What to Bring to the HospitalRecommended items to bring with you to stay in the hospital include: • Personal items, such as a toothbrush, toiletries, pillow, earplugs, and your breasts. Remember that you cannot bring your breasts home with you from the hospital.
• Music player and headphones as well as your favorite music, books on tape, etc. You may want to listen to music during your surgery. If so, aim to compile a mastectomy playlist that will last for the entirety of the operation. You may find it challenging to select the appropriate music for breast removal. You might wonder: what pairs well with amputation? We suggest asking friends for recommendations.
• Slippers and extra socks Some people get cold feet. We recognize that you are never cold now, not since the chemotherapy stopped your periods. You have reported that the unrelenting heat of menopause makes it difficult to sleep—that, although it is December, you lay in bed sweating with the windows open while your husband shivers beneath a down comforter. When we recommend that you bring slippers and extra socks, therefore, we are referencing your metaphorical cold feet (as in, your loss of nerve or confidence in this surgery). Cold feet are not acceptable. You must have this surgery. Without it, you will die.
• Bathrobe that opens in the front, a sweater with buttons or a zipper If you do not have any good options and are too tired to go yourself, you can ask your husband to pick something out for you at Target. He may come back with a variety of button-down flannel shirts (the kind you used to wear in high school) and he might joke that the 90s are back. As you run your fingers over the soft fabric, you may remember buttoning your teenage body into material just like this; how your young breasts grew into themselves beneath colorful plaid. You may wonder if you were wearing a flannel shirt the first time your high school boyfriend felt you up, both of you hesitant and curious and eager. When you try the shirts on, you might calculate the amount of time that has passed since that first touch and startle at the math. You may look at yourself in the mirror and see a thirty-four year old woman who is puffy and bald, exhausted yet strong. Then you might unbutton the flannel and ask your husband to kiss your breasts one last time. When he does, his lips tender, you may linger there until the pain of goodbye is too great.
• List of important telephone numbers Both before and after surgery, you may want to call your mother. We understand why her advice would be useful to you: she had a mastectomy too, after all. Unfortunately, however, you cannot call your mother because she is dead. Despite our best efforts, despite her mastectomy and chemotherapy, she still died of cancer. Due to the recent nature of her passing, you may continue to call her sometimes, out of habit. You may dial her number just to listen to those first few rings when anything could happen. We understand that you may have an instinctual (even desperate) need to talk to your mother—to tell her that you are having surgery tomorrow, to wrap her words around you like a warm blanket. But again, we regret to inform you that this is not an option. To avoid confusion, we recommend that you delete her number from your phone.
Do not bring valuables with you to the hospital or give them to family and friends. To clarify: when we say “do not bring valuables with you to the hospital,” we do not mean your breasts. You must bring your valuable breasts with you—they are necessary to this surgical procedure. We recognize, of course, that we are stating the obvious. We understand that you can’t not bring your breasts with you to the hospital because, for the moment, they are still integral to your body. It would be impossible for you to leave them behind.iBolded text was excerpted from: University of California San Francisco, “Mastectomy: Instructions Before Surgery” https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/mastectomy_instructions_before_surgery/ Accessed September 15, 2018.
Shannon Cram lives beside a small lake and a large forest in the foothills of the Cascades. Her essays have appeared in Environmental Humanities, Public Culture, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, and elsewhere. She is an assistant professor at the University of Washington Bothell.