Monday, November 2, 2009

Recovery @ home

I arrived home with a built-in Halloween costume.  I was wrapped with bandages around my chest, from pits to waist, gauze peeking through above and below, a few blood drops scattered about,  the right side of my chest slightly sunken in.  (Only slightly because the left side was squished too.)   Most horrifyingly, I had aquarium airline tubing coming straight out of the middle of my armpit, with a plastic bulb attached at the end to collect bloody lymphatic drainage.  The bulb was hanging to my knees so it swayed back and forth with each lurching, painful step I took. My hair, which I had carefully washed just days ago, was thickened and electrified.

Honestly, I've never felt so fashionable or in tune with the times, what with the popularity of vampire books and supernatural TV shows and all.  I feel like the star of Pride, Prejudice and Zombies.

Guess which one I am?

I'm not going to lie, the first few days were rough.  There was no position that gave me comfort.  My pillows were necessary - I had big ones layered to lean against, smaller ones to fill in the spaces in my lower back and neck, medium-sized ones to rest my arm on.  I was pretty immobilized and every movement was uncomfortable, but I could sometimes find a few minutes relief with pain meds and the right position on the pillows. 

If you have ever had an elephant step on the right side of your chest, crushing it, you know exactly how I felt.  Even though no elephant has yet to step on me, I am positive that's what this surgery feels like.

The worst was (and sadly still is) sleeping. 

I'm a stomach sleeper.  I get into bed, get on my tummy, pull blankets up to my neck and huddle in for the night; my cat warming my lower back.   All that has changed.  I now sleep, propped on pillows, sitting up, confused cat meowing in frustration.

With the bandages and the sitting position, when reaching for pain meds,  I imagine I look just like that zombie, right before it gets out of its coffin. All I need is dangling gauze on my arms, and I'm there.

The first night was the worst as I didn't have enough pillow/head support, but was not able to move at all.  My husband sweetly snored next to me as I felt trapped but unwilling to disturb him - sharp pains in my chest with each movement and breath, making it impossible to change positions.  Fortunately, he woke up at one point, (thank goodness for men and their need for a middle of the night pee) and I was able to ask him to help me move (and give me another pain pill.)

The next night, I did better.  We made adjustments.  I moved my bedside table to a place where I could reach everything.  I had water, pain pills, my iPhone and kindle within reach of my left hand.  I had a better pillow configuration to start, and I remembered that I had one of those travel donut pillows - you know, the kind that go around your neck?  We (meaning my husband) found it, and it was so helpful as I could sleep sitting up but still get neck and head support.

(If you are going to have this surgery or have a loved one who will have it - go get one of those neck pillows.  I'm nine days out of surgery and it's still necessary.)

The cat is getting used to sleeping on my legs.  The cat doesn't whine, I still do.  A cat adjusts better than me. Meow.

As the days have gone by, I've gotten incrementally better.  From not being able to pull myself up at all, to being able to put my knee up and grab onto that with my left hand to help pull myself up, to being able to use my left arm to push myself up - I've gained more movement, muscle control, and freedom.  As they say on airplanes, "you may now move freely about the cabin" and I'm there.... but unfortunately I'm still trapped in that cabin.

I was lucky enough to have my drain pulled a week after the operation.  (Depressingly,  it was removed before Halloween, so there went the best part of my Mastectomy Girl costume.)  As it turns out,  my blood is as thick as my head - it had clogged the drain, so that's why it had to be pulled so quickly. (Pulled is a literal description, by the way.)  Because of the clogging, I developed a very mild seroma in the mastectomy area.  So, now, I have a large ABD pad, a gauze pad, a half inch thick piece of foam core and an elastic bandage under the compression bandages - all pressing on my mastectomy incision and expander wound in the hopes of preventing the seroma from worsening. 

Talking about dressing in layers. 

(If you know what a blister is, you know what a seroma is.   When a space in the body get emptied due to damage, it often fills with lymphatic fluid. It is a not-uncommon problem in mastectomies when lymph nodes have been removed, and the drains are to help prevent it.   Nature abhors a vacuum.)

Let's just say having tight compression bandages with thick foam core pressing on not only a fresh incision, but the balloon expander underneath - for ten days - is really (fucking) uncomfortable. But, the doctor would have to drain the seroma with a needle otherwise, risking infection, and he doesn't want to take a chance with the expander underneath. 

So I'm still rocking the zombie look.

And, dammit, still rocking the pain pills.



  1. Lots of pain meds! Call your doctor for more if you need them!

  2. Ann,

    You poor woman.
    I feel so bad for the pain you are in.
    I sincerely pray and hope every passing hour brings a bit more relief.


  3. Argh...sounds awful. I hope that at the very least you got lots of candy for this, and not the cheap sweet tarts type treats either. A big honking bag of chocolate. Really. I'd insist, woman. Your 'built in costume' warrants that, IMHO.

  4. Hi Ann - sounds like a really tough time. Hope the outcome of the surgery is OK - after all that.


  5. Hey Ann,

    Your blog brings back all the rotten memories of my own bilateral mastectomies back in '05. It sucked then and it still sucks. I started an affiliate of Necessities Bag to help other women cope with their mastectomies. Check us out and encourage other women to start affiliates in their own home towns. The bags make a BIG difference in women's lives - the notecards I receive from Bag recipients each week proves that. Heal quickly and carry on.


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