Hear that? Shhh. Hear that?
That’s the sound of me exhaling; the sound of me no longer wincing in pain.
After 12 days post-surgery, I finally saw the plastic surgeon. For the past 12 days, I have had J-P Drains (4 of them) hanging off of my sides. For the past 5 days, I have been in excruciating pain. On my right side, a blood clot lodged its way between my tube and my side, soaking gauze pad after gauze pad with deep, red blood. On my left side, a stitch has been pulling, irritating, and creating a ring of fiery hell around one of my drainage tubes. There was no relief, no drug, nor any meditating that could relieve that pain.
For the past few days, my drain output has been well below 20cc’s (the standard line for removing drains). I anticipated the doctor pulling only 2 of my tubes today, but because I was in unbearable pain, he went ahead and pulled all four.
The drain pulling wasn’t all that bad. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I cried like a colicky baby. In fact, Jorge said, “Liza, the only other time I’ve heard you cry like that was when you were in labor.” As he pulled my right side tubes, I was crying simply out of nervousness, anxiety and anticipation of the pain in my left side. Because of the blood clot, I continued to bleed after they removed the tube. The nurse quickly placed a compression bandage over the 2 incision sites.
Then, my left side.
Pain, fear, pain, fear, pain fear.
I simply heard myself screaming. I tried to meditate, remove my Self from my Body. But the pain brought me back. Though it was over in just a few seconds, I still break out in chills thinking about the pain from a procedure done more than 3 hours ago. Cleaned it. Compression bandaged it. On my way.
As soon as I got home, I wanted to take a look at the very sites where my drains once held me prisoner. As I removed my right side (clot side) bandage, blood began to POUR out of my wound. Now, perhaps its having to strip my own drainage tubes for 12 days, or maybe it’s my recent stuck-in-bed watching old Dexter episodes, but seeing that blood pour out of my side was actually, okay, KINDA AWESOME! I know.. I know.. gross. But seeing it, and then quickly pressure bandaging it, reminded me of my own humanity. My own fragility. And, my own strength.
I’m coming back out on the other side of this mastectomy. I have a long way to go — swelling, strength, healing, flexibility, waiting for my dark black 10-inch incisions to fade from black to red then pink. And, of course, I need to stop bleeding out of my sides. Yeah, that’d be good.
But, I’m slowly coming around. Slowly coming out of the fog that has protected me, kept me safe. Slowly accepting the decision I’ve made to save my own life, even before life tested me. I haven’t heard anything from the doctor who removed my breasts, and I can be safe in assuming that No News is Good News. I’ve accepted here that my breasts were cancer free.
There is no way to prepare anyone for the experience of drains. They can range anywhere from being painful to just a nuisance. Mine were on the other side of Pain. When both the nurse and the doctor saw my drains, they were both surprised at the amount of blood, pain, and redness. My plastic surgeon said, “19 out of 20 people have no problems at all with these drains. Guess you’re that 1 in 20.”
Now that I’m coming out of the fog, and being that we’re coming up on the Holiday Season, Jorge encouraged me to write a “Helpful Items for a Post-Mastectomy Friend.” These are “purchased items” as people prepare for the days post-mastectomy. A “ways to help” post will be coming later.
GREAT POST-MASTECTOMY GIFTS
1. The Leachco Contoured Body Pillow. Thank you to Steph who suggested I buy this. It’s designed for pregnant women, but this pillow is amazing. I did go out and buy a bunch of pillows for the bed, but this pillow provides just the right elevation, arm support, neck and back support post-mastectomy. It also felt very “safe” inside of it. I felt cozy, protected, and snug. Definitely, definitely, a must have for coming home from a mastectomy. I purchased it before my mastectomy (thanks to a few Amazon giftcards!) and it was already on my bed when I came home. I crawled right in and fell asleep.
2. Pajamas that button in the front. My mom and my friend Sally bought me flannel pajama pants and button down tops which were crucial for being able to access my drains. They were also easy to put on and take off, especially when my body temperature was all out of whack. It was helpful to have 2 pairs because I lived in these for the past 2 weeks and just alternated every few days.
3 AMUSEMENT. My surgery took place right around Thanksgiving, and I wasn’t able to take the kids out to the usual fun vacation places or even sit with them and do things. So, yes, movies became our source of entertainment. It was SO nice to have different iTunes giftcards and Amazon giftcards to be able to purchase the newest movies (for all of us!). I am also so thankful for DVDs that people sent that made me laugh! Ah, comedy!
4. NETFLIX. We don’t subscribe to television in our house, and I’m so thankful we had a Netflix subscription. I watched old movies, episodes of shows I never had time to see, and sometimes just let any old movie play for distraction. This would be a great gift for someone who is stuck in bed!
5. DINNER OUT. I’m so impressed with the sleuthing people did to find out what restaurants were near my house! Wow! Having gift cards to local restaurants was a treat. As of yet, we haven’t been able to go out, but I know that I will soon have the strength to go take the family out to eat. This will be such a great way for the kids to feel a little special. Having a gift card for a restaurant also gives me some incentive to get out of the house now that my drains have been pulled!
6. GROCERY AND GAS. Giftcards were especially helpful for groceries and gas. After all the Edible arrangements were gone (yet, another fantastic post-mastectomy gift), I still knew that I needed good nourishment from fruit. Yet, winter in New England brings along wicked high prices for fruits around here. It was so nice to be able to send for oranges, apples and grapes, knowing that their high prices wouldn’t have to deter me from getting them this time of year. Thank you for that gift. Gas cards were really helpful as we traveled back and forth frequently in the past 2 weeks to the hospital.
7. A MANAGEABLE WATER BOTTLE. I’ve always carried around a big Nalgene bottle, but just before surgery, I decided to purchase a smaller generic one. At first, I thought it was a wasteful purchase, but now I’m so glad I did. It was helpful to keep a refillable bottle by my bedside, but it was even MORE helpful that it wasn’t heavy. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to hold the weight of a water bottle, never mind try and remove the top of one. The smaller bottle allowed me to keep it refilled but also was manageable enough that I could lift it from my hand to mouth.
8. TRAVEL SIZED SHAMPOO AND CONDITIONER BOTTLES FILLED. Urgh, I wish I had thought of this before surgery. I buy my shampoo and conditioner in bulk – you know, those bottles that seem to last 6-8 months because they are so big. Well, my first time in the shower after surgery, I realized what a fool I had been to not put them in smaller bottles. Not only could I not lift the bottles, I didn’t have enough strength to hold them nor actually squeeze them. I also lacked the strength to put them back down again. Thankfully, my kids had some small kid-sized bottles in there which I used after that shower. Wish I had even thought to grab travel sized containers and filled them with my shampoo and conditioner.
Gonna make a nice “toiletries gift bag” for a post-mastectomy friend.? Three words here: Flushable Toilet Wipes. The two of you may never speak about it ever again, but believe me, she’ll thank you later. Much later.
9. BACK SCRATCHER. Seems unnecessary, right? Yes, until you can’t move your arms more than an inch from your own sides. It’s an item I never thought I would need post mastectomy, but oh, Mama, this would have been a really nice purchase.
10. A PAMPERING TO LOOK FORWARD TO. A luxury, for sure, but one of the neatest gifts I got in the mail was from my friend Patti who set me up for a massage when I’m feeling ready. Now, I probably can’t do this for months. I won’t feel comfortable laying down on my chest for a while, but I am so looking forward to this when I’m ready!
Like I wrote, these are just SOME of the things that we set up or that others had gifted to us that made me stop and think “Oh, yeah. This is necessary.”
Tomorrow, I’ll put up a post related to my “Ways to Help” one from a few months back. Thanks to friends, family, and colleagues, there were LOTS of ways people have helped to ease the burden on my family. I’ll be referring back to the original post and further explain how all of those pieces added up to a life breathed easier.
Thanks everyone! It’s amazing how the absence of pain can make one feel.
Peace, love and drain free,