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Walking the road not chosen

Editor's note: The following is an ongoing series on former BCR Staff Writer Barb Kromphardt's ordeal with breast cancer. After failing a mammogram test earlier this spring, Kromphardt entered the world of breast cancer treatment. Following a surgical biopsy, she was diagnosed with DCIS, an early-stage cancer, in her right breast. She is sharing her story with the readers of the BCR.

At first it sounded like the lumpectomy wasn’t going to be a big deal. The surgeon felt he had gotten the cancer cells out during the biopsy, so it was going to be a matter of going back in through the same incision and just taking a little more tissue out of the same area.

But during my meeting with the surgeon, I found out there was going to be a major difference.

For the biopsy, I had what it called conscious sedation.Yes, I was out of it, but not very deeply. I was breathing on my own and waking up was pretty simple.

For the lumpectomy, the surgeon wanted me all the way out, courtesy of an anesthesiologist.

I didn’t like the idea very much and asked why we couldn’t do the conscious sedation again. But he told me the area involved was going to be enough bigger that a local anesthetic wouldn’t do the trick.

With the anesthesia, I needed an EEG to check out my heart. So there was another trip to the hospital to be hooked up to yet another machine. Fortunately I passed that test with no problems.

And so another Friday rolled around again bringing with it another trip to the local hospital.

My husband and I felt like old pros by now. We knew where to park, which door to go in, and where the surgical waiting room was.

Things moved a little more quickly. I didn’t need another mammogram because the surgeon was going back in to the same place he’d been just a few weeks earlier.

There was one problem. When I was scheduled for the biopsy and again for the surgery, I was told not to eat after midnight, and no fluids for the four hours before surgery.

The biopsy was scheduled for late morning, so I just didn’t eat or drink anything after I got up that morning.

But the lumpectomy was scheduled for early afternoon, and not drinking anything that morning caused a problem.

My veins, usually pretty cooperative whenever someone wants to stick a needle into one of them, had retreated deep into my body as a result of being a little dehydrated. The nurse tried one arm, then tried it again, and then got another nurse. Eventually she found a vein, but my nerves, already stretched tightly, were stretched out a little bit more.
And then there was the issue of the underpants.

Now I have been told – by seriously deluded individuals – that I have some control issues. (In fact, one of the nurses asked if I was an engineer because of those supposed tendencies!) I don’t agree, of course, but they’re entitled to their opinions.

But having a medical procedure or surgery is a total surrendering of control. You lose your clothes, your rights to move around and especially your privacy.

So when I was told to remove everything before putting on my hospital gown, something snapped.

“The last nurse let me keep my underpants,” I said defiantly.

This nurse explained that with general anesthesia I was not supposed to keep them on in case of a problem.

I suppose hearing that was a good thing because it certainly distracted me from the upcoming surgery. What in the world would underpants have to do with anesthesia?

I must have looked at my wit’s end because she finally said it would be up to the surgical nurse if I could keep them.

After a brief meeting with the anesthesiologist, it was back down the hall to the operating room. Although the routine was familiar, I was once again terrified I wouldn’t wake up after surgery.

But once again I didn’t have a choice. Drawing my hospital gown more closely about my safely-covered bottom, I slid onto the operating table and extended my arms.

“Please take good care of me,” were the last words I whispered to the anesthesiologist standing near my head.

Barb Kromphardt, currently of Columbus, Ind., was a reporter for the Bureau County Republican and interim managing editor of the Tonica News and the Putnam County Record. She can be reached at

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