Bilateral Mastectomy

Originally Posted to Facebook March 2015

This post has descriptions of what I went through after surgery.

It’s been a few days since surgery. I suppose I could have posted something before surgery, but what would I have said? I could have written words of inspiration, an up beat message about looking forward to healing or some such nonsense. I could have written about how I was feeling leading up to surgery, but that wouldn’t really have done anyone any good.

Why not? Well, because, I was worried. Do you know the potential complications of surgery? I do. Of course I also know that the type of surgery I was scheduled for was pretty basic with minimal actual risk – no major blood vessels or nerves in the area. But knowing something, doesn’t always mean you can believe something. There was also the chance they could find cancer that was hiding, unseen by the scans. There was risk.

And I was nervous about what the post-op period would bring. Prior to surgery I spoke with several health care professionals and they all had some pretty scary things to say about recovery – the level of pain I’d have, the level of (lack of) mobility, the various (guaranteed?) side effects.

*Though the surgeon and the physiotherapist both said things wouldn’t be as bad as everyone else said it would be.

Whenever someone told me how bad it’d be, I told them the surgeon said it wouldn’t. They told me the surgeon was wrong. (It’s really scary the number of nurses who told me the surgeon was wrong and what she was wrong about, also scary is that the nurse crossed out the pre-op instructions that were in the book, and wrote in her own ‘old school’ pre-op instructions, b/c she “didn’t feel the new ones were good enough”O.o)

I’m prone to anxiety to begin with, leading up to surgery I was having mild panic attacks daily. These are still continuing, but lessening each day as I realize all the scary things everyone warned me about haven’t happened.

So what has happened?

I spoke with student interns, residents, the surgeon, anesthesiologist, nurses, a pharmacy tech, and a physiotherapist prior to surgery. Each time everyone confirmed what surgery I was going for, which lymph nodes, anesthetic concerns, and what I planned to do for pain after. I was lectured by more than one person about how motrin would not be enough and refusing morphine, tylenol 3, and other controlled substances would cause me to have major complications. Yeah. Panic. (I do not metabolism drugs well, so narcotics knock me out for a LONG time, I didn’t want them).

It was time for surgery. I arrived in the OR, an IV was started, I was positioned on a chest binder for post op, given a mask, and then I was out. Next thing I was awake and rather joyful to still be alive.

My throat was sore and dry, I enjoyed some ice chips, my blood pressure and other vitals were checked and once I was more fully awake, they brought me to the unit.

On the unit I moved to the bed of my own power, using my arms. At this point I really wanted to point out to the nurses that my butt weighs more than the 10lbs they told me was the max I could lift. But I didn’t. My babies were all in the room and needed to see me. This was kind of a blurry time. I stayed awake for a while, but it didn’t take long for Ryan and the kiddos to head home, and I drifted in and out for several hours.

I had an amazing nurse, from Tampa, for the evening, it really helped to have a kindred spirit to visit with. I think all my gabbing may have caused her problems with the shift though, she had 4 other fresh post-ops, and I just wanted to talk lol.

Supper came and went, I was done with sitting in bed. I had some discomfort, more when I tried to hoist myself around the bed, but nothing too significant. I figured I must still be numb and the pain would come later. I watched Big Hero 6, read a book, and ran out of things to do. So, I walked laps. Lap after lap of the unit. I played tetris for about an hour and a half (my battery died). I was ready to go home and it was less than 12 hours post op. I ate all the snacks I brought with me, plus drank some tea. And water, and juice. And was up to the bathroom every few minutes. That’s what they want. Movement. I obliged.

Eventually I went to bed for the night, well, for 4 hours. Needing to get blood pressure checked kind of wakes a person up. I was too tired to notice the nurse decided to check my blood pressure on my  arm – big no-no – I had a thigh cuff, she went out and found an arm cuff and checked my blood pressure on my arm instead. I was awake by that point, but it was too late. She told me it didn’t matter and taking blood pressure wouldn’t cause any problems…I’d like to see her research on that.

Supper had been at 6 the night before. Breakfast was at 9 – after being woken up for the day at 5:30. Yeah. I was grumpy and by 7 already calling Ryan to come get me.

He was still asleep and didn’t answer the phone.

I had a discharge co-ordinater come in and tell me someone else already arranged home care and discharge. I had a discharge nurse come in and go over stuff not related to my surgery, but I also had a pile of doctors come in and discharge me. I liked them.

I was terrified of the drive home, more specifically, I was terrified of seatbelts. But lack of nerve endings mean there’s very little sensation in the area, so the seatbelt wasn’t an issue after all.

At home I have 2 drains attached to me that I need to empty several times a day, they should be out soon. Once they’re out, I suspect it’ll be easier to get around and do things. Right now the tubes get caught on everything, so I have to be very careful to be sure they don’t get pulled.

I still wear the chest binder. It helps prevent swelling, holds the dressing in place, and is supposed to help prevent nerve/pain issues in the future. I need a smaller size though, the large size they gave me slides down. But for now it’s okay.

There is some pain. I’m missing body parts and am all stitched and taped up. But the pain is mostly with movement. I can lift my arms straight out in front of me. If I push a bit I can get them slightly above shoulder height. Getting things in and out of cupboards is difficult. If lying on the floor, I can slide my arms up to almost shoulder height. I need to use my hands to ‘walk’ my arms up that high. If standing up, I can lift my arms to almost 45* (sideways) from my body.

Every movement that’s more than slightly off midline is uncomfortable. Everything stretches and pulls, I feel the bruising, I feel the stitches. That discomfort prevents me from doing too much. When I wake up in the morning, I can almost forget I just had surgery. By afternoon I know.

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