All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 36 My Operation
The train pulled smoothly out of York Station. I smiled, a trifle nervously if I'm honest, at Mum who was sitting opposite me. She like to travel 'with her back to the engine', whereas I like to face the way I was travelling. I had suggested to Mum that she come to London when I was about to leave the clinic after my operation, but she offered to come with me, pointing out that otherwise I wouldn't get any visitors. I was glad to take up her offer. Big cities can be lonely places.
After arriving back from our overseas tour, most of the company had been taken back to Stratford by bus. One of the exceptions was Richard who was going to Swansea to see his family. I said 'au revoir' and hoped we would have the chance to work together again. Our farewell kiss was more than friendly, and I wondered if I should have taken more advantage of our nights together, but decided that in the circumstances I had done the right thing.
I had returned to my flat for a couple of days, and Dale was pleased to see me and insisted on hearing all about the trip. The flat looked very tidy and I suspected that Frank had been there more than once while I was away. I checked over the bills and arranged to pay my share that was owing. Dale knew about my operation of course and was not surprised when I told him I would stay a couple of days in Stratford and then drive to Bridchester before travelling to London with Mum. After surgery, I would be returning to Brid to convalesce.
“Do you expect to come back to Stratford for a while?” he asked.
“I hope so. There's another rôle coming up, Desdemona in 'Othello', that I'd really like to play, but of course I'm only one of a number of people going for it. If I don't get it, then I'll have to look around. I'm afraid that's an actor's life. Have you thought about what you would do if I have to leave the flat?”
“I suppose I could always look around for someone else to share with. I really don't want to go back home again,” he replied. From that reply I assumed that there was no chance of Frank coming to Stratford to live with him.
“Well, let's see what happens,” I said.
Two days later I had packed a suitcase and drove up to Brid. Mum was pleased to see me of course. We went to see Emma, David and the family. Elizabeth had grown noticeably bigger since I last saw her. David was busy with a new production, and for once he didn't need me to stand in! I had picked up a few presents during my world trip which were very well received and I promised to show the family some of my photos when I was back in Brid after my surgery. I didn't mention the operation in front of Penny. As far as she was concerned I had always been a girl and she was used to not seeing me for weeks at a time when I was working, so wouldn't even notice I had gone. She might wonder why I was home with Mum for an extended period of time, if so we would tell her that I'd had a little operation and was convalescing, or maybe just that I didn't have any work at that time, which of course was true.
I slept for most of the two hour journey and Mum woke me as the train pulled into Kings Cross station. I didn't fancy tackling the public transport system, so we took one of the famous London black cabs to the hotel where we were staying. The cab drivers are amazing, but of course, unlike the taxi drivers in many cities, they have to spend two or more years in learning 'The Knowledge' of all the London streets and landmarks and the quickest route to get from 'A' to'B'. It's the hardest test for a taxi driver anywhere in the world.
The hotel was only five minutes walk from the clinic where I was going to have my surgery. After checking in and unpacking some of the clothes I had brought but wouldn't need while an inpatient at the clinic, Mum and I walked there and I was formally admitted and given a number of checks and tests prior to my surgery the following day.
I had chosen to have a single room just because of the nature of my surgery. It was unlikely that anyone would recognise me, but I didn't want to take that risk. I had no concerns about the staff sticking to their confidentiality rules, but these didn't apply to other patients of course. My surgeon Mr Summers called by to make sure I was settled in alright, and the anaesthetist Dr Kate Reilly also came to perform some checks. All the staff were very nice and did their best to put me at my ease.
I don't know anyone who enjoys surgery, indeed someone who does is said to have Munchausen Syndrome which is a mental condition, so even though I was there of my own free will to have surgery, it was only natural that I felt a bit nervous and when I was offered some medication to help me sleep I was happy to accept it.
I was woken up very early the following morning. For some reason surgeons seem to start operating at the crack of dawn. I had had nothing to eat or drink since the previous evening of course, so had nothing else to do but watch the early morning news on the television and wait. The minutes ticked by and then a nurse came into the room to do my 'obs', tell me that I was first on the list and to supply a sedative to relax me. I also had to take off my nightdress and put on one of those 'back to front' gowns with nothing on underneath.
After a while I did begin to feel quite relaxed and a short time later a couple of orderlies came in to take me to theatre. They checked the name-tags around my wrist and ankle and asked me what surgery I was going to have. Then they helped me slide over onto a trolley, covered me with a blanket and I lay on my back, watching the lights in the ceiling pass by as we moved swiftly down the corridors, rounded a couple of bends and then entered the operating theatre with its massive lights suspended from the ceiling. Once again I was helped to slide over onto the operating table.
“Hello Harriet,” said a female voice. It was Doctor Reilly although she was hard to recognise in her surgical garb. “How are you feeling?”
“Rather sleepy,” I replied.
“Well I'm going to put a needle into the back of your hand and then put you fully to sleep,” she said.
Another gowned and masked figure came into view. “Hello Harriet, it's Doctor Summers. Can you tell me what surgery you are having today?”
“Good morning doctor. It's Gender Confirmation Surgery,” I replied.
As I was speaking, Dr Reilly inserted the needle into the back of my hand which stung a bit and then attached an intravenous line. Then she picked up a syringe to attach to a port on the line.
“Now I want you to count out loud down from ten for me please Harriet.”
“Ten, nine, eight,” 'Good grief it's not working,' I thought. “Seven...”
I slowly opened my eyes. A nurse was looking down at me.
“Hello Harriet. You're in Recovery. The surgery went very well. How are you feeling?”
“My mouth is so dry,” I croaked.
“That's alright. I'll raise you up a bit in a minute and give you some ice to suck,” she said.
She was as good as her word. As the ice melted in my mouth I began to feel better although still slightly 'other-worldly'. As time passed I began to feel more 'with it', and watched the comings and goings of the staff and other patients on their trollies. After a while and several more checks of my 'obs', I was told I was to be taken back to my room. The same orderlies appeared again and in no time I was back in my bed. When I was left alone for a minute I cautiously checked out the area of my surgery but of course all I encountered were bandages. I think I fell asleep again because when I was next aware of anything I realised that Mum was sitting beside the bed and holding my hand.
“How are you feeling darling?” she said.
“I'm so tired Mum, but I'm glad it's over. It was something I had to do. I couldn't have stayed the way I was.”
“I know, darling,” said Mum. “I'm so proud of you. I'll let you rest now and come back to see you this evening.”
The second day after my surgery I was sitting out of bed and taking a few cautious steps, and as each day passed I became more mobile.
The following days were not pleasant, and since there are numerous descriptions on-line of GCS and what happens afterwards, it's hardly necessary for me to add to the number. Fortunately pain management is excellent nowadays and so the discomfort was bearable. Mum was very good and came in to see me twice a day. One day Frank arrived, bearing a large bunch of flowers. Mum was there but said she was happy to go and do some shopping now that I had another visitor.
Dale had told Frank that I had had my surgery and I didn't mind as it was really nice to see him. He told me that he had stayed in Stratford a few times while I had been away, and of course he wanted to know all about my trip, so it was a pleasant distraction to tell him about it. Eventually my eyelids started to droop and he tactfully said he could see I was getting tired and that he would go. He kissed me on the cheek and promised to ring in a few days and see how I was going.
On the seventh day Dr Summers came to examine me again. “You are making excellent progress Harriet. If you promise to take things easy, you can leave the clinic tomorrow and go back to your hotel. You'll need to come back every day or so for more check-ups, and all being well you can go home in about another week.”
This was good news indeed. The following morning after being given the 'all clear', I rang Mum and asked her to bring some clothes for me to wear while leaving the clinic. I thanked all the staff for their care, fixed up the paperwork and settled my account. Then I was accompanied to the front door where a taxi was waiting for us. Going outside for the first time in over a week, the noise of the traffic and a chilly wind on my face was quite a contrast to the cocoon of the clinic and its constant air temperature. I could understand why some people who have to spend a prolonged period of time in hospital find that they don't want to leave the secure and comfortable environment.
We soon arrived at our hotel and silly though it seems, I felt tired and needed a rest. Mum was very understanding, and was happy to sit in an armchair and continue with her knitting.
As arranged, during the following days I had to return to the clinic for check-ups. The first couple of times we went by taxi, but as the days passed I was feeling better and I walked there, albeit slowly, for the final visit. Dr Summers said he was very happy with my progress and that I could now return home to Bridchester, although I would need some more check-ups with my local G.P. while I convalesced for about another six weeks.
The next day we took the train back to Bridchester. I was very tired by the time we arrived and had to have a sleep even though I had dozed for much of the journey. Emma came over to see me the next day and brought Elizabeth with her. We decided that if Penny asked, we would just say that I had to have a small operation on my tummy, but was alright and would soon be better. If she didn't ask then the story would be that I was having a holiday away from acting for a while. Both stories were essentially true.
Day by day my strength returned and I began to feel my old self, in fact I was wishing I could get back to work. I had read through 'Othello' several times and had almost completely memorised the rôle of Desdemona. I had to tell myself not to get over-confident that I would get the part. I had been very fortunate so far, but I knew that even the best actors had times when they were 'resting'.
I'm sure Mum was really enjoying having me stay with her, and I was enjoying it too. I knew that when I finally had to leave I would probably feel guilty doing so, but there was no way that I could stay in Bridchester and pursue to sort of career that I wanted.
One afternoon, I was sittiing the armchair reading a book and Mum was knitting something for Elizabeth, when the front door bell rang. I was going to get up, but Mum beat me to it and went to the door. When she came back into the room she had a strange expression on her face.
“Harriet, darling, you have a visitor,” she said.
To be continued.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Louise Anne in proofreading the text and giving me a great deal of useful advice about modern-day Britain to incorporate in the story, also Julia Phillips for picking up my punctuation errors and any typos Louise or I missed. I'm very grateful to them both.
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