Bad News

There are two tumours, not one. About 1.5 cms X 1 cm X 1 cm approximately. 11 o clock position and 2 o clock position. Like the breast is a clock. So unpoetic, I say! And, right now, it’s not even a clock, it’s a bloody ticking time-bomb.

The doc advises mastectomy. Two tumours (medical term: multifocal) are better tackled by mastectomy instead of lumpectomy. Thereafter, reconstruction, in the same surgery.

Good News

The tumours are small and contained in the ducts. Ductal Carcinoma in Situ. Don’t seem to have spread outside.

Lots of pre-surgery tests. Including a psych eval. When the shrink learns I am from Allahabad, he does a Senior-mostest Bachchan on me. Talks only chaste Hindi. I struggle to keep pace. Say, what’s Hindi for ‘stop being a pain in the ass, doc, will you?’

Get admitted the very next day. Before that, visit my parents. Nonchalant, happy-go-lucky kind of practiced tra-la-la tone. Tell them I am leaving on an office tour. Get my hair cut short:  practical for the eight-day hospitalization.

Tell the kids that it’s a small operation. A boil has to be removed.

‘Just tell nana-nani I have gone on a tour if they call’, I teach them to lie.

Get admitted. Spacious ward. The attendant bed is nice-sized. Not the usual ironing-board dimensions.

Change into the hospital garb – pyjamas, not a robe. Gingham-y, nuthouse kind of print. Friends show up. Only two are allowed at a time. I have ten. One has sneaked in when no one was watching. One has swaggered in pretending to be a doctor. I don’t even want to know how the rest made it in. These criminals!

I hug. I cry. One of them is giving me a foot massage. Jokes. Stories. I feel loved.

It’s a long, restless night. So many things I need to tell my daughter. Should I write it down somewhere? How to write a descriptive answer.  Handle a bully. Shop for the right jeans. Find out if its real love. Burp her first-born. Gosh! There is so much I want to tell her. Can’t be done in a day. I cry with frustration.

The kids have been moved to friends’ places. In the same building. Homework, bag-packing, uniforms have also been delegated to them.


I am woken up early. Like a death-row prisoner. Shower. I won’t be able to for some days now. Cannulas are put.  Temperature taken. Blood pressure measured. 180/100. That is unusual for me. They give a pill. And ask me to walk around. Hold my friend’s hands and walk around. Husband is running around doing the paper work.

8:00 a.m., the designated time has come and gone. It’s almost 11:00 a.m. now. I am fatigued.

I am wheeled away for a PET (positron emission tomography) scan. It will give a blueprint to the surgeons. I am ‘nil-by-mouth’ which means thirst, hungry, weak. Going around on a wheelchair attracts stares. I don’t know yet that this will be the beginning of a life full of stares for some time now.


The PET is painful. The dye is injected. Am strapped to a table. Slid into that doughnut – Star Trek cryo chamber stuff. I try to imagine I am Kirk.

Kirk with breasts? I am losing it.

The next wait is outside the Operation Theatre. A team of anaesthesiologists arrives. So many of them! They give me the talk. I ask them if I will die. They laugh. As a team. They tell me I won’t.

But if I do, I must remind my husband about the saree I want to wear on my last journey. He is so forgetful.

ooty saree

This is the first ever saree he gave me. Bought in 1997 in Visakhapatanam. While shopping for his brother’s wedding. Right under his mother’s nose. Could not collect it the same day. So, came back by bus the next day to pick it. This photo is from our honeymoon, April 1998.

My next mode of transport is a stretcher.

Are you kidding me? The OT is 10 metres away.

I will walk, I insist.

I hug my husband. Wish I could stay right there. In the warmth of his arms.

I walk briskly to the OT. I am feeling nothing. No fear. No anxiety. The nurse opens the door. It’s a well-lit large room with all those machines. Lot of natural light too. Dr Shetty smiles at me. Kind eyes. I smile brightly. I hop on to the operating table.

Someone flicks on a draft of warm air from below to keep me comfortable. They peel my arms open like a banana skin and strap them to wings that swivel out of the operating table. I ask for a pillow beneath my heels. Am calm. Peaceful. God is in charge. I thank HIM for all the blessings in life.

A mask is slid on. Chop. Chop. Chop. They are moving fast.

Breathe into this, Rachna. It’s only oxygen. Says the anesthesiologist.

Really? I was hoping it’s Jadore by Dior.

Then, I fall asleep.

When I wake up, it feels like I have been out for an hour or so. I see my husband’s face. My muh-bola bhai has also been there all through.

My heels are hurting, I complain.

He massages them.

You are in the ICU, he says.  You will be in the ward tomorrow.

Only facts.  No poetry. I make a mental note to tell my daughter never to marry an engineer.

Machines are beeping around me. I am incoherent. I sleep off.

It must be morning. The ward looks brighter. Pretty Dr Shetty is standing beside me.

There is some good news. Rachna. It had not spread to the lymph nodes. You will be fine.

I smile.

You can have coffee or juice now.

She places a hand on my shoulder. I want to kiss her. But, Shetty sounds like a tough name. Not sure how dangerous the mister might be.

My discharge from the ICU is ordered.

I lie there waiting for discharge work to get in motion. And my juice. Half hour goes by. They flit and out like mosquitoes. They do nothing. I wait. Another half hour. Now there are two nurses standing next to my bed. Discussing hospital gossip.

I ask them what they are doing about my discharge.

Confused faces.

It takes time, madam. Wise, preachy reply.

They disappear.

Fifteen more minutes. This is the longest I have kept my cool in the face of stupidity.


I call out to anyone who can hear.

Dimaag kha rahi hai yeh patient, I hear.

That’s it. Now, they get to meet the real me.

Give me phone, someone. I holler till a male nurse complies.

I call my husband. All this while, he has been right outside the ICU unaware of what’s been going on. He is back. Sorts out stuff.

I am ready to leave. Reach my ward after a roundabout tour of the hospital’s varied ceilings. Then, a problem: the stretcher is too big to go into the room.

They lift me, haul me in.

Oww Oww Oww Oww!

How long did the operation last, I ask.

Seven and a half hours.


He makes me comfortable. Fusses over me. I finally get my juice.

My phone has been switched off. Husband has been avoiding calls from my parents. My daughter has hung up instead of lying. These stupid kids!

My mother, you see, is more suspicious than the FBI and ACP Pradyuman put together. I am sure she has concluded that my husband has murdered me and gotten rid of the body.

Next : Post-Op Recovery.