On Friday morning I went to hospital for my pre-operative assessment. It’s a nice small hospital in East London and I was only 20 minutes late for my appointment.
The nurse doing the assessment, a greying South Asian man with a kind face, introduced himself as Jim and then said that if there were any complaints, his name was Tom. I wondered how many times he’d told that joke before.
He took me through a long list of diseases I don’t have and medications I’m not taking. Then he gave me a long cotton bud to test for MRSA. I had to swab the folds of the V of my groin to test for it. I don’t understand how it’s so contagious if that’s where it lives.
He measured my weight and height. I’ve lost about 1 stone 10 pounds since starting my pre-op diet. More on that in a minute. He also measured my blood pressure. I’ve never been in a medical situation where the facilities are designed for the obese. Their default blood pressure cuff is the supersize one. I didn’t have to wait for someone to hunt it out from the back of a dusty cupboard after trying and failing to take my blood pressure with a regular sized one, like I usually do when I go to the doctors.
This gave me high hopes for the next part. Would I finally be in a medical situation where someone would be able to find a vein and take blood without drama? No. Of course not. Fat people’s veins are buried and invisible to the human eye and every time a medical professional has to take blood from me it’s a palaver.
First of all, Jim felt my arms and hands and inspected them closely. No, he decided, he couldn’t see a vein. He phoned a colleague. A bubbly female nurse came in. She said she had a trick for finding veins. She prodded and poked me, squeezed and rubbed. She found a vein, but decided that it was too deep to risk piercing. She called in her colleague, another smiley nurse (but a little less smiley and a little less Northern than the first nurse). They tried together as Jim apathetically looked on. They couldn’t find a vein and asked Jim to phone for the doctor.
I asked what the doctor could do that they couldn’t. The first, bubblier, nurse said that the doctor could take blood from any part of my body she wanted, so she’d definitely get a result. I had visions of her slitting my throat or piercing a vein on my testicles.
The doctor came up, a quiet young woman with a West African accent. She said she’d prefer to take me next door where there was a chair. I don’t know why this sounded so ominous, but it did. “Next door” turned out to be a big empty room with a row of large orange chairs, each chair surrounded by medical equipment. It looked a little bit like a chemotherapy ward, a place I don’t like the memory of.
The doctor didn’t try any unusual places. She went back to slapping my arms and the backs of my hands in the hopes of finding a vein that the other three hadn’t found. She made her first piercing on my left wrist and failed to draw any blood. Then she pricked high up on my right arm and failed again to draw blood.
At this stage, the bubbly Northern nurse came into the room. This was good, as all the doctor had done was sigh at me and I don’t particularly like needles and I needed someone to distract me. Nurses are always better at this part of the job than doctors.
Finally, on the third skin puncture, about halfway down my right forearm, the doctor struck a vein and she gave a little delighted cry. However, she was soon sighing again. Apparently it was a very slow vein and the blood was just coming out in tiny drops. The doctor’s hand got tired of holding the tube and the nurse took over. They filled one and a half tubes before the vein stopped producing blood. There were five tubes waiting to be filled. The doctor said that the vein was now empty, which sounded vaguely life-threatening to me but I think was really just more or an inconvenience.
She tried the back of my right hand and failed and then she tried my right wrist and failed. As she was trying up high on my left arm, the ward sister came in with the less smiley, more Southern nurse from earlier.
The sister and the doctor were obviously friends and the doctor visibly cheered up when she arrived. As the doctor prodded my left arm, the sister announced that she was going to find a vein on my foot. She took off my shoe and sock and within seconds she announced triumphantly that she’d found a vein. I was pierced at once both on my arm and on my foot. Neither punctures produced any blood. The sister couldn’t believe that what was clearly a vein on my foot wasn’t producing any blood. She had me stamp my feet while the doctor apologetically extracted the needle from my left arm. Blood refused to issue from my foot.
The four medical professionals around me started tutting and saying that if I couldn’t have blood taken then I couldn’t have the operation. I willed myself to bleed. They suggested coming in again in the afternoon after eating a lot and drinking lots of fluids and exercising vigorously to get the blood pumping. I didn’t want to come back in the afternoon! I had work.
The doctor said she’d give it one last try. I put all my effort into making blood flow. She put the needle about halfway down my left forearm and it worked. They filled tube after tube with blood. Phew! I could have the operation after all! And the next time I go to the doctor, I’ll be skinny and my veins will be easy to find.
They asked Jim if I could go and he said yes. Yay!
I’m much more ready for the operation in my brain than I was last week. It had felt very unreal but it’s better now. So is the diet. I still get hungry but my body is used to 800 calories now. I can cope. I don’t want to stab people anything as much.
Still, I have moments of absolute panic. I smell a pizza or I pass a burger restaurant or I see someone eat pasta and I think I might never taste those tastes again. I went out on Friday night, and felt terrible, woozy from giving blood and dehydrated and hungry and I had to leave early and I felt like I’d never have a social life again, even though I’ve had two nights out without eating or drinking since starting the diet and they were fine, but one missed night out gave me eternal FOMO.
And the practicalities of it all, and of doing it alone just terrify me. So many people have offered to visit and offered to help and that makes me feel so grateful, and so lucky, but a big part of me is just so scared and alone and it’s been such a hard year with my dad’s death and my family disintegrating for a variety of reasons, and it’s very hard not to feel like I’m on a tiny little raft bobbing in the open seas without an anchor.
I’ll tell you one thing. As soon as I’m skinny I’m getting me a boyfriend. I’m not doing something like this alone ever again.