Archive | December 2013

Drain free!!!

I had an appointment with Dr. Kang this morning and he took my second drain out! Life is good again! I was getting extremely irritated by the drain, and more specifically, the tubing that ran under my skin. I could feel it moving around in my armpit and down into the arm. At first, I could only feel it when I moved in a particular way or bumped the tubing outside my body just right. The past two days, however, I could feel it all the time. Just breathing made it move and hurt, and it was pinching a nerve or blood vessel so the side of my palm started to feel numb. I was completely miserable yesterday since there was no position I could find that didn’t irritate my arm in some way. So, when Dr. Kang asked how much the drain was producing, my first thought was “What do I have to say to have you take it out?” Luckily, I gave the right answer.

Getting the drain actually removed was even more disgusting this time than the first time. I had taken pain meds before the appointment (the good ones this time, since I knew it would hurt during and after). Dr. Kang cut the sutures holding the drain in place and then pulled. Feeling the drain move under the skin is not a pleasant feeling at all. Feeling it get stuck on the way out is even worse. It got stuck twice. *shudder*

I still have to wear the Ace bandage for a while longer, since my body hasn’t completely stopped making fluid for those holes. Dr. Kang offered to wrap me up this time, so now I know the best way to do and how tight it should be. We’ve been doing it all wrong. By the time I’m allowed to stop wearing the Ace wrap, it’s going to feel weird to go without it. Tomorrow I can even take a shower – now isn’t that exciting! No more sponge baths in the tub and washing my hair in the sink.

All in all, life is much better.


Sleeping isn’t easy

I was surprised when I came home from surgery that sleeping was more painful that I expected. In most things, you wake up and feel best in the morning, but I found that I am very achy and stiff in the morning. I’m sure it doesn’t help that I have only one sleeping position for the whole night. Good thing I’ve always been a back sleeper. Once I’m up and about, the stiffness and pain in my chest goes away quickly.

The first night back from the hospital, I found out I couldn’t sleep flat on my back. I didn’t realize this fact until I tried it since I’d been in a hospital bed, propped up at least a little since the surgery. I laid down to go to sleep and discovered it hurt to breathe. OK, fine, I thought. I’ll just sleep on the recliner in another room. However, getting up off my back was a difficult and painful process. Both rolling over and sitting up require the use of chest muscles, which were painful from the surgery. I eventually managed, but it did not improve my mood that night. After that first night, I slept with one of those long, triangle-shaped pillows under my regular pillow in bed.

My sleeping boost - just enough so I could breathe without pain.

My sleeping boost – just enough so I could breathe without pain.

As for a current update, I’m feeling quite good and ready to do stuff. My only complaint is the drain. I swear I can feel it moving under my skin in my armpit. That’s the only part of my body that hurts, and it hurts more the more I do. I think I need to make today a quiet, sitting day since my armpit is sore already this morning. I also think the drain is irritating my body, which is making more fluid around it so the drain amount isn’t decreasing the way it should. I have a meeting with Dr. Kang tomorrow morning and I WILL be getting this thing out of me then.

To end on a positive note – check out the hair! My family came down yesterday and I didn’t even wear a hat when they were here.

It almost looks like a hair-do again. Now I just wear hats to keep warm.

It almost looks like a hair-do again. Now I just wear hats to keep warm.

Presents from friends and family

Bouquet from my Aunt and Uncle Gnann

Bouquet from my Aunt and Uncle Gnann

So, after my surgery, I guess people thought I might need some cheering up and so they sent presents. I got two lovely bouquets – one from local friends and one from my aunt and uncle. As a bonus, neither of them were pink flowers. However, I will admit that flowers are about the only thing I enjoy in pink.

Bouquet from Dave and Ruth.

Bouquet from Dave and Ruth.

With all the Christmas decorations taking up the usual flat surfaces I’d put the flowers on, I was a bit hard pressed to find a place for them. A little creative moving around, and the all found a home. My mother decided to go with something a little more functional and sent some fruit.

A fruit bouquet from my parents.

A fruit bouquet from my parents.

Not only where there pineapple stars, but we had white and milk chocolate covered banana pieces and chocolate covered strawberries. A yummy treat that we ate over several days.

I even got some new houseplants from my mother-in-law’s neighbor – a cool, frosty moss and a Christmas cactus. I’ll need to get some tips from my mother on how to make the cactus bloom. Hers are always beautiful. As for now, I’ll just have to remember to water them appropriately. My plants usually need to wilt before I remember to water them.

New house plants. Let's hope they don't mind drying out on a regular basis.

New house plants. Let’s hope they don’t mind drying out on a regular basis.

Just a little something to take my mind off the annoyance and pain of the surgery and subsequent drains. I was hoping I’d get a drain out tomorrow, but it looks like it won’t be ready until Saturday. Sadly, plastic surgeons don’t work on Saturdays so I’ll have to keep the drain until Monday. That will make a significant improvement in my quality of life

Christmas presents from my surgeons

I had an appointment with Dr. Kang this afternoon. I was hoping he’d take out a drain today, although I was worried that neither of the drains was extremely low (one producing 40ccs in 24 hours, the other producing 30ccs). Even so, he was satisfied I didn’t need both drains in and took one of them out. Now I only have one of my special baby egg sacs I need to carry around with me. (I feel like they are egg sacs from parasitizing wasps that I’ve been tricked into caring for – it’s the biologist in me, what can I say).

Luckily, I had read somewhere that it’s a good idea to take your pains meds an hour or so before the doctor’s visit where he’s going to take out the drains. I probably would have done it just for the car ride into the doctor’s office, since the bumps aren’t very pleasant to my sore muscles. Getting the drain out was not at all pleasant. First, he snipped the stitches holding the tube in my body, which I could totally feel and leaned toward the pain side of feeling. Then, he pulled the drain out, which didn’t hurt but felt completely disgusting as I felt the tubing move through the incision. Finally, he put a big band-aid over the incision site (after mopping up a few drips of the fluid the drain had been collecting). It’ll take a day or so for the incision to close up.

Couple of things I learned from the plastic surgeon. I need to be careful with moving my arm over my head while the drains are in place. I should be wearing my Ace bandage tighter, so it squishes the fluid out of my body. (Bonus, it won’t slip when it’s tighter.) Finally, the drain that is left may increase in the volume it collects as it is now doing the work of both drains, so not to be alarmed about the increase.

Since Dr. Kang’s visit didn’t take very long, and I had genetics paperwork to take to my breast surgeon’s office, we walked over to Dr. Engel’s office. I hand delivered the paperwork to Dr. Engel’s scheduler this time. Last time, I just gave them to the nurses at the front desk, and they got lost. This is about 10 pages of paperwork on family history that requires I call my mother to fill out properly, so I didn’t want to have to do it a third time. Since we were there, we asked if the pathology report had come through yet. Dr. Engel called us back to his office and gave us the down and dirty results – NO CANCER seen in the breast tissue OR the lymph nodes!!!!! Needless to say, we’re a bit excited! I still need to do radiation, just to be on the safe side, but only about 10% of the time does chemo remove cancer to the point they can’t even find microscopic evidence. Glad to be special in the good way for a change!!!

So, all in all, two great presents from my surgeons. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Drains are annoying

Body parts are continuing to heal, although not as fast as I’d like. At this point, I’m not too achy or itchy, but the drains are really annoying. I managed to go outside today to get the mail, for the first time in a while, but I have no desire to go outside of the house anytime soon. The drains just don’t fit comfortably under my shirt, let alone under the coat, and it’s not something I’d want to explain if I went out in public.

The drains are set up to remove the buildup of fluid from under my skin. I have to empty them three times a day and record the amount of fluid in each. Once a drain has been emptied, I have to squeeze it before I recap the drain to provide the suction. It’s not anything I notice or can specifically feel or even see happening, but there’s always fluid in the tubes.

Drain #1 just emptied

Drain #2 just emptied

What I can feel is where the tubes come out of my body. It’s high under my armpit, so the Ace bandage tends to slip and not cover the site well. Also, as things are healing, I’m getting more sensation come back under my arm which means I can feel the extra stuff under my arm more. Don’t worry, I won’t show a picture of the tubes coming out of my skin. That’s definitely the grossest part of the surgery. StatsGuy has to help me put a new piece of gauze under the tubes and he would much prefer to do the task with his eyes closed, if I let him.

The actual incision site from the mastectomy, on the other hand, looks much better than I expected. I am also completely surprised I don’t have a bandage on the site. I just lay a piece of gauze over the incision so it doesn’t rub on the Ace bandage. I have to check the incision site several times a day to watch for infection, but it seems to be healing quite nicely. No more burning pain with deep breaths, at least. I’m just waiting for the drains to come out so I don’t have to worry about a specific arm movement causing problems with the tubes. If you’re interested, I’m putting a picture of the incision at the bottom of the post. Click on it to make it bigger, or just don’t scroll all the way down if you’d rather not see it.











My incision site, with leftover Sharpie still defining the inframammary fold

My incision site, with leftover Sharpie still defining the inframammary fold

The day after surgery

I only had to stay in the hospital overnight, so the day after my surgery I was headed home. Dr. Engel ordered me two post-surgical camisoles that could hold my drains and protect the incision site.

The surgical camisole

The surgical camisole

Sadly, it did not work for me at all. I was able to take off the Ace bandage 24 hours after surgery which I was grateful for since it was starting to itch underneath. I put the cami on instead. The nice part is it zips down the middle and it has pockets that velcro to the inner part of the cami to hold my two drains.

Notice the velcro pouch on the right and the strip of cloth under the zipper.

Notice the velcro pouch on the right and the strip of cloth under the zipper.

Unfortunately, that’s the only good thing I could say about it. I was given a size up so it wouldn’t put too much pressure on the incision site. That meant the bottom of the cami wouldn’t lay flat to my body when I sat because of the strip of cloth under the zipper, so I seriously looked pregnant. The center piece under the zipper totally itched and the strap went right over my port, pushing on it and making that hurt. Needless to say I was not at all comfortable. I took the cami off and went back to the Ace bandage. The trick is wrapping it tight enough so it won’t quickly slip off my chest, but not so tight that it itches or hurts any of the incision sites. I did keep the velcro pockets for the drains, sticking them directly to my button-down sweater during the day or the Ace bandage itself when I go to bed.

Good thing the sweater buttons, so I can leave the bottom ones for the drains.

Good thing the sweater buttons, so I can leave the bottom ones undone for the drains.

You can see how the drains stick to the sweater, as well as the Ace bandage wrapped around my chest - tight enough to stay up, but loose enough not to itch.

You can see how the drains stick to the sweater, as well as the Ace bandage wrapped around my chest.


The drive home from the hospital was also a bit painful. I didn’t need a pillow to go under the seatbelt, as others had indicated was helpful. The problem I found was every bump we went over jarred my body and made it ache even more. I’ve also found that shivering is one of the more painful activities that I can do. Overall, though, the pain is lessening every day. So far, I feel better in the evening that I do in the morning so I know everything is healing.

My biggest annoyance is probably the itchiness. I’m not allowed to shower until the drains come out (and that won’t be until Monday at the earliest). At least I don’t have much hair right now, but the stuff they used to clean my skin before surgery made me a lovely shade of orange and everything itches. I’ve had to ask StatsGuy to scrub my back with a washcloth, since I can’t easily reach. I have noticed, when I’m gently scratching on my right side, that my armpit and underside of my upper arm are quite numb. Dr. Engel did mention there are two nerves he had to watch out for during the surgery – a motor nerve, which he was able to keep clear of, and a sensory nerve, that got a little roughed up in the surgery. We’ll see if sensation comes back to that area any time soon.

Surgery day

Dr. Engel performed a modified radical mastectomy, taking some of the lymph nodes under my arm as well. He was able to get all the tissue he needed, and none of the lymph nodes were obviously abnormal. I’ll have the results from the pathologist early next week to see what it looks like under the microscope. Dr. Kang worked next, putting in an expander. Because of the amount of skin Dr. Engel had to remove, Dr. Kang was only able to put 50 ccs of fluid in the expander, while the breast tissue removed was just under 200 ccs.

My collection of bracelets

My collection of bracelets

Before I went into surgery, I got a collection of identifying bracelets. The red allergy bracelet refers to the reaction I had to steri-strips when I had my biopsy. The white bracelet is my personal identification bracelet. It even had a QR code on the front the nurse would scan any time she gave me medicine. The pink bracelet says “Do not use this extremity” since I shouldn’t use my right arm for blood pressure or giving blood ever again. The yellow fall risk bracelet is because I’m getting full anesthesia and the first time I get up afterward surgery, the nurse needs to accompany me to make sure I’m stable on my feet.

My gown pattern - not too bad this time.

My gown pattern – not too bad this time.

I had an IV put in my left hand. The anesthesiologist who was did it remarked on how small my veins were. It probably didn’t help that it had been almost 12 hours since I had anything to drink. Unfortunately, he put it so close to my wrist that any time I bent my hand back, it would hurt. That made it really tricky getting out of my hospital bed since I couldn’t push with either arm comfortably. I also found out my airway is classed as a one out of four – who knew I had such a high quality airway! It’s just one of the many fun facts I’ve learned by talking to the techs, nurses, and anyone else I come into contact while I’m being treated.

When I woke up after surgery, I had an Ace bandage wrapped tightly around my chest, and two drains snaking their way out of the bandage. Every once in a while, a nurse would want to look at the incision, which was always a bit tricky because she would just stretch the bandage a bit more to look under it. The bandage was so tight to my chest, it would hurt a bit to check under it.

My pain levels weren’t too bad. It certainly didn’t hurt much to lay in bed. Getting up was probably the hardest thing I had to do since I couldn’t push my torso upright with either arm. I didn’t realize at first that I had to ask for more pain meds, so I probably let the pain build a bit more than I should have before asking for another dose, but I paid more attention after the first time. I find the pain feels mostly like I pulled a muscle, or a set of muscles. Every once in a while, I’ll get a spike of pain if I move the wrong way and activate muscles across my chest, but it usually isn’t too bad.

The worst thing about being in a hospital is the lack of sleep. A nurse came in every two hours to check my vitals. She skipped the 2am time slot, but my IV drip ran out at 3am, so I got less than three hours of continuous sleep. At least the pain meds kept me sleepy so I had no problem going right back to sleep. Even so, I looked forward to a good night’s sleep in my own house.