44 months after the original surgery I was back under the knife on 26th February. 7 hours and a huge amount of analgesia, huge surgical team, nursing team, and missed messages from concerned friends later I awoke to a sh*t load of pain, an argument about where I needed to be for the night and a new boob. Most importantly a new boob.
The regained boob is surely the most precious thing in this whole experience, but it took a couple of days to balance out so to speak. Firstly pain management wasn’t great, leaving the syringe driver under my bad side so I couldn’t access it wasn’t their best move, my consultant visiting me in passing post surgery spotted this and swiftly resolved it, not before they’d forced an oral dose in my confused mouth and lied saying I’d refused medication. Ummmm I’d woken up 15 minutes before, violently shaking to a hullaballoo in recovery. Diminished capacity means for best interests decisions, so should I by some bizarre reason had said no to medication, they could have still administered it. Hellloooo morphine shots.
I was wheeled to a progressive care unit, no space in High Dependency where I was booked to be, with two staff members arguing over my head about the level of care I needed and how they wouldn’t be able to meet it and how they were wrong in moving me. Even if you were woozy, you quickly had your wits about you to safeguard yourself. I could tell the receiving unit were strained and although unprofessional, the complainant did have my best interests at heart, it was going to be a long night.
I arrived onto the ward about 9/10 and the nurse caring for me, split her time between me and another 2 patients. I spent the next 24 hours on oxygen, catheterised, 2 surgical drains, and IV fluids, monitors, inflating mattress, circulation leg warmers, and looking like an extra from a medical drama. The woman opposite me couldn’t speak so knocked her table for attention from staff, for her and me. I had her back, she had mine. That’s the patient code. Imagine not having a voice in this situation ! I was awake all night, in pain and visited by on call doctors twice as oxygen kept dropping, I felt scared and disconnected. My alarms constantly alerted the nurses, they muted them. A cock up with theatre meant they locked my personal possessions away, so no phone charger, headphones, or face wipes even. My phone died and I was super grateful for one nursing staff charging my phone for me …..hello outside world.
Stable and pain managed, although shell shocked, by Saturday midday I’d been moved to another step down ward even though I’d stated my case to the consultant on duty that I was still immobile and needed higher ratio of care to where I was being moved to. He looked at me like yeah right. However a nurse and junior doctor praised me for asserting myself. You have to !! I was coming down a bit, although actually I look high as a kite in all the pictures. I was far less mobile than I imagined I would be and this was largely due to my good arm being disabled by 3 lines, and 2 cannulas. I couldn’t use it press down or move. I couldn’t pull myself up or use core muscles as both front and back hurt and were stiff. I felt like I’d been knocked out by Holly Holm, actually update that choked out by Miesha Tate. I was super grateful for my visitors !!
By Sunday – 2 days post op, still on oxygen and catheterised I was forced to get up and walk to a new bed and given 24 hours notice of eviction by senior nursing staff. I quit morphine first thing, it was definitely making me itch, and I wanted to be clear minded and not woozy. Moved to a single side room I did sleep better at least. The side room isolated me from talking to other patients and nursing staff, however with 30 patients, 3 nurses and 2 health care assistants on at the maximum, the ratio was pretty awful and it felt like you didn’t see anyone until your observations were undertaken, there were hiccups with medication and no one seemed to understand the type of surgery I had so didn’t check my wounds or drains. Only the surgeons- who were like shooting stars passing through seemed to check me thoroughly.
Monday I watched the sunrise and thanked the extremely patient and hard working night nurse for her attention and planned my day. Today you’ll walk and eat more. I hadn’t counted on being discharged, had no one around to get me and no house keys. Thank God for friends! So I was sent home with drains, a back traumatised from being bed ridden and unchanged dressings, had six 1-2 inch blisters, a surgical wound on both front and back, bag of antibiotics and painkillers. Getting home, the doorbell rang and I opened the front door unthinkingly, not having to think have I got my prosthesis on ? No thinking what can I use as a substitute, or how can I disguise the gap. That’s a big deal for me after almost 4 years !!
Tuesday I just spent the day at home recovering, you aren’t sent out with a nurse to visit you at home, so emptying your drains for the first time is a little nerve racking. I’m lucky my daughter came home to help and care for me . I was able to eat, and watch copious amounts of films and television. Whoop whoop. Was it Tuesday or Wednesday I started to appreciate looking down and seeing a cleavage. Being able to drop popcorn down my top and it have somewhere to collect….it’s the small things that matter.
It’s now day 9 post surgery and hasn’t been as plain sailing as I’d hoped, there have been a couple of times when I have thought why did I do this ? Largely due to frustration or pain, definitely pain. Initially I was advised I’d stay in hospital for 5 days, this was strimmed down to 3 days and I was unnerved at a premature discharge, it places a huge amount of responsibility on you, to know when to ask for help and return to the hospital with any problems . You aren’t given information sheets or things to look out for. The after care post surgery was pretty strained, not from my surgeons or breast nurses who have come into their own, without them I wouldn’t have made this. More the general strain of a variety of NHS resources, and professionals. The lack of empathy and understanding from many. It sincerely worries me that less able or vulnerable people, would struggle, how are they appropriately supported ? Especially those with no families.
I’ve had a hiccup along the way, post operative complications aren’t unusual but you hope to avoid them. I initially came home with two surgical drains, one front and one back. You get used to carrying them every where with you in a bag to disguise your body fluids. I had the first drain removed on Wednesday and actually that’s when the swelling started to form afterwards. It started with redness around my skin flap, followed by some weeping. I thought perhaps it was too tight a bra, doing too much and not resting enough.
The redness and tightness continued and Friday was dressed with a special negative pressure dressing to hopefully reduce the swelling.I felt nervous, that perhaps I could lose this new precious boob. Ridiculous but true.The surgeons reassured me and gave me a contingency plan, as we were approaching another weekend and let’s face it, weekends in hospital are not the place to be.
Saturday I snuck out for lunch with friends but felt not right, swelling was developing under my arm and side breast, feeling hot, pressured and uncomfortable like it might burst. I contacted the surgical ward who said nope, go via A&E so at 10pm I was fast tracked through the 25 people in the waiting area of A&E so I could access the surgical team responsible for my treatment. Thankfully one of my surgeons was there and patched me and sent me home until Monday. Just the reassurance helped, although several of my friends were unhappy as felt I was fobbed off.
So here I am – it’s 10 days post surgery tomorrow and I’m returning for another check up and action plan to decide on infection control, fingers all crossed for swift healing and no further complications
I don’t regret making this decision, it has been tricky in places, but I already feel more me, more confident in my posture and like cancer happened a long time ago ……