This is a slightly difficult post to write, because I finally have to address the elephant in the room. If you’ve never heard the phrase before, you’re probably thinking that chemo brain has finally settled in. Fear not, this elephant is no result of chemo. His name is Pain, and he’s been my constant companion this last month.
This elephant of mine, I can see him, and my nearests and dearest can see him too. However, the medical profession resolutely could not see the elephant, up until two days ago when his looming presence actually showed up on an ultrasound and his weight displayed itself as a nasty mottled purple zone around my lower left breast.
Around the time of my egg harvesting, I had a most terrible weekend of pain. The harvesting itself was a walk in the park next to this unbearable, heavy, seering pain that had settled itself in my chest and back. I know that I stoically announced that pain was nothing next to fear shortly after surgery. Well, that pain was not this pain. It sounds bizarre, doesn’t it, that I could be spontaneously be hit by pain many times worse than the straight out of surgery, four drains, no breasts, a few battered lymph nodes pain.
But that’s the truth of it. I went to my surgeon and he said… nothing. He smiled sweetly and told me that I shouldn’t be worried about taking lots of heavy duty pain meds, and that this would pass, naturally, in time.
So the elephant and I battled on.
And a week or two passed, and I returned with my elephant, and still I was told that there was nothing to worry about. As I had started chemo, I was reliably informed that this elephant (if indeed such an elephant existed) was actually the responsibility of my oncologist.
So I led the elephant to my oncologist and she told me in no uncertain terms that if there was an elephant it was not a chemo elephant, because they are an entirely different species. This here (theoretically) was a surgical elephant.
So the elephant and I returned home once again, and we started having the most frightful shakes and shivers, and I wound up in the emergency department with my elephant. In emergency, they too failed to see my elephant. They failed to see anything, and when there is clearly nothing to pin symptoms on in the medical world, they have a name for this elephant. They call it a virus. So my former surgical now viral elephant and I returned home.
And another week passed, and the elephant grew so big he stopped me from leaving the house, and he would wake me constantly at night, not even every two hours, asking if he could have another pain killer please?
And still we shivered, and still we sweated, and I grew angry, and took my elephant back to the surgeon. I explained that he was clearly not a chemo elephant nor a viral elephant. I demanded that if no-one was to take responsibility for my elephant, that at least we must train him. The surgeon didn’t approve, so I went to the breast cancer nurses to see if they could see the elephant. They thought they might see an elephant and prescribed a few more pain killers just in case. At the same time, they saw a mouth ulcer and tonsillitis and thought perhaps they could pin the shivers on those culprits. So they sent me home with drugs to battle those new invaders, plus kindly agreed to find me a physiotherapist who specialised in disciplining out of control phantom elephants.
I appreciated this, as it appeared to be some kind of concession that the elephant existed.
Then over the next weekend, the elephant really went all out. He painted the house purple and trumpeted all through the night ensuring that I didn’t sleep at all.
So… (boy oh boy is this a long elephant story) on Tuesday I took my elephant back to visit the nice breast cancer nurses, and now that he’d painted the house purple it was pretty obvious he existed, so they photographed him on my iPhone and sent him to my surgeon.
The text sadly did not not actually read “Definitive Proof That Surgical Elephant Exists” but it did the trick regardless.
The elephant and I were taken for an ultrasound and the ultrasound technician knew exactly the species of elephant, bless him. Cellulitis, which is a soft tissue infection.
After another 24 hours, the elephant and I went to visit the surgeon again, this time wearing only a sun dress because it was hot.
Well, praise be, this time he saw the elephant! Its clinical name was Cellulitis, not Pain.
So the elephant had a name. But how, pray tell, does one treat a one month old out of control elephant on a rampage?
With IV drugs of course. For five days minimum. In hospital.
This is the end of day two, and the elephant is still with me, although I’m hoping I’m seeing signs of him weakening.
What is not weakening is my anger. When I say there’s a bloody elephant in the room, there’s an elephant, ok?
I have now lost a month of my life to an elephant. I haven’t worked in weeks, and even my chemo schedule is screwed up because you can’t go for chemo with an elephant.
So all I can say to patients everywhere is get feisty if there’s an elephant in the room. I didn’t, and look where it got me.
Someone get me an elephant gun.