Shout Out to the Nurses at ECMC

I generally try to keep things anonymous when it comes to service providers and people I come into contact with in my journey. None of those people ask to be documented in my saga, so I leave them out of it. My family is stuck because if you know me, you know them, but I do try to abbreviate their names as well for the same reason.

Anyway, I spent almost four full days at East Cooper Medical Center when I had my bilateral flap DIEP mastectomy. During that time, I had some amazing nurses and techs. I don’t remember too much before surgery, or immediately following surgery, but those who were there in women’s services for the bulk of my stay were fantastic!

Five stars!!

They just did so much to make sure I was physically and emotionally comfortable. Which was great considering I was so vulnerable, which is a hard place for me to be, and they had to deal with me 12 hours a day.

So kudos to them!

I’d go back.

Do I have a new belly button?

Never thought I’d ever ask that question.

There’s a nice, upside down view of my new belly button. Pardon the wrinkles on my tum from my clothes and blankets.

I knew it was a possibility with the flap that I’d have to get a new one, since the skin gets pulled so snugly together over the tummy. So my previous belly button, or B.B. 1.0, was lost in the process.

I noticed B.B. 2.0 when I was checking myself out, but wasn’t sure if it was new, or if the stitching was just part of the procedure. So I asked.

It’ll be interesting to see how real it looks once it’s healed.

Drains

I feel like the drains are a significant enough piece of post-op that they deserve their own post, even though I may have already shared some of this info.

The tubes go in at each side of my belly incision, they’re sort of fastened into place. There are also two more that go into the underside of each breast.

At the hospital, the nurses and techs were emptying them periodically, but at home I do it twice a day: am and pm. The output has to be less than 20 ccs total per day, I think, to have the drains removed. I need to check the papers to be sure. It may be 10 ccs. Regardless, I’m not at either number yet. Some do put out less than others, but the lower belly ones put out more, which apparently is normal.

I have a camisole I got from the hospital that has pockets on the inside that the drains fit into. It has a Velcro closure up the front. It’s not too bad to wear, and I like how things are properly stowed away.

That’s the inside left side of the camisole. Two bulbs fit on each side.

The liquid gunk that goes into the drains does not smell. Thank God. Because I’d die if it did. I’d be the biggest barfing baby in all the land. Brad, too.

We went to Kohl’s today so I could check out some comfy shirt dresses, and we stopped for lunch. Well, at some point one of the tubes popped off the bulb and a little oozed on my shirt. Brad was pale. I kept my cool, however, because that happened a few times while I was in the hospital. That one is just a little looser than the others. Short of them actually falling out, which seems impossible, I can’t really do anything wrong with them.

But seriously, the drains aren’t as gross or as bad as I’d imagined they would be. There is some soreness where the tubes go in, but I’m learning how to not aggravate those sites when I move.

This is an upside down view of the drain that’s on the left side (my left) of my abdomen. To the right of the white circle is the incision that stretches straight across my tummy. At the other end is another tube. This tube in the picture is the most active one out of the four. The red color of the tube is the actual color of the drainage coming out. You’re welcome.

It’s getting better every hour. No lie. I’m getting up and sitting down with little resistance from my body. I’m trying to take it easy, while continuing to get/keep my blood flowing.

I’m telling you, working my legs and abs so hard before the surgery was probably the smartest thing I could have done. I have no ab or leg soreness and I’m using the heck out of them! I’d probably be in bed a lot more if I hadn’t worked those muscles so well.

I’m home!

When I met with Dr H yesterday, he said if I was still looking good, I’d be able to go home today. When he came by to do rounds today, I was walking the halls, and he cleared me to leave after a shower.

I showered, had lunch, and got some pain meds for the road. Brad packed up all my goodies, and we were off!

The ride home wasn’t bad. Bumps didn’t feel all that great, but Brad was careful. I’m still taking oral pain killers and muscle relaxers. I’m wearing sleep pants, but they’re pulled up above my tummy incision so they don’t rub. I’m probably going to buy some casual shirt dresses since I won’t have to pull them down/up when I use the bathroom. Kohl’s has quite a few, and I’ll try to head that way sometime this week.

What else?

Taking a shower was nice, and the warm water on my sore back felt heavenly. I almost want to take another shower just for that yummy feeling. I do have a heating pad though. My back is sore around the bra line, and it’s definitely from hunching/slouching, which is to be expected considering my tummy skin has been pulled super tight.

Other nuisances include gas, my belly is so full of gas. It has been dissipating, but I’d love for it to just all together disappear.

The drains aren’t really annoying or gross since they’re mostly out of sight inside this camisole from the hospital. It has inside pockets that hold the bulbs. However, where the upper one on my left side goes into my chest hurts more often than any other part of me. It feels totally weird, too, because there’s a tube below my skin. It’s a decent size, too. Bizarre. Can’t wait for them to be taken out, which will probably be at my follow-up appointment with Dr H.

My chest is very bruised, but I still can’t really feel anything on the surface. It’s also got some phantom itches going on.

I’m currently chilling out in the recliner, and getting up every so often so I don’t get stiff and I keep my blood flowing. I’m also occasionally pumping my legs. Daisy sat on my lap for a few minutes, and stayed away from my incision. She missed me for sure.

That’s pretty much all I have for now. In another post, I’ll share some of the things I think may be helping me along the way, during post-op and with overall recovery.

Post-Op: Part IV

I think this post will bring me up to date on the post-op stuff thus far, unless I get super drowsy.

Beginning Thursday evening, once I was in my room, I’d have vital checks every hour, then every two hours, then every four hours. They’d also check my drains, incisions, and run the Doppler over my chest.

When I’m in bed, I’m open in the front with a sheet covering me. When I sit up or stand up, I wear a surgical bra for support and a camisole that has pockets to hold the drains. When I walk today, I’ll be wearing a gown as well.

Needless to say, I have zero modesty whatsoever. I’m essentially butt naked all day, which just a sheet draping over me. Just about everyone has seen the goods. It is what it is. People have seen me pee, and they’ll probably see me poop when that happens, too.

Right now I’m just trying to work on passing gas. I keep shifting to make that happen so I’m not so bloated, and it’s helping.

Also, I don’t have feeling on my chest, like the skin surface, at the moment from the leftover nerve block and the pain meds. If I apply pressure, I can feel soreness under the skin where there’s probably bruising.

I probably already mentioned at least once that where the drain goes in on the left side of my chest is sore. That’s pretty much my consistent problem area, but it’s not even that bad. It can be sharp, and probably rates a good 6-7, but it’s super quick.

I think that probably covers most of what’s been going on the last couple days. I’m still pretty sore along the incision sites, and around my breasts. Lots of gas in my stomach, too. Still draining…

I’ll update again after I have my walk, and I’ll talk about how much fun standing up is! Ha.

Post-Op: Part III

I may have mentioned that I’m sleeping off and on, and at random due to the pain pills and muscle relaxers, which is to be expected. I was mostly awake during the day yesterday, and slept through most of the night. My tail bone is totally sore though, so I can’t wait to get up.

So every day post-op I have different goals. The day of surgery was just bed rest. I had the catheter and didn’t get up for anything. The next day, yesterday, was to get up and move to the chair, and use the bathroom so the catheter could come out. I passed that with flying colors, and I honestly fell back on some of my exercise techniques in order to do that. Today the goal is to walk the halls, which I am looking forward to since it’s more movement! And tomorrow with be bathing.

I’ve had the same night nurses, day nurses, and techs, which definitely makes it more comfortable since they get to know me and how I like to move, etc. So that’s pretty cool. Plus they’re awesome! I got very lucky. The hospital is also super quiet, so I get a lot of attention if I need it.

You know I’d mention the hospital food. It’s not bad at all. Yesterday, I had eggs, hash browns, and a blueberry muffin for breakfast. Lunch was baked chicken with gravy, rice, and veggies. And dinner was roast beef, mashed potatoes with gravy, and creamed spinach. I mean, it’s hospital food, so it’s not epic, but it’s pretty decent. Plus, I’ve got lots of snacks people have been bringing by.

I’ve had some visitors, and they’ve brought healthy snacks, not so healthy snacks, drinks, etc. So I’ve had quite the variety as far as food goes, which is nice. I also have lots of pretty flowers and balloons.

Those photos were the best I could do from my bed. 🙂

For the first 24 hours I couldn’t eat, so I was doing ice chips and water, which was totally OK since they have ice like Sonic has…crunchy ice. I’ve even asked for it after I was cleared to eat. Yum!

TV stinks, so I’ve been trying to entertain myself with the occasional re-run, napping, blogging, and checking FB and my emails. I’m working on reading, but I’m mostly still too groggy for that.

Fun Fact: whenever a baby is born in the hospital, they play a lullaby over the loudspeaker. One of my visitors was a coworker who brought her baby boy who was born here in March! So adorable.

Post-Op: Part II

Still a little drowsy from the meds, but I just had dinner so I’m feeling a little surge of energy and alertness, so I thought I’d try to squeeze in another post.

I had a catheter. They inserted it while I was unconscious, so that’s cool, because apparently that’s what’s uncomfortable about it – having it out in while you’re awake. So yay. It was kind of neat to just be able to pee without thinking about it. There were periods of discomfort, mostly due to the positioning of the drainage tube. It was uncomfortable when they pulled it out, too, but it’s not like they yanked it. They did it gently.

I’ve gotten up to pee three times since the catheter has been removed. Standing up is uncomfortable because I want to use my arms to push up and stabilize myself, but I can’t. I also feel like my abs are going to jump out of my body. I think it’ll be much easier to do once I get over those things. The first time I tried to sit to pee was a struggle, but the second time I remembered my squats and it was a piece of cake. Laying down hurts when I engage my abs. The nurses hold my back and lower me, but it’s nearly impossible to just release my abs and let them do the hard work. So that’s another thing I need to get over.

The last thing I remember before the surgery was the anesthesiologist saying he was going to sedate me a little bit to do the nerve block, which I remembered from the lumpectomy. He inserted the medicine into my IV and it was game over. I vaguely recall telling Dr H about my successes with losing inches around my mid-section, and saying something about wanting big boobs. That’s about it! Then I woke up in recovery. So while the world was passing hours upon hours, I was in an amazing time warp!

And I do have big boobs apparently. Double the size. Yowza!

Anyway, getting groggy again so I’ll talk to you later!!

I also apologize if there are typos in any of these post-op posts. I’m not proofreading, and I’ve only got one eye open half the time. Ha!

TTFN

Post-Op: Part I

I made a list of the bazillion topics to cover so I don’t completely flake out the way I did with the lumpectomy. It’ll be broken down into different posts as I feel the umf to write about. I have a little burst right now, so I’m going to try to cover some stuff. It may be totally out of order from the actual series of events, but I’ll include everything I remember!

First off, everything went great. Everything looks good. All is well. So yay for that. The mastectomy and the flap took about 8.5 hours total. Unfortunately the part of the hospital Brad was waiting in was a cellular dead zone, so he didn’t get updated. He would just have random missed calls, but the phone never rang.

Pain has been moderate. I had the same nerve block as I did with the lumpectomy, at the upper shoulders, and that has begun to wear off. Pain is being managed with pain killers and I’m doing ok with all that. I also have a nerve block, still do, at the abdominal incision.

I’m also on a muscle relaxer to help with the ab, back, and chest muscle tension. Those are the areas I’m feeling it the most. And of course an anti-nausea med.

I started with an IV, which I still have but they’re not currently using it. I was getting the meds intravenously, but this morning I was able to switch to pills, which is lovely because any time the meds went through the IV, it burned!!! I was also getting IV antibiotics last night into this morning. I haven’t gotten any pill antibiotic yet today, but I may be done with that now anyway.

Since I was horizontal for so long, I had some crud in my chest, so I’ve got to use this little breathing thing to help break that up.

I have a lot of gas/bloating around my stomach area. So I’ll be passing quite a bit of gas (no surprise there!), and it will dissipate more and more each day.

I have drains: 2 for the breast area and 2 for the abdomen area. The breast area has had less liquid than the abdomen, and part of that is just due to gravity. I may go home with all 4, or I may go home with fewer. It just depends on how much is coming out.

Ok, so I’m pretty tired now! I’ll update with more later or tomorrow!

Pre-Op

Took care of my pre-op stuff. I got a bunch of prescriptions from my plastic surgeon, and had some blood taken at the hospital.

The hospital looks nice, and apparently I’ll be recovering on the same floor as maternity, just the opposite side, which I’ve been told is a nice place to be. So that’s cool.

I did all the paperwork for the hospital, so all I have to do when I check in tomorrow is get a bracelet and head to my floor.

I’m not nervous about the procedure, and I doubt I’ll get nervous in the morning since I have to be up and at the hospital at o’ dark thirty (aka 5:30am). Doesn’t really give me the opportunity to panic prior to getting the good stuff from the anesthesiologist.

Did I mention that for my lumpectomy they gave me some kind of chill stuff through my IV to make sure I stayed calm before the surgery? I’m guessing they may do something similar tomorrow.

Anyway, as I said, I’m not nervous. I have faith in my doctors, and I know everything will be ok. Brad, on the other hand, is super nervous!! So he’ll need all the support he can get. I do believe people are taking shifts with him tomorrow, since it’ll be a long wait.

The surgery can take anywhere from 8-12 hours, and probably will take about 8. That’s a long wait for a loved one! Not so much for me, since it’ll be lights out and I’ll have no concept of time. One minute I’ll be making bad jokes and the next I’ll be in post-op.

Regardless, tomorrow is going to be a long day!!

I picked up some slippers and button-down shirts today, and I packed my hospital bags (one for entertainment, one with clothes and toiletries). So hopefully I’ll be comfy since I’ll be in the hospital until Sunday!!

I’ll see you on the flip side!

Lumpectomy

My bad…I just realized this post was still a draft and never went live. Whoops! Insert this around January 24, mmmkay? Thanks!

Howdy! Everything went great yesterday, but it was a long day and I was pretty loopy last night.

Here’s the rundown:

Arrived at hospital around 9:00am. Let’s face it, it was downtown at the tail end of rush hour, I wasn’t getting there at 9:00 on the dot. I had to hit snooze for the appropriate amount of time, shower, pick up my prescriptions…you know the drill.

After admitting, I went to the waiting room and went to my pre-op room pretty quickly. Did the whole vitals and IV thing.

Then I went to nuclear medicine for the contrast dye injection, which highlighted the lymph nodes the cancer could spread to, the ones associated with the ducts. That was easy and painless. This time while in nuclear medicine, I was singing “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons in my head.

From there I went down to the Breast Center for the wire locator. The wire locator was literally a wire (two actually since I had an area of calcification that Dr B wanted to go ahead and take care of as well) inserted into my boob via needles. They were sticking out the side after insertion, it was quite weird. They were super thin and bendy though, sort of like a stiff fishing line, if that makes sense. This process stung a little bit, but it still didn’t hurt exactly. And for both this and the dye injection, I had a local anesthetic – Lidocaine. Oh, and this was mammogram guided, so I had another mammogram! Yay…

After that, I returned to my pre-op room. I took a while downstairs, spent a few minutes here and there waiting, so once I got upstairs I had people waiting on me for the next stuff.

Dr H (plastic surgeon) was there, and he marked me up for the reconstructive stuff. In addition to the nipple preservation (which is the reason I am having a lumpectomy and then a mastectomy in two separate procedures, for anyone who was wondering and hasn’t asked or who I didn’t have an answer for at the time), he shifted things around on the right side (reconstruction) and did a reduction on the left to match the right.

Then came the anesthesiologist. My favorite people. I just think the whole concept of general anesthesia is so cool. They’re like magicians…now you see me, now you don’t! Anyway, I got a nerve block for this procedure. He said it’s something they do with major breast surgeries that works a little bit better than general anesthesia alone. So he gave me a little bit of a sedative, Brad said his goodbyes, and they inserted the lines for the nerve block, one on each side of my back/spine. I had to sit up and sort of lean forward with my head on the table how you would for a seated massage. Also painless.

Then Dr JB came in and talked to me for a few minutes about the lumpectomy. Then I was rolled down to the OR, I moved from the stretcher to the operating table, I remember saying something about not having been awake in the operating room before, then it was lights out.

So I woke up groggy and my mouth and throat were super dry. I felt a little nausea, but that could have been due to the dryness from having the breathing tube. They did give me a good dosage of nausea meds through my IV (and morphine) before they removed it, just in case. I felt the meds coming in the IV, it was weird but didn’t hurt. I drank some cranberry juice and felt pretty good after a few minutes. I still have the nerve block, though not as high a dosage. I’ve got these two pouches that each have a bocci ball side rubber belly thing with meds. They give a slow drip of meds to the nerve block to keep things numb and keep me comfy. I increased the right side last night before bed since that side stings a bit. I got my discharge instruction, then I got dressed, and we were discharged. This was around 5:45 I think.

Traffic was a mess going home. Rush hour from downtown, up 61 through West Ashley is never fun. But we eventually made it to my parents’ house where we spent the night so I’d have adult supervision today to ease Brad’s nerves.

I hadn’t eaten since dinner time the night before, so I had half a Publix sub when I got to the ‘rents. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to eat (ha-ha), but I needed to get something inside so I could take the pain medicine. I took baby bites and was able to eat the sandwich over about an hour. I did take some Zofran, just in case, but no nausea.

I slept in the recliner last night because I figured it was the easiest way to stay on my back. Even if I fall asleep on my back, sometimes I end up on my side. Aside from Daisy waking me up to pee at 4:15, I slept well.

Woke up feeling some sting on the right side still, and took another pain pill with breakfast. Hopefully that’ll knock that out.

Overall I feel great. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as pain goes, and I’m sure the nerve block has something to do with it, but I feel good and that makes me happy. I’m having no trouble with movement, aside from a little soreness in my right underarm area, but I feel like I’ll be back to being (semi-) independence soon! I can’t lift anything for 4 weeks (ugh), but everything else should be good to go in no time.

I’m just finishing breakfast and the pain pill, Nucynta, should be kicking in soon, so I’m going to hit the recliner again!

Adios!