#1 The eye-watering operation
On Tuesday 2 April I drove north with Jane to Stracathro Hospital (52 miles north of Anstruther, on the A90, 38 miles south of Aberdeen) for what would be the first of two minor operations within a week.
This first procedure, which would see me admitted to hospital for the first time since I emerged into one on a very cold and dark morning on Remembrance Day, November 1971, was for a ‘gentlemanly operation’ to ensure that no more little Saunders’s would be making an appearance in the years to come—at least not from this branch of my family tree; a procedure, under local anaesthetic, which would sever the vas deferens but make a vast difference.
With Jane having suffered from post-natal depression since 2008 it was the least that I could do to remove at least some of her anxiety about what lies in the future. Still, I have a further three months and two samples to go until I’m given the all-clear…
Oh, and there is the small matter of two nasty post-op, NHS-sponsored, iatrogenic infections that have laid me low for most of April.
On the day
I was remarkably calm the day of the procedure. I had half expected to be very anxious on the morning of the operation but I really rather enjoyed our drive up to Dundee, crossing the Tay road bridge in the warm morning sunshine and then skirting our way around Dundee to the east to meet up with the A90 towards Aberdeen. It was a pleasant change to have Jane to myself in the car, no children interrupting every few moments, although they are usually very polite in doing so, “Mum! Mum! Mum! … excuse me?” I was also surprised to see so much snow still piled at the sides of the road, when we had had so little this winter and what we received had always melted within hours of falling.
Stracathro hospital was surprisingly far away. (Are we nearly there yet?) It was built in 1939 as an emergency hospital for WWII military casualties. It reminded me very much of Peel hospital, at Caddonfoot situated outside Galashiels between Selkirk and Peebles, built around the same time for the same purpose.
Seemingly the first patients at Stracathro were victims of an air raid on Montrose in 1940, followed by civilian casualties from London, Birmingham, Coventry and other English cities, and later by soldiers from all theatres of the war, all delivered by train to the nearby station at Brechin.
We parked the car and navigated our way to the day surgery ward in time for my 08:30 admission. The waiting room wasn’t much more than a large abandoned ward with a handful of chairs pushed to the edges at the far end.
“Ah! Hello!” came the cheery greeting from the nurse in charge. “You’re first here, so you’re first on the list that’s how it works here.”
Seemingly Stracathro carries out a number of minor operations for three health authorities: Fife, Tayside and Angus, and on Tuesday mornings they alternate week-about chopping off the bits of men from Fife and Tayside, four men every 90 minutes. That week it was Fife’s turn. And as it turned out I was not just the first to arrive, I was the only one to arrive. Two had phoned to cancel, one just didn’t turn up. Cowards!
In theatre, besides the surgeon there were two nurses. One was assisting the surgeon, the other it would appear was simply there to sit in the corner and talk incessantly about the weather, and the snow, and how she had spent an entire afternoon digging out her cul-de-sac, where all the old folks in the street had stood watching from the comfort of their living room windows and where none of them had made her a mug of hot chocolate.
During the operation the surgeon asked me if everything was all right.
“This is very odd,” I said, grimacing.
The surgeon looked at me.
“I’ll accept unusual,” he replied.
There was a slightly awkward silence.
“I mean… I’ve not had this done to me before.”
The surgeon burst out laughing, stopped what he was doing, looked at me and said, “No. No you wouldn’t have.” He smiled then returned to chopping up my bits and melting the severed ends with a soldering iron.
The nurse in the corner took that as her cue to continue with her epic tale of shifting snow.
And I can tell you another thing. After all these infections, I’m certainly not having another one!
After a returning to the ward, and once my stats had returned to normal (my usually-high blood pressure was refreshingly low after the procedure) I was allowed to dress and leave. No tea and toast for me. Not even the whisper of a biscuit. Or nuts! NHS cut backs, eh!
I emerged into the waiting room just as the next batch of men were arriving. Well, two of them, anyway. One rather brow-beaten looking man was accompanied by a heavily-pregnant wife and—very obviously—his mother-in-law.
“She’s expecting her fourth!” the mother-in-law exclaimed to anyone who was listening. “So A’ve come tae make share he gets it cut oaf!”
And so the long road to recovery, and back to Anstruther, despite the information sheet accompanying my admissions papers assuring me I’d be well enough to return to work the following day.
#2 The eye operation
My second minor procedure was simply to remove a cyst that had developed next to my left eye this year. I noticed it in mid-January and by the time it was removed it had doubled in size.
This minor op. was done at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, where all three of my boys were born, during the Monday afternoon ophthalmic clinic and by the Charge Nurse. She was brilliant—by which I mean she was very good at her job, not that she was particularly shiny.
And guess what?! No infection. Mind you, I’ve had so many antibiotics this month I’d probably live through another plague. Or even survive a Big Mac meal from McDonalds.
Neither procedure, the vasectomy nor the cyst-removal, was particularly traumatic although I did feel rather sore and wobbly for quite a few days afterwards—certainly more than the one day that the information leaflet suggested; but then I guess that everyone is different.
The post-op infections, however, really did knock me for six: everything from pain to fever, shaking and confusion. A skin infection to begin with, followed by a particularly nasty UTI for which I am now on my third course of antibiotics, which will last another three weeks.
Thankfully, though, I am now on the mend and greatly looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow morning.