I have been recovering and still am, and so am only now coming back to my blog to put into words what the last few weeks have been like. First of all, if you don't need to read about the nitty gritty, the cliffsnotes version is this: I'm doing really well so far and it seems like it was a very successful surgery. It'll take 3-1/2 more weeks before I can do any sort of exercise whatsoever, and 6 to 9 months for it to completely heal. (So far, so good.)
THE DAY OF SURGERY
We drove up the day before to Timonium, MD, an industrial sort of town on the outskirts of Baltimore. We were able to get a "medical rate" at the Days Inn hotel, and were only a few minutes from the clinic. It was E. and I, and our friends E. and her daughter E., who flew in from MN to help take care of me. We spent an easy evening having dinner out, and almost bowling (alas, it was league night), and then hanging around the hotel room. After midnight, I couldn't eat or drink anything, and early in the morning when I got up, I took an Emend (anti-nausea pill) with a tiny sip of water, and that was it.
I could shower before surgery and put on deodorant, but no lotions were allowed. I dressed (for the last time in my binder, which I had been wearing for about 3 years now), brought a button-down PJ shirt for after surgery, and also a pair of PJ pants to wear during the surgery. When I got to the clinic, I was brought into an examining room where the nurse took pictures of my chest. E. came in after that, and then the surgeon came in and drew the lines on my chest in green permanent marker. I was given a cap to wear over my head, like what surgeons wear in the OR.
I was then kissed goodbye and hugged by E. and my friends, and rather quickly it seemed, I was in the OR with the anesthetist. I had given the surgeon a collage of men's chests with nipple placements that I liked, and I saw that hanging in the OR in front of me. I smiled. The anesthetist put the needle into my arm, and as I was talking with her, the room began to get a little wobbly.
That's the last thing I remember.
I have been under general anesthesia before. There had been no dreaming: It seemed rather that I closed my eyes and opened them, a slow blink, and hours had somehow passed in the interim. This time was different, I did feel that I was waking from a dream, and I assume this is because I was given a sedative before I was given the general anesthesia. When I awoke, I was in the recovery room. My recollection is that I woke up, E. came in, I got the shivers and my teeth started chattering (which the nurse said was a result of the anesthesia wearing off), then E. and the nurse put me in the compression vest that I would have to wear for 6 weeks, and then into my PJ shirt, and then into a wheelchair. Or maybe the wheelchair came first. My recollection of all this took about 5 minutes, and then I was put into the car and driven to the hotel. E. has since told me that she was in the recovery room with me for closer to 45 minutes. it's all a blur.
I had drainage tubes coming out of each incision, with bulbs on the end, which filled up with fluid. These were clipped to my vest, and were not that uncomfortable at all. In fact, my level of pain was actually quite low, and I had pain killers that I took on a regular basis. The thing I noticed was that in the evening, I had some swelling under my left arm, probably due to the compression vest biting into my skin, and some of the swelling spilling out and over wear the vest was. I used an ice pack in the evening, and the next day my vest was readjusted.
DAY AFTER SURGERY AND THOSE TO FOLLOW
The next day I had to go in, and again I couldn't eat anything just in case they needed to whisk me back into surgery. As it turns out, I was healing nicely, and the swelling was no big worry. I was given instructions for how to empty my drainage bulbs, and how to measure the amount of fluid coming out, and in a week I was to come back in to have the tubes removed.
We stayed and extra night at the hotel since it was easy for me, and we had space and cable and such. It was actually my parents' suggestion and it was a good one. (Later, I will try and write about some of the more emotional aspects of this surgery, like friends and family, but for now I'm going to try and get through the gritty details of the surgery.)
I used ice packs every night for that week, and had to be really careful about using my arms at all. I got very good at using my feet to shuffle myself around in the bed, to push open a car door, to brace myself as I got out of a car, and of course to pick up my socks off the floor.
I stayed on the antibiotics as prescribed, and took the painkillers first on a 4 hour cycle, then on a 6 hour cycle. I was draining very little, but still I waited until I had two days in a row when I drained less that 25 mL in each bulb, and it was 8 days after my surgery when I went back to the clinic to have the tubes removed. It didn't hurt so much as feel weird. It would be two more days before I would be allowed to take my first shower.
2, 3, 4 WEEKS AND BEYOND
Oddly, as the numbness of surgery has begun to wear off and as my nerves regenerate, the pain has increased. Post surgery with the pain killers, my pain level was a 1 or 2 out of 10. Over 2 weeks into my recovery, and my pain has reached up to a 5 out of 10. I have been taking mostly Tylenol, 2 every 6 hours roughly. The last few days, though, I've taken some of the heavy-duty painkillers I was given (Demerol) and that seems to help me sleep.
I am hoping the pain is a result of nerves regenerating and that it's a good thing. I do wonder if I am doing too much, being too active, and so causing myself more pain. But I get hungry, or I need to shower, and so I'm moving around. I'm trying my best to be careful about what I lift or how I move my arms, but it still hurts, and sometimes I just try to be careful. But also, I'm home alone sometimes, and so I need to eat or shower or whatever, and so I have to find a way to manage.
My next doctor's appointment is in a few months. I haven't heard about the results of sending my tissue to pathology, and so I am waiting for that. As far as how my chest looks, it'll be a while before I know for sure, but so far so good.
It feel really natural. I thought there would be some adjustment time when I would have to get used to not having breasts anymore, but that's not really the case. It feels perfectly natural to have this new chest, as if it had always been there and I'm now just seeing it for the first time. Walking around topless after my shower feels completely normal.
THE REST OF IT
There is much more to say about how it felt to have people take care of me, the stresses that arose, and phone calls I received from my family. I will try to remark on that -- probably the more interesting part of the process -- in the days to come, and also to post come pictures of myself before and post surgery.