry to leave the hospital get home and eat something before the anesthesia wore off.
At home, my dad, who’d called just before I left the hospital, gave me a side hug, obviously scared of hurting me. He took a critical look at the breast with the plaster all over it and said “please don’t strain yourself. This has to heal well; we don’t want any future problems.”
And with that, I was dispatched to my room with a bag of apples and red grapes with a warning “don’t do anything to stress it.”
I returned to work a couple of days after still being extremely cautious, fearing an overexcited colleague or one of my usual hugs with one of them could stretch the wound. But I did just fine and as I write this piece, I seem to have healed quite well. Later in November, I’ll go and see Dr Dedey again for the final round of lump tests. I hope nothing funny comes up then.
But the essence, really, of this article is to tell other carefree women like me to pause, and once in a while check your breasts. It could be nothing, like mine but if it is something, a delay or late diagnosis as a result of late detection could complicate issues. So please, have regular breast checks, and in case you can’t do it yourself a visit to the hospital won’t cost you much, after all, there’s a makeup bag in your handbag and hear those things can be really expensive especially if you’re a brand’s person.
To the staff of the Nyaho Medical Centre, thank you for the wonderful reception. Great job. I hope the care I received is just as everyone does. I also hope that Dr Dedey’s work with breast cancer yields fruitful results.
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