Music, Laughter, Breath (not necessarily in that order)

It was the day of my double mastectomy, some time around 5:30am and John was driving me to the hospital. Coldplay was on the radio. Chris Martin was singing ‘Lights will guide you home/And ignite your bones/And I will try to fix you”. I cursed him and his sappy poetry, as I began to get a bit weepy.

Within moments I was registered, and lying in a hospital bed wearing a paper robe with lots of oddly placed flaps in it. I had so many colored bands around my wrist, I looked like I had been at a music festival with multi-level admissions.

I had just been wheeled into my pre-op spot, so the theme song from Scrubs was fresh in my mind. ‘I can’t do this all on my own. No, I know, I’m no Superman’.
As visions of Doctors Dorian and Turk filled my head, the anesthesiologist walked in and introduced himself. I quickly sized him up; an affable man, somewhere around my age, probably younger. The man of the hour.

He said ‘I’m Dr Saffran. I’m your anesthesiologist.’ I said ‘Oh, you’re the guy! My life is in your hands.’ I asked him if he got a good night’s sleep, or if he had been out on a tear the night before. He laughed and assured us that he was ready, and well rested.

He immediately won me over with his bright eyes and easy smile. He wasn’t at all flustered when my giant husband stood up to leave, and told him that he better bring his A game. This is a good man, I thought. He won’t let me die!

We made some small talk. He introduced his associate. A resident? Or an intern? I’ll call him a resident. He was a twenty-something man with a look of compassion and concern on his face. He put his hand on my leg and asked me how I was. I told him I was great, considering I was about to go under the knife.

Dr S looked over my chart, and then at the allergy bands around my wrist. ‘What medications are you allergic to?’ He asked. I answered. ‘And I see you’re allergic to latex?’

At this, the resident perked up and asked ‘How did you find out you were allergic to latex?’

He seemed so deeply interested, that I wanted to know why he was asking. I started wondering to myself… Is he allergic to latex? Is he working on a thesis? Are latex allergies his specialty? Does he think I’m lying? Does he dress up in a red latex suit and go out dancing on the weekends? I didn’t ask.  (Cue: Don’t dream it, be-e it!)

‘Well,’ I said… ‘actually… I found out from condoms.’ His curiosity turned to blush as the doctor began to explain that a lot of people find out that way. I joked about how it was so funny to get that diagnosis in the middle of a deadly STD epidemic. He may have been too young to appreciate the irony.

Then he was off, and the doctor proceeded to poke me for the IV with no further ado, no fanfare. Everything was going smoothly. Me and the nice doctor. Until his phone began to play a song…

It played the opening notes of a very familiar tune. It was Stairway to Heaven. And I immediately said, ‘Stairway to Heaven?! Come on, Doc! That is NOT the song I want to hear right before you put me under!’
And he laughed. ‘Seriously, dude! Bad choice! I mean, it’s better than Highway to Hell, but still… ‘.

He explained that it was a reminder tone, and that he wasn’t usually in surgery this early in the morning. ‘So patients don’t usually hear it.’ ‘Oh, wow. I guess I’m the lucky one, then.’ We laughed. ‘You really have to change that. It cannot be the last song I hear.’

And then my surgeon appeared. Dr Pappas, all business, and ready to get to work. She had a young man with her. She told me that he was doing a research project, and asked if I would be a part of it. They had plenty of people for the control group but they needed breast cancer positive people. So I said of course I would.

He explained to me that he was doing research on breath. I told him that breath was my favorite thing! ‘I breathe all the time!’ He explained that there are cancer markers in people’s breath. Some day, a simple breath test will be used to detect cancer. Crazy, isn’t it? Amazing stuff. So he wanted to take some of my breath.

As I began singing Berlin in my head ‘You take my breath away’ he handed me a straw, attached to a small Mylar bag. He asked me to blow it up. So I took it and I blew it up. And then he gave me another, as Dr S and company returned, to see me filling the bag. I stopped for a second. ‘Balloons.’ I said. ‘We’re gonna have a party after surgery. Can you believe they asked me to blow up my own balloons?’

Very soon the theme from Scrubs was back in my head, and I told the resident this as he wheeled me through the halls. He told me that he never really got into Scrubs. (I resisted the urge to say ‘You’re in them right now’) but that he liked Nip/Tuck and his mom always watches Grey’s Anatomy. I told him I prefer funny medical shows.

Then I was in a brightly lit room, and a masked nurse introduced herself to me and helped me on to a very narrow table. Dr. S told me he was going to put the medicine into my IV. I immediately replied- ‘Is it in there? I think I’m starting to feel a little bit woozy already.’

The next thing I know, I’m awake for one second and I hear Chrissy Hynde singing in my head, ‘Show me the meaning of the word. Cause I’ve heard so much about it’

Then sleep.

Then Dr. S talking.

Then sleep.

Then a female voice saying, ‘We should get her husband and let him in for a minute. He’s been worried sick.’


Then John was standing at the foot of my bed with giant wings on his back.

‘You’re an angel.’ I said. ‘You have wings right now.’

More sleep.

Then apple juice. The coldest, sweetest, most amazingly delicious apple juice I ever tasted in my life.


I slowly came back over the next few hours. At some point, a nurse came in and dropped a business card on my table. She said, ‘Dr S wanted me to give this to you, and to remind you, something about a ring tone.’

And then I remembered him talking to me. At some point after surgery, he said ‘I just want you to know I changed that ring tone. Now it’s These Dreams by Heart.’ 

‘Better’ I said. ‘Not great, but better.’

Soon I was in the passenger seat of the car. Vomiting apple juice into a plastic wash bucket. Free of cancer, breastless, and on my way back home.

‘Every moment I’m awake, the further I’m away’.



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