The following morning early, the cardiothoracic surgeon came to see me. The plan was to drain the right side of my chest cavity first since that side had the most fluid build up. They wouldn’t be able to drain both sides at once because that would put me at too high a risk of having a pulmonary embolism. The nurses put embolism stockings on my legs and I was then given a sedative before being taken in for surgery. Lying and waiting for my turn in the pre-op area, I prayed harder than I’d ever done before…or have ever done since. I remember repeating over and over again in my head, ‘Please God have mercy on me, don’t let me die…I’m not ready to go anywhere yet. You know my girls still need me too much…don’t do this to them.’
Finally in surgery and on the table, there was an incredible amount of activity going on around me. Instruments being prepared, doctors scrubbing in and donning surgical gowns. I wished at that point that the sedative that they’d given me before hand was stronger so that I wasn’t so acutely aware of all the fuss. Then I realized that I was in complete survival mode. There was nothing any sedative could do to put me at ease. I closed my eyes and thought of two things. The letters that I had written to my girls the night before my admission. I’d told them that it had been an honor and a privilege to be their mother if it was only for this brief period of time, and that I could never express how sorry I was that it had to end so soon and especially like this. Then my mind drifted to the promise I had made Jaco on the same night…that I would keep the promise we made to each other on our honeymoon of going back to Malaysia for our 20th wedding anniversary, which was still 6 years away. I knew that those two things alone would give me the incentive to fight to stay alive.
When I came around again afterwards, I was in recovery. I was so hoping that the first procedure would make a difference to my breathing, making it easier. It didn’t. When I was back in my ward, they took my blood pressure and blood oxygen saturation levels. Realizing that my oxygen levels were critically low, they propped my bed up so that I was in more of a seated position and then put an oxygen mask over my mouth and nose. It was not long after, that the pain started rapidly catching up with me. I had a tube coming out of the right side of my ribs for drainage purposes. The pain was of a sharp, burning and searing sort and no amount of painkillers that they gave me would even remotely touch it. I lay and gripped the sides of the bed till my knuckles turned white and my toes were curling with the tears just streaming. This hospital with it’s archaic pain control system didn’t allow for a mild dose of morphine. The most they could offer me was Panadol and another pain relief injection called Tramal, which was slightly stronger. I was warned however that Tramal could cause nausea and vomiting. I was desperate and told the nurse to give me the injection anyway. Luckily it had no effect on me, but it also had very little effect on my pain. The intubation from surgery started to irritate my throat, and so the coughing started. I coughed and hacked morning and night, getting absolutely no sleep. I would doze off briefly through sheer exhaustion and then would cough myself awake again. The oxygen mask resting on my pillow and running constantly was my only solace. I was being served copious amounts of Arabic food that I had absolutely no interest in. All I felt like doing was swiping the tray across the room. I didn’t need food, I needed air. I would have to go through this same operation again the next day, with yet another tube coming out of my left ribs and I had no idea how on earth I was going to handle the pain.