black velvet

sub-title; thanks to all blood donors everywhere. *

The thing I remember most about March 16th, 1990, is the Black Velvet.
Not a dress, not even a piece of fabric, but a sense, a feeling.

It was the day of my hystercetomy.
My operation had taken hours longer than expected as the surgeon found more and more invasive pre-cancerous lesions, so just kept cutting.
I haemorraghed badly, requiring two complete blood transfusions* and had to be revived once.

I was expected to surface from the anaesthetic about four hours after being moved to the recovery room, but I didn't.  I stayed under until the next day and scared everyone silly.
I'm nothing if not thorough....

The very first thing I became aware of was the soft, velvety blackness that my mind had been floating in. I felt warm and safe and desperately wanted to stay there, so sank back into unconsciousness.
But the machines recording my life signs had alerted the nurses that I was finally waking up.
The next time I became aware, they were determined to get me awake.
The black velvet cloud still surrounded me, but I felt myself rising through ever-lightening layers of black, then grey, and began to hear sounds.

I heard Nurse ---- calling my name and felt her gently slapping at my ankles.
I remember "come on now Elsie, time to wake up" or something similar.
I struggled to open my eyes and the first thing I focussed on was my older daughter's face.  She just happened to be standing right where my eyes were looking. They were all there, T, M, K, J and (then-now ex) Hubby. They'd been waiting so very long for me to wake up, going home only long enough to eat and change clothes.

My brain was still foggy, but I was so very glad to see them all, in spite of wanting to still sink back into the
 black velvet cloud.
I remember trying to speak to them, but I'm sure I wasn't making any sense, since my mouth was drier than the Sahara. A couple if ice chips were fed into my mouth to help.

Nurse Somebody, (I don't remember her name), was checking tubes and beepers and drips and turning me over on to my back. She checked my wound and dressing and asked if I could feel anything she was doing.
I disappointed her by saying I couldn't feel anything below the waist. In reality all I said was no, no, no to every question.
She said the operation had been the previous day, so by now I should be able to feel something, but I couldn't. (From previous ops, I know this is normal for me)
Nurse Niceface was concerned that I couldn't even feel my overfull bladder which was even now letting go and wetting the bed as she watched. So a catheter was inserted to take care of things until feeling returned.

At this point I think they lowered the amount of morphine in the drip, because pretty soon after that I began to feel.
At first a tingling in my legs and lower back, then I felt the pulling of the stitches and the soreness of my belly muscles.

Oh My God!!  Even a tiny "get comfortable" wriggle caused intense pain. This was not good, not from my point of view anyway.
Where was my lovely, warm, black velvet oblivion?  My soft, comfortable floating cloud?

Once I'd stabilised, I was moved into a regular ward and left to sleep.
Aaaah!   The Black Velvet!    Bring it on!
But no, just a regular sleep, as well as I could manage now that I was feeling the pain of being sliced up like a side of bacon.
Mmmm, bacon....

Day two in the ward found me very uncomfortable. My belly was filled with gas and I couldn't pass it. Various nurses came and massaged the belly and back whenever they were doing their temperature taking rounds, and said I should move as much as possible to help things along.

Ha Ha! I'm a real chicken when it comes to pain and moving was definitely painful, so I didn't try very hard.

A few hours later, Nurse Niceface came back, telling me this wouldn't do at all and I'd better get moving.
I burst into tears and complained like a whinging little kid. (In my defence, I was in pain).
The bed was moved to a semi-sitting position and Nurse Not-So-Nice-Now moved my legs for me and then turned me onto my other side in readiness for an injection which would help with the gas.
The turning did the trick and I forgave her as I immediately felt tons better, no need for the injection now.
And the catheter was removed too.
That's a strange sensation. I don't think I can describe it.
Sort of like a semi-inflated ballon being pulled out of you.

That evening I was told I could get up and shower if I wished, or I could have one more bed bath. I opted for the bed bath, but the next day I was helped into the bathroom and showered while sitting on one of those shower chairs with all the holes in the seat to let the water through.

(I've just this minute decided to buy one of those when I get older, so I don't fall and break a hip or something)

After that? Well there was no stopping them!
Up you get!
Go and sit on the chair while we make your bed.
Take a little walk along the hallway. Get moving.
(All said very nicely, with help to walk if I needed it.)

Oh come on! I like being a slug. I'm not the exercising type!
Still, I did it and I'm glad now that I did.
Recovery is faster once you get moving.

Hubby and the kids visited every day, I remember the day M checked my meals order form and noted that I'd chosen vegetables with lunch and dinner.  Same old mum, he said, always with the vegetables.
My mum came too, all the way from Pt Pirie. She insisted on seeing the wound and counted the stitches, disappointed to see there was nine. Couldn't they do one extra and make a nice even ten?
I was happy enough with nine.....I'd seen the wound in the mirror, a huge cut, set in the under curve of the belly, almost from hip to hip. Mum wanted to know if i had cancer, I told her no. Technically, I wasn't lying, these had been PRE-cancerous lesions, all removed with clean margins, no need for chemo or anything like that.
(Don't neglect your pap smears!!)

A month later, I started a new job. At the shoe factory. Walking was still painful, especially stepping down off kerbs etc. At the six weeks check up I mentioned this as the doctor examined me, then said the internal (self-dissolving) stitches line had become infected, he prescribed antibiotics and things cleared up nicely. I'd thought the internal pain was normal and was merely asking how long I could expect it to continue.

All of this is so very long ago now, but I can still remember and feel the black velvet sensation, and most nights now, I can use this to help me get to sleep. I lie as still as I can and imagine a cloud of black softness drifting down, over and around me, I can sometimes see the blackness creeping in at the sides of my closed eyes.
Then I'm asleep.


  1. Well it was the hospital trip from Hell but at least you got the Black Velvet out of it. I can imagine it. It feels wonderful.

  2. What a beautiful and accurate description of the joys of 'black velvet'. I also use it to get to sleep.
    Glad you recovered from the operation from hell.

    WV: ismeat - patients 'is meat' to their surgeons.

  3. I never remember going to sleep and I never remember waking up! It's just wrong! Anything could have happened! Someone might know all my secrets. :(

  4. I can remember once after minor surgery but full aesthetic how annoyed I was at the recovery room nurse trying to make me stay awake after I came round.

  5. Ah the black velvet. It is one of the most lovely things when returning to consciousness after a GA. The pain and discomfort is also memorable but for the wrong reasons! I can so understand what you mean River. And thanks for the warning re pap smears.

  6. I remember how scary that was. You taking ages to wake up. Walking down to the hospital to visit you. They did have a lovely big fish tank, but that doesn't actually help much when you're worried.

  7. I had the Black Velvet when I had my caesarian to birth Feral Beast and was most ticked off when the recovery room nurse woke me up to EXCRUCIATING agony just to ask if I needed more morphine (yes, yes, pump it up like yesterday already!!!).
    And, a catheter does have a deflated balloon at the end of it ;)

  8. Oh those morphine self-dose things they've got now bring on the black velvet every time! They're metred so you can't OD, but made me feel so good I was promising my visitors to do all sorts of active things!!

    But I miss the oblivion sometimes when I'm having an insomniac few hours ...

  9. Delores; I'm thinking of making a small black velvet cushion to help me sleep when I'm much older.

    EC; "is meat"...that's funny. I'm also glad I recovered. Imagine missing the all the things I've done since!

    Happy Elf Mom; do you talk in your sleep? Hmmm, secrets eh?

    Andrew; a necessary evil, but so annoying when all you want is more sleep.

    Sarah; you're welcome. I didn't realise so many had felt the black velvet.

    no-one; I remember all your anxious faces and how much happier you all looked the next day when I was more awake and in a regular ward.

    Jayne; yes! bring on the morphine!!I wished I had some to take home with me.

    Red Nomad; there was no self-dosing back in 1990 and that's probably a good thing, I definitely would have dosed too often. I'm such a chicken with pain.

  10. Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for sharing your experience.


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