I leave for the hospital nearly late as I too often do. I arrive needing no directions about where to go feeling all too familiar in a hospital where I have never worked, but rather nearly lived and visited too often. I pass a neurologist I saw for a year in between having a blood clot and being diagnosed with cancer. I get in the elevator and upon exiting I pass the head and neck surgeon who I affectionately named "the five minute cancer" and who did my first biopsy. Neither recognize me. They see many people, I have short hair now, and neither were the type to remember. I feel as though I am at the end of a season of Grey's Anatomy or the final episode of a long watched TV show where they bring out all the characters in their usual roles, tying up plots, showing that life goes on and taking their metaphorical bows. It seems fitting. I check in and sit down to wait. I notice again that I have chosen to do something alone in an automatic kind of way and pull out my 800-page Harry Potter.
A nurse named David calls my name, introduces himself, tells me to come with him and says, "Ohhhh Harry Potter. Read them all, loved them." Tells me he moved on to a series call Aragon that he also loved about a dragon, and that others he has recommended it to like it as well. We chat about fantasy books. I am interested. I have been dreading the end of Harry Potter. It has carried me through months of wonderful reading, characters and escape when I needed it. Fantasy is officially a genre I love. I decide to go check out this recommendation soon. We walk into the surgical room while chatting and confirming medical info. He asks where I am from, we agree New England falls are too short and that he recommends Northern Virgina for beautiful and long springs and falls. Again I am curious. They start prepping me for the procedure.
Port removals are technically much easier than getting them put in. No X-ray needed to ensure proper placement. No IV. No narcotics. Just Lidocaine, soap and tape. And a scalpel I presume. A few sharp sticks in my chest with forewarned stinging as the numbing takes hold. Then they gently cut you hoping you don't feel it. Then they tug. Alarmingly. All I could think was if this was the kind of tugging they do when you are awake and they are taking something gentle out, the kind of tugging, pulling and pressure they must use when, for example, they drill a hold into your skull must really be something you don't want to bear witness to.
The doctor asked if I was in pain because the first round of Lidocaine had not fully done it's job. I said no. She asked if I was sure, I replied no again but realizing I was clearly bracing myself for unexpected pain. I told her the sensation was weird and that I was bracing myself but that it did not hurt. This is always an awkward conversation because really they are asking if you are in pain so they can stop or continue. I wanted her to stop. It is uncomfortable, vulnerable and unpleasant. But it did not hurt. And indirectly communicating she could continue - which is not what I really felt - is awkward.
Despite this, Judy the doctor and David the nurse were exceptionally warm and caring. After significant tugging, she said sometimes just when the port comes out people feel emotional because it's finally done and gave me gentle permission to cry. I was so grateful. The tears came running down. She started to explain that she would now put in stitches which would take a bit longer. After starting she check again if I was in pain. I again said no. And she said, just emotional? And I said yes and didn't have to say anything else. A few minutes later I did let out an ouch, and confirmed it was sharp and we needed more lidocaine. She obliged and continued. I listened to the disolvaable sutures move through my skin like laces on a shoe, my eyes tightly shut feeling the hot tears behind them. She said she would "mound" the wound so that when it healed it would hopefully be even and not leave an indent on my chest. She told me about an over the counter product called Mederma that is supposed to nearly dissolve scars - whether recent or old - if used consistently for 2-3 months everyday. David chimed in and told me about his wife who had breast cancer and used it to repair the scars on her chest and that he personally knew that it worked brilliantly.
They finished. Daivd made a joke that they had just "de-port-ed" me and while I normally might not have enjoyed this type of joke, I knew he was trying to comfort me (and that he had told that joke many times before). She asked if I wanted to see my port and I said yes, having already contemplated asking but not being brave enough to ask. It looked like it did when I googled it. Purple and rubber. I suspect they cleaned it off a bit. I could see the little bumps that the nurses would feel for on my skin when accessing my port and the little black hole that the needle would pierce. Medicine is pretty amazing. They sat me up slowly and asked me to wait in case I was dizzy. I began to cry more. Aware again that I chose to come here alone. Aware also that in this moment I did not feel alone because of their attention. I thanked them gratefully for their skills and their caretaking. Judy left first and David stayed with me. He told me how I have much to look forward to. That I was too young to have this happen and that the path is now clear. He repeated all the post-surgical instructions, we continued our pre-surgery talk about Harry Potter and how his wife is a Librarian and he can get any book he wants almost immediately and we wished each other well and said goodbye.
I left feeling raw and open. The end it seems, at least at this very moment, feels like the beginning. My port, though painful and scary, brought hope and a path to the future. Its exit from my body seems to have brought the same.