This Thursday, I go back into hospital for a few days. The operation to remove the titanium plate from my jaw will take place early on Friday morning. I’ll spend a few days recovering on the ward and about two weeks recovering at home. My face will swell up again from the surgical trauma and, my surgeon expects, will take four weeks to go down again.
I am looking forward to the surgery. Last time, I could look forward to the surgery because I had no idea what was to come. Much as I prepared myself, I had no idea how tortuous and torturous the days afterwards in intensive care would be and how the minutes would slowly become hours and the hours slowly become days. I had no idea what a tracheostomy would feel like or what the pain medication fentanyl would do.
I am glad I did not know and was not swayed to resist the surgery. I never contemplated not pursuing the hemi-mandibulectomy to remove the tumour and mandibular reconstruction to rebuild my jaw. I mention this because I have recently read the series that Christopher Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair about his adventures in ‘Tumourtown’: Topic of Cancer (September 2010), Unanswerable Prayers (October 2010), Tumortown (November 2010), Miss Manners and the Big C (December 2010), and Trial of the Will (January 2012). Whatever you may or may not have thought of his views, he wrote beautifully. Among the issues he contemplated was whether he would have endured the treatment knowing how rough and ultimately ineffective it would prove. I think it helped me not to know how awful the treatment would be and to face it as it came.
This time around, I know I have coped with worse and can cope again. I also now know – and this is perhaps the best lesson I learnt in 2011 – that I need not sweat the small stuff because I can do the big stuff. There are risks from this surgery, of course. Further nerve damage is, as I understand it, the most likely. And yet it could go the other way: the removal of the titanium plate could relieve pressure on the mandibular branch of my facial nerve and I could gain more movement in the left of my lower lip. Time will tell, as they say.