Operative apprehension – by Helen May


Over the last year I have been experiencing some discomfort which has become downright painful on a number of occasions. Unfortunately,  it has become so painful that I have experienced a couple of trips in an ambulance and some morphine. My local Accident and Emergency unit has been fantastic – busy but friendly and professional. On the diabetes front, one of the junior nurses confessed to never having seen an insulin pump and asked how it worked: not only did she not arrogantly assume she knew, she also took the time to learn.

The purpose of A&E is to solve the immediate problems and discharge you (into someone else’s care or home). For me, this meant the detective work of finding the cause of the problem fell to me and my GP. It was not an easy one and took a combination of Ultra scan, CAT scan and MRI scan to track down the offending lump. As a result, next week I will be having an operation.

I have been lucky: since birth, I have never spent one night in hospital and the only time I had an anaesthetic, I was in and out in the same day. I have never broken any bones and the only thing I have had removed are a couple of milk teeth … a long time ago. So I am apprehensive. I am nervous about the pre-operation, the operation and the recovery.

I was planning a busy, important work trip the week before the operation to take my mind off it. Unfortunately, just before I was due to travel, I experienced an unexpected and spectacular flare up of the problems which should be solved by the operation. This resulted in an extra week off work feeling drained but not terrible. I have tried to make the most of this time to prepare: research more about the operation, fill the freezer with homemade  delights to enjoy post op and purchase some extra-comfy clothes.

The operation is next week. I have been talked through the risks which I know is necessary but adds to the nervousness. I have given numerous vials of blood for testing and back-up for transfusion if necessary. The operation is key hole surgery (small and faster recovery) in my abdomen. Yep, I will be “stabbed” three times in the area where I usually insert my pump cannula. So, in preparation, I have been trialling other areas and decided on my lower back; in my spare tyre. I will meet the anaesthetist in the day and have a list of questions and instructions for him regarding my diabetes. The main instruction being, “don’t remove my pump”, and the main question being, “how are you going to keep an eye on my blood glucose?” Fingers crossed he understands diabetes and will leave the pump alone.

Then there will be recovery. This is the part I am feeling most nervous about. I am usually very active and have more energy than most. I have been warned to expect to feel tired for six weeks and maybe in some pain and discomfort for the first two. That means six weeks with no gym; six weeks with no climbing; six weeks with no cycling; six weeks when I can’t pop to the supermarket (a mile up and down a steep hill) for supplies … all which is likely to increase my blood glucose and need for more insulin. I predict a long temporary basal on my pump and a frustrated patient at home.

But finally, there will be return to normal. Climbing, cycling, gym will be a great reward. But more importantly, the pain and discomfort of the last year should be over.

Diabetes is an added inconvenience in these times but in a strange way, this illness has reminded me I am not defined by my diabetes. I am human like everyone else.

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