Don's Diary

January 14, 2000

Monday

The Monday after Christmas. Go into the Oregon Research Institute (Eugene, Oregon, United States) for the last time. It has been a productive sabbatical. All my paper writing is done for the next six months, which turns out to be a good thing. I am scheduled for a hysterectomy on Wednesday. A precancerous condition was detected during a routine Pap (cervical) smear last month. I spend a couple of hours browsing in the institute's library, learning more than I want to know about endometrial cancer.

Tuesday

Clear liquids only. At noon, attend the funeral service for a colleague's 28-year-old son who died suddenly of cardiac arrest on Christmas Eve. His parents greet each of the mourners: the father red-eyed, the mother rigid. Their tragedy is humbling. The service did not offer much comfort and I leave before the burial, as it is time to start on my pre-op bowel prep.

Wednesday

Surgery went well, so I am told. My husband is waiting in my room when I return. After the morphine dose is increased, I feel better. I press the button for a self-administered top-up whenever I remember. Mostly semi-conscious today.

Thursday

Speak to concerned relatives in England. Tell them about the large, private, en suite room with wood floors, TV, VCR, CD player and unlimited visiting hours. I am in a brand new floor of the hospital devoted to women's health; babies are born on one side and my kind of problems dealt with on the other. The nurses are professional, caring and unhurried.

The hospital's admission booklet promised "an all-encompassing patient-centred approach to health care". I discuss my pain level with the nurse, rating it out of ten, and we develop a plan together. Each time I am given a pill, I am told what it is.

By the evening, I am euphoric: is it the medication, the relief to have the surgery over with or the experience of patient empowerment?

Friday

New Year's Eve. Celebrate the UK New Year at 4pm with my husband at my bedside. We watch the Public Broadcasting Service coverage of the millennium in Britain. They look cold in the Dome, the Queen bundled up in a large overcoat. They seemed to be having more fun in Amsterdam or Madrid. Here in women's health the race is on for the first baby of 2000. On one of my walks round the floor I have been to see the huge basket of gifts assembled for him or her, including $1,000 cash, all donated by local businesses.

Saturday

I wake at midnight to the sounds of electronic church bells and distant fireworks. I buzz for the nurse and together we watch some more millennium coverage while she checks my vital signs and dispenses a pain pill. The first baby, a girl, arrives at 12.30am. Later this morning I find I can concentrate enough to read a novel and understand the jokes in The New Yorker. This is excellent progress and we all agree that I can go home.

Sunday

Digesting a phone call from my surgeon about the post-op lab work, which showed evidence of stage 1 adenocarcinoma. Sobering to think that under the NHS I was not due for a cervical smear for another two years. It is time to think about what I want to do with the rest of my life.

Sarah E. Hampson is professor of psychology and health at the University of Surrey.

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