“How great it is to be alive!”
These words went through my head when the nurse tried to wake me up after surgery while I was still in the recovery room. I wanted to open my eyes wide so badly cos’ I had no clue whether I was in the ICU, in a critical condition, had my right hand side thyroid removed because of cancer, or having any complication of any sort from the surgery. I wanted to lift up my hands to reach out to my neck. Or rather I just needed a slap or shove (just kidding!) from someone to tell me that I was indeed regaining consciousness and that I wasn’t in a dream or coma.
Seconds later, I heard a reassuring voice approaching me. My doctor said the operation went really well. The lump was successfully removed, my windpipe problem was sorted and the pathologist had came back with good news – I was cancer free 🙂 How relieved I was. I wanted to burst into tears but I couldn’t even utter a word or open my eyes properly because I still felt so drugged from the GA.
When I was finally pushed back to my ward, I could see silhouettes of people and hear familiar voices. I felt my husband holding my hand and I knew I was indeed back.
Prior to my surgery, it had been a really stressful time. My doctor had warned me of all the possible risks and complications. I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up or that I would wake up knowing I have cancer or that I would have no voice or would have to breathe through a hole in my neck for the rest of my life. These were just too much. I had broken down in tears so many times not because I was afraid of dying or suffering but I really couldn’t bear leaving behind my husband or be a burden to him.
I was actually very worried for John on the morning of my surgery because he would be all alone in the hospital worrying while waiting for me. Boy was I glad that MS and C came by early to lend support, not just to me but to John as well. I thought I would be nervous while I was being pushed on the wheelchair to the operating theatre but they followed me and chit-chatted along the way. Made the atmosphere a little less daunting and I was surprised at how much strength and courage I could muster in that seemingly short period of time because three of them were just so steady and confident and that definitely rubbed off on me too.
When I fully regained consciousness when I was in my room, I was happy to see John, MS, C and Godma too. All had sat there for hours waiting for my surgery to be over. I was so thankful that they did that and I was sure that really made a difference for John because even though he didn’t say it, I knew he was afraid and nervous just like me.
I thought I would take this chance to share my surgery/hospital experience because it truly exceeded my expectations. This was my second hospital stay (my first was at Mount Alvernia when I had ulcerative colitis) and I was blessed with an experienced surgeon, a wonderful anaesthesiologist, a warm and friendly operating room team and a really caring nursing team too.
I was initially seeing a specialist at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital after discovering a big lump on the front of my neck but the waiting period was just unbelievably long. And I was at the stage of having ‘suspected cancer’ after an ultrasound scan showed negative results but I still had to wait for weeks to get my biopsy done and honestly speaking, I didn’t even have any confidence in my seemingly inexperienced doctor who couldn’t even answer my questions professionally (and intelligently). Hence I decided to go for the private route.
I recalled having met this senior consultant, Dr Christopher Goh, who had previously treated my mum (for vertigo/imbalance) and my dad (for growth on tongue) at the Singapore General Hospital years ago. He is now in private practice at the Novena ENT – Head & Neck Surgery Specialist Centre located at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital. Swapping doctor was the best decision made. I was very inquisitive and asked a lot of questions but he handled my case professionally and told me everything that I wanted to know so I could understand my situation better. He even explained to me the whole surgery procedure without overlooking any minor details. Best thing was, I saw him on a Monday and got my results for my biopsy on the same week on Friday and then I was scheduled for surgery the following Saturday so the whole duration took only 2 weeks. If I had stayed on at KTPH, I was just about to go for my biopsy on the same week as my surgery.
The Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital was very much like a hotel. I had to go to the Concierge at Level One to get a queue number to settle admin/financial matters at the Business Office and then they had the Concierge to escort me to my room.
What I really liked about this hospital was how quiet and private the corridor was unlike the other hospitals I had been to that were always busy and noisy with a lot of people hanging around. Every room had its own blood pressure monitor machine parked right outside the door so the nurse didn’t even have to drag the machine from room to room or bed to bed during rounds.
And this was how my room looked like. It was a Class A Room category (approx. S$418/day for room charge only) which was also the lowest category of all rooms in the hospital as there were no 2-bedder or 4-bedder rooms at all. Room amenities included 46″ LED TV, individual temperature control, in-room safe, free wi-fi, mini fridge, bath amenities, daily housekeeping, free local telephone calls and Japanese-style bidet toilet seat.
The next higher category of Single Room (approx. S$640/day) was similar to Class A Room in terms of room size but it had extras like premium bath amenities, welcome mini bar set, butler service and a more comfy lounger sofa without a wooden piece in the centre so any accompanying person who’s staying overnight can make use of the sofa as a bed. Not a big deal actually because John stayed overnight and was able to sleep on half of the sofa (it was quite wide and long) with his legs on the high back chair next to the sofa. The remaining room categories were for the more luxurious suites.
When I was back at my ward after surgery, John took a picture of my incision that was ‘beautifully’ done as commented by many. I also had a catheter on the right hand side to drain off blood. The incision was done on a natural crease of my lower neck just above the collar bone. After removing the left hand side thyroid with the lump, it was sent to the pathologist who would then do a quick specimen test to check for malignancy because that would determine if my right hand side thyroid would need to be removed. Thank goodness the lump was benign so the incision was internally stitched followed by surgical glue on the outside to reduce the possibility of ugly scarring.
On the first day just after surgery, my voice was really hoarse and even when I gradually regained my voice later in the day, it would be exhausted rather easily if I talked too much. I couldn’t open my mouth big and I had problem chewing or swallowing so I could only take small sips of water every now and then and soft diet meals. I had no energy or strength to move my weak and almost numb upper body so John had to help whenever I needed to sit up.
By the next morning, I could already lift my arm freely and comb my hair (speaking of being vain, lol – I just wanted to look presentable before any visitor came!) and take a selfie of myself. Still needed help to move around but at least I was more energetic than the day before.
This was the draining of blood which doctor said should be around 50-60ml. Because GA had worn off by the next day, I could feel the pain more and just had to depend on painkillers.
Painkillers had really become my best mates. I thought my tolerance for pain was considered pretty good. I had kidney stones two years ago and that pain was like 11/10. This surgery pain was probably about a 7-8 but it got better with each day.
There was a different menu for every day so I could pick whatever I wanted to eat. But anyway even though I picked out ‘exciting’ meal choices, the doctor instructed the nurses to feed me with only porridge 🙁
So I had chicken or fish porridge for every meal though it came with a dessert like carrot cake or cheese cake. The only time I had a normal meal served was on my last day’s breakfast where I chose Raisin French Toast with Berries Compote and Honey but it was too hard for me to chew. Anyway, the hospital food didn’t appeal to me that much so John ended up eating everything for me, lol.
Godma made porridge for me which was like the best meal of the day cos’ she woke up at 5am in the morning just to prepare the pork broth and cook the porridge for longer so that it was softer for me to eat.
Thank you MS & C for the yummy Windowsill pies, S for the kiwis & blueberry juice, HS for the lovely bouquet, D for the very moist and soft Prima Deli pandan cake, J for the Glace green tea tiramisu cake & Quiznos subs and of course Godma for making me 爱心粥 and also bringing food for John who had tirelessly looked after me. I am so blessed to have all of you in my life and no other words can describe my deep gratitude to each and every one of you who has given me so much support, encouragement, laughter and strength. I love you guys!! 🙂
Not forgetting Dr Goh, Dr Ng, the operation room team and nursing team who had taken such great care of me too.
And also to my housekeeper and butler who had ensured my room was in tip top condition and that my meals were all promptly served.
What more could I ask for? Thank you all 🙂
And this was the report I collected from Dr Goh’s office on Tuesday. Cancer-free 😉 And I also did a scope and the results were good – no damage to my vocal cords. I would have to come back in 2 months’ time for a blood test just to check if my other half thyroid is functioning properly cos’ if not, I would have to be put on hormone therapy for the rest of my life.
The Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital was really a 5 or maybe 6* hospital-hotel or ‘hospitel’ that catered to mostly foreigners and also dignitaries from the region. I met Indonesians and Thais who purposely flew to Singapore just to seek medical treatment here. Comparing the rates with other private hospitals, this hospital is definitely the most expensive in Singapore. It’s what I call the ‘Hermes Birkin’ category of all hospitals in Singapore, lol. Seriously, if Dr Goh’s clinic wasn’t here, I wouldn’t even have considered this hospital to have my surgery because it was really EXPENSIVE. I’m sure my eyes nearly popped out when the final bill was presented to me and it was only for a thyroid/neck surgery! My modest health insurance plan would probably only cover a portion of my entire medical bill. But with everything ending on a good note, I couldn’t deny that what I had paid for was for a world-class medical team and facilities, impeccable service, speed and what I appreciated the most – privacy – so I could recuperate in peace. On the other hand, I’m going to upgrade my health insurance to a more premium plan just so I can be more prepared in future in case I have other health issues that require me to be hospitalised *touchwood* again. Older folks like to say it’s better to die than to fall sick in Singapore because medical fees here are just crazy. It really helps to have a good health insurance plan and I think all parents should buy insurances for their kids while they are still young and healthy because by the time you hit a certain age and you have a certain condition, that particular problem might have to be excluded from your insurance and the premium will also be much higher. Better be insured than sorry – you never know when you need it because any illness can strike us at any time.
With this, I shall conclude my final chapter of my ‘ordeal’ which made me gain another level of wisdom and strength. Some things in my life were previously missing but others had replaced them. I’ve learnt to love my life even more and would take even better care of myself and my body. I’ve decided to let go of the unpleasant past and embrace my new life with hope. I’ve learnt to deal with death and grief and that I’ve understood that it’s all part and parcel of life that everyone has to go through with. We all will die one day and it’s only a matter of early or late but regardless of whether life will be short or long, we should live each day like it’s the last day of our life and treasure what we already have instead of thinking of we do not have. I’m still counting my blessings and I cannot be thankful enough to life for having me go through what I’ve gone through. It is with this episode that I can now tell myself – I LOVE LIFE. And I will treasure it for as long as my life permits.
Goodbye my pain. I just want to live life once again. 🙂