From the little research I did before my bilateral mastectomy with tram flap reconstruction, I thought I was really in for it. Much pain, MONTHS of recovery. And this I got from women who were having the surgery prophylactically and didn't have breast cancer. They stayed in the hospital for at least six days, were on heavy pain medications, and each time they stood or walked, it was a tremendous ordeal.
Apparently, I have a pretty high pain tolerance. I'm not saying the first couple of days of getting up out of the hospital bed were a walk in the park, although maybe having had two c-sections helped prepare me for the searing pain that accompanies sitting up and walking after abdominal surgery. But the c-section incision is only about six inches long. My new abdominal incision is 26 inches long, starting at the back of one hip bone and going across my tummy under my (new) bellybutton, ending at the back of the other hip bone.
(Now, if you've been privy to my volleyball injury of early February, you may think my pain tolerance is, in fact, quite low. But I was hit on the thumb joint by a volleyball going about 60 m.p.h. from only about 30 feet away. My thumb was swollen for several weeks and it STILL hurts when I bend it. I thought it was finally completely CURED when I was in the hospital and my thumb didn't hurt one tiny bit. That is, until the narcotics wore off....)
I quit taking the pain meds a little over a week after my surgery. The only real pain I had was when I transitioned from sitting to standing or lying down (and vice versa), and pain meds weren't really going to help that. They also weren't going to make it any easier to endure the drains. And they weren't helping me sleep, so what was the point?
11 days post-op
I made my first journey into the real world by taking a walk down the street, one day with Nicole when she came to see me and the next day with my husband. The walk with my husband netted us a ham from a neighbor who saw me walking hunched over, drain tubes hanging out of my clothes. He thought maybe he should trot me around the whole neighborhood to see what else we could score, but I declined.
I had a follow up appointment with Dr. Geter 2 weeks after my surgery, and by that time, I was feeling great. I still had some pain from the tummy incision, but I was walking much straighter and feeling much more like my old self. Dr. Geter and his staff were very impressed with my progress, although when I asked him when I could return to Zumba class, he gave me a benign smile and said he wouldn't want me messing up all those stitches he had made in me and to wait 4-6 weeks. But at least now I could DRIVE!
It was at this appointment that the hated drains were removed. A nurse took all the dressings off and then told me she would count to three, at which time I was to take a deep breath and blow out. She snipped the sutures holding the first drain in place, and as soon as she got to three, as I began to take in the deep breath, YANK! The drain tube was pulled out. I said, "I didn't have time to take a deep breath yet!" She said, "I know. That way it catches you by surprise and you're not anticipating it so much." Which would be a great technique if she didn't have THREE MORE TUBES to pull out. The process didn't get any easier as we went along, and the last one felt as though the end of the tube were tucked in between my ribs. (In fact, I am holding true that that is exactly where it was, as tender as the area still is.) In spite of the process, I was now drain free and ready to move on.
My follow up with Dr. Dorian Gray was the next week. He carefully felt the new titties and said they were doing great and gave me the good news that my right breast did not have any cancer, the sentinel node was clear and my margins were clear.
I also got to ask him the burning question of whether or not I could safely shave under my left arm. I had been told by several people that I could no longer shave under the arm where the lymph node was removed with anything but an electric razor, nor could I have blood drawn from that arm or have my blood pressure taken there because of risk of lymphedema, caused by bacteria entering the body through a cut. The blood draw and blood pressure I could work around, but the shaving thing was completely stressing me out. I shave under my arms every day and I don't believe I have ever cut myself. (My legs are another story. I have cut them to ribbons over the years.) Dr. Bumberry said that that advice was basically old school, from the days of radical mastectomies, and that he felt there was no reason for me not to shave. Problem averted.
With the approval of both doctors, I was now free to return to work as soon as I felt like it. I set the date for April 24, four weeks after my surgery, another step closer to "normal."