I was telling my mother that the thing I am most terrified of during my surgery is the breathing tube. I have a complicated history with breathing tubes, even though I have never been intubated. Or if I have, I don’t remember.
In 1995 when my father was dying, he agreed to let the doctors intubate him long enough for my husband and me to get to his bedside. By the time we arrived, he was in rough shape, we were in rough shape, and that is the memory that stands for me. Whenever I think of my father, I think of the breathing tube and how once it was in, getting it taken out required an act of god. Hospitals don’t take kindly to pulling the plug, regardless of what they may tell you.
Five years later, my husband had open heart surgery. For reasons we may never know, he ended up in a coma for five days, intubated. At one point, they thought they could take the breathing tube out, but something happened and they had to put it back in. He may have been fighting it, or they may have been a little too aggressive — it’s hard to know since he remembers none of it — but he ended up with scar tissue on his vocal chords and his ability to breathe on his own was severely compromised as a result. Two surgeries on his throat, a doctor who took the right kind of risks, and luckily things worked out. You might never know except for when his voice gets a little crackly.
So, yeah… the breathing tube kind of spooks me.
When I met with Dr. P and she explained my surgical options, one of the things that stuck in my head was that even if I opted for a less invasive lumpectomy (which is considered outpatient surgery, no hospital stay), I would still be intubated and placed under general anesthesia. Knowing that the thing I feared the most was a given regardless of the surgery I chose, made my decision to have the bigger surgery that much easier. I’m not saying I would have opted for the lumpectomy if I didn’t have to be intubated, but it would have been a more difficult choice to make. I might have done anything to avoid that contraption.
It seems a little ridiculous to fixate on something so commonplace, something that gets used countless times a day in any hospital and probably saves billions of lives. But we all have our thing. Stick me with a needle as many times as you want, but come at me with a breathing tube and I’m probably going to panic.
I’ve been practicing my guided imagery. I downloaded an app on my phone and it’s kind of shocking how quickly my mind and my body relax when I’m focused. I think it’s the voice. The woman on the app could be reading a grocery list and I would still find myself on the edge of sleep every time. It’s pretty wonderful. I’ve been able to catch little catnaps here and there, and let go of a lot of stress.
When I concentrate on my breathing, letting my mind go quiet, I feel like I can do this. My fears seem small and my resolve is strong. I know I’m not going to end up like my husband, or even my father. But I have to let go of the fear. And the only way I know how to do that, is to put it out there, to write it down and talk about it and breathe.