Category: recovery

sticky goo

Coming Unglued

I’m coming up to 3 weeks since having my breasts removed. Since I left the hospital I have subconsciously been measuring my progress by the amount of gluey bits that I’ve been able to remove from my body. I know this because now that it’s almost all gone, I’m still not healed. And I’m appalled. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

glue in the armpit
Just kidding – these are bruises from where they taped me to the table. (OMG, really? Yes.) But note the tape going WAY up into my armpit!! Seriously excessive.

I came home a few hours after surgery. I was hopped up on oxycodon and therefore didn’t care that the tape attaching the bandages to my body came high up my chest, straight around under my armpits and across my back. The next day, when I realized that the tape was preventing me from moving freely, I pulled back a few centimetres along the perimeter and tucked it in on itself, like a rebel. Thus began my journey into tape removal, and in my mind, recovery. 

big ass bandages
This first bandage was more like a halter top. Note my work on the edges to make a nicer finish.

I guess that my tape removal = healing theory came from the premise that this healing thing was going to continue on a predictable trajectory. Tubes out, big pad of bandages off, staples out, smaller bandages off, steri-strips on, steri-strips falling off, … no tape. Done! HA! How easy was that?? 

steri-strips
Look at how the glue turns black – even on the edges of the steri-strips! Yeech.

Now, as I have gone off all drugs except for the odd extra strength ibuprophen, I’m ALMOST glue free, and yet … what’s that I hear? Oh. It’s nerve endings yelling at me! Wearing a shirt hurts. Wearing anything hurts. That is, unless it’s really tight. I feel like a deep pressure junkie. I stand around pressing my hands flat against my chest to make the sensation go away. It’s not quite pain, it’s more like a humming, or the feeling when you’ve had frostbite and then you come into the heat. Burning. Pins and needles. It’s very distracting. Driving with an ice pack under the seat belt is distracting (but feels so great!). 

It’s actually fascinating to probe around the scar tissue and feel the edema in some areas (soft and pillowy) and scar tissue (?) in others (hard and unrelenting). I don’t know exactly where the surgeon dug and scraped to get at the sentinel lymph node, but I can guess. 

scar
This is a nicer section of the scar. (There are some very nasty spots!) Note the bits of glue. Sigh.

So ya, I’m almost 3 weeks from surgery and still unable to do basic stuff without wincing, such as:

  • wipe the table
  • pull open the cutlery drawer 
  • drive standard 
  • braid my hair
  • take off a shirt (how come it’s easy to put it on?? makes no sense)
  • sleep on my side 
  • push myself up from a seated position

At my last appointment my surgeon drew me a diagram to explain it. There are nerves that run up through the breast tissue from the chest wall to the skin on top of the breast. He’s cut all of that tissue out, and in the process cut the nerves. So now I like to think that they are talking to each other. “Hey!! Where are you??” Not sure how long it takes for the nerve endings to chill out and the swelling to subside so that the skin can meld with the chest. 

chest diagram.
This is my version of the doc’s drawing. Lou can weigh in on how well I did.

In the meantime, tomorrow I will work on removing the last few bits of glue. 

 

staples out

Staples Out, Chill Out

A couple of days ago nurse Bonnie took out my staples. I had to lay on the bed while she took them out. No standing allowed since some people pass out. (Oh great. Isn’t that foreshadowing??) She seemed to be struggling a bit with the disposable staple removal device … I think mainly because she had baggy rubber gloves on. I was close to asking her to take them off, but she looked so determined. She took out one or two staples that didn’t hurt at all and then the digging began. Now that was not so pleasant. “Oh this one is hard to get a hold of. We’ll come back to that later.” Oh great. 

remover
This little removal tool is pretty clever! Shove it under, squeeze. It crimps the staple in the middle, causing the tucked under part to shoot up and out.

When it was all said and done, 53 staples were out and 12 steri-strips were put on. Why? Well, “just in case the incision doesn’t hold”. Oh, ok. Great.

steri-strips
The staple holes will heal along with the incision. The breast-shaped bruise is pretty impressive don’t you think?

Any special instructions about the steri-strips? (I’ve learned to ask this.) Oh yes, says Bonnie… 

  • no lifting anything over 5 lbs
  • no pushing
  • no pulling
  • no reaching over your head
  • anytime you are doing exercises, stop when it hurts – don’t push past that (read: no shampooing the top of your head)
  • no baths

Piece of cake. I’ll just go ahead and do NOTHING. 

icing the chest
This is me going slowly bonkers. Keeps the swelling (and tenderness) down though…

She didn’t say no knitting, so I knit up this cowl (thanks to Dana for the wool). 

goofy cowl shot
Again with the crazy eyes…

It’s a basic pattern except that I added in a little triangular part on the bottom edge so that the wind doesn’t whistle into my coat above the top button. I HATE that about cowls! They are just a bit too short for coats that you don’t button right up to your chin.

cowl
This is the chilly spot… 

Next up – go to see the surgeon. I plan to ask him a whole lot about the surgery itself, such as:

  • Where exactly were the lymph nodes taken from … that really swollen and painful spot or is that something else?
  • How many were taken?
  • And do you realize that the left side of my chest looks a LOT different from the right? 
  • Did the resident do one side and you did the other? 
  • And what did you do with my gorgeous nipples? I should have donated them. Or bronzed them.

Of course I will also get the first set of results from the surgery – information about the lymph nodes. Big question – was there any cancer in them? If there was, then they will likely want to take out more nodes … but not necessarily. Or they may want to radiate the lymph node area … but not necessarily. If there is no cancer (obviously a good thing), they won’t take more nodes, but it doesn’t mean I’m done with treatment. That will depend on what the breast tissue says … and that’s another 2 – 3 weeks. Could be radiation, could be chemo.

One step at a time. 

In the meantime, knit. And make a plan for physio and massage therapy. (This surgery does quite the number on your shoulders and back.) And watch a little Netflix. Recommended last night are: Ozark, Shameless and Lion. Oh and Melissa implores me to watch Coronation Street, but then I’d drive people bonkers with my British accent.

staples

Stapled

The other day Ripley starting barking, so I knew I had company. I looked out to see a van coming up the lane. A man hopped out and headed toward the front door with a large paper bag. I’m thinking “Hey someone ordered Chinese Food for me!” Nope. It was a bag of medical supplies. The packing slip said “Staple removal kit.” 

paper bag
Looks like Chinese Food…

Of course I’ve been anticipating the procedure. It’s next, after all.

First though, let me tell you just a wee bit about how I survived nurse Amanda removing my drains. It was quite easy. She cut the suture, then I braced myself by putting my hand on her shoulder and followed her instructions. “Take a deep breath in, now breathe out …..” Then I swore a lot.

Here’s one of the drains that came out:

drain
The white flat part with holes is the section of drain that was inside my chest. No wonder I’m super swollen since she pulled them out!

At any rate, I got through that. No problem.

drain hole & bruising
This shows the drain hole that is healing, but check out the pattern of bruising! Turns out that tape affects bruising a LOT! The angled bruise marks above the hole are from tape, the rectangle around the hole is also the same shape as the bandage. I think that’s all rather weird.

So now, the staples. I have 26 staples across the left, 27 staples across the right. The surgeon explained that depending on the stretch / tension in the skin he would either be doing invisible stitches or staples. I got the staples. 

26 staples
Here’s a glimpse of my left chest (can’t really say it’s a breast anymore, but with the swelling it kind of looks like one…)

What exactly does that mean about my skin? It’s tighter? I’m more apt to be an idiot and do too much each day? I would NEVER do that! Anyway, I wonder about his choice. Because the staples are very very cruel. They look cruel and feel cruel. When the pain meds wear off they tingle and sometimes burn. I can’t sleep on my side or hug anyone. I know that they are doing their job and allowing the incisions to bond together. They’re just a bit much. 

At any rate, Amanda told me the date that the next nurse would be coming to take them out (day after next…) and I asked “soooo, how exactly do you take those out”? 

I of course was imagining the various staple removers that I have used – one that looks fairly sinister, with 4 fangs that come together when the hinge is squeezed, and other that seems to rely on a measured thrust under the staple. Neither of these seemed like good options for my chest. I waited with some dread as she rooted through her kit to find hers. Finally she pulled out a slim device and showed me. 

This one is from the paper bag (yes, I had to open it, what can I say?):

She explained it in simple terms which I will do my best to pass on here:  the device bites the staple in the middle, crimping the staple and forcing the curved ends (that are nicely tucked under my skin) to pull up and out. Just like that.   

I’d rather have Chinese Food.