The Most Attractive Week of My Life

Time always moves very quickly.  Just a few days ago I was celebrating the new year, now spring is almost here.  On one hand, 2011 seems to be moving at lightning speed, as if Jeff Gordon is at the wheel and we’re all buckled in for the ride.  But so much has happened over these past seven weeks.  It seems like ages ago when I was baking holiday cookies by the dozen, clinging to any distraction I could before the big day.  Then, on January 11th, someone finally knocked me out, and I woke up with brand new breasts and a brand new lease on life.  This marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life, and the pages are already filling fast.

The First Week

It all begins with the first week after my double mastectomy.  To be honest, it’s kind of a blur.  For four days after the surgery, I was on all sorts of strong medication.  Between the Vicodin and the Dilaudid, let’s just say I was in a very relaxed, happy place.  My chest was never in serious pain, but I had a lot of recovering to do.  And the first step to recovering is sleep – lots and lots of sleep.


Even though I was wired at the hospital, talking to everyone about everything for hours and hours, fatigue quickly caught up with me when I returned home after my one night stay at the hospital.  When I wasn’t asleep, I was barely awake.  My body was consumed by healing, working night and day to make me better.  It guzzled sleep like a car guzzles gas to keep its engine revved and running, and the generous flow of narcotics helped a lot.  The whole process ran very smoothly.

There was only one complicating factor – I like to sleep on my belly.  And guess what, that is impossible after a mastectomy.  With my four drains, tender muscles and fresh incisions, I found it very hard to get relaxed.  My family friends invited me to recover at their house, and I could not have asked for a more comfortable recovery bed.  The pillows were all fluffy and the fleece sheets felt like heaven.  Still I woke up countless times throughout the night kicking my legs in frustration.  I could not get comfortable on my back to save my life.

If this didn’t wake me up then the rising discomfort in my chest would rouse me from sleep.  Like I said, I never felt any serious pain, surprisingly enough.  When I thought of surgery and recovery, I always imagined excruciating, sharp, shooting pain.  Instead, my chest just felt very sore, tight and tender.

This tightness and tenderness was not actually from the mastectomies but from the reconstruction.  After my breast surgeon finished scooping out my breast tissue, the plastic surgeon removed my peck muscles from my chest wall and stretched them up over the implants that now serve as my breasts.  That stretching of the peck muscles is where you feel the ouch.  It’s like you went to the gym and overdid it big time with your bench presses.  So when the tightness would wake me up from my narcotic-induced slumber, I’d take more Vicodin and Valium, kick around in my golden fleece sheets and drift back to sleep.

While the medications helped me more than I’ll ever know, they definitely came with some side-effects.  First off, I’ve never been so itchy in my entire life.  I was afraid I was going to itch the skin right off my back.  But it felt so good, I didn’t really care.  The backs of my knees and my other joints also itched uncontrollably.  This lasted for a few days after my surgery and eventually went away.  What a relief!!

The other thing I wasn’t expecting was constipation.  Actually, about a week before my surgery, the nurses warned me this might be a side effect.  What?!  Constipation sounded worse than the actual mastectomy, surely I would have recovery super powers and I’d defy the odds again.

Wrong.  This was actually a very serious problem.  One night my mom finally pulled out the big guns.  She walked into the bedroom holding a glass of thick, purple rat poison and pleaded me to drink it all.  Actually, it wasn’t rat poison, but it sure tasted like it.  In this glass was cold prune juice, which is meant to torment your body and all of your insides into suppression.  That’s right, it’s cruel and unusual punishment from the moment it hits your lips.  As I plugged my nose and gulped for air in between sips of this deplorable cocktail, I gasped that this was the worst part of the entire experience.  In retrospect, I realize that prune juice may not actually be worse than a mastectomy, but it’s a close tie.

Me and my grandparents at the hospital the day after my surgery!
Besides all the prune juice drama, the best moment of the week was when I took my first shower.  Before my surgery, I thought I wouldn’t be able to take a shower until all four of my drains were removed, and my last drain wasn’t taken out until 13 days after my operation.  Now, I can go two days, maybe three, without cleaning up – but 13?!  I cannot tell you my relief at finding out I could shower even with my drains!  Praise, Jesus!

So this divine moment came about two to three days after the surgery.  My mom’s dear friend Karen Miller came to nurse me back to health that first week.  I honestly don’t know what I or my mother would have done that first week without her! She’s an ICU nurse, so I could not have been in better hands, especially when it came for shower time!

A lot of thought and effort went into this production.  My mom brought a patio chair into the bathroom and placed it under the shower head.  Once the water was warm and steam started to rise, Karen carefully crept into the shower with me.  She took all four of my drains and safety-pinned them to her shirt.  I already felt that Karen and I had become one unit during the week – now it actually happened!

The hot water came down strong and pounded on my back.  With the pain medication making my back so itchy, the strong water pressure soothed every itch and relaxed my tense, cramped muscles.  In fact, I was so relaxed, I felt as if I might slide right off the patio chair and form a puddle on the shower floor.  I already love showers, and this one definitely takes the cake as the best shower I’ve ever, ever taken.  Hands down.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t much after the hot, steamy shower when my back started to hurt again.  My poor back really took a beating through the whole ordeal.  I think all the stress from the mastectomies was transferred to my back, and it ached so badly that first week after the surgery.  Every night I was sleeping on it, and I could feel the muscles tighten up as I wiggled in frustration to find a comfortable position.  Then when I was on my feet, my back was on over-drive trying to support my body since my chest was out of commission.

After four days I stopped taking my narcotics, and that’s when my back really pitched a big, bloody fit.  One day I finally couldn’t take it any more and broke down in tears in my aunt’s living room surrounded by all my family.  No matter how much my mother or my boyfriend rubbed my back, my muscles still felt tighter than my tender, over-stretched, shell-shocked pecks.

In the most comfortable bed in the world!

In desperation, I finally called a local spa to see if there was any way they could pencil me in for a nice, long back rub.  Too bad masseuses don’t have tables with holes in them for your breasts just like they have holes for your faces.  Now there’s an idea!  Needless to say, they didn’t have any such table, and I was plain out of luck.  Finally, finally after two weeks my back surrendered the fight and started to relax again.

The one other area of complaint was my big drain by my right breast.  All together I had four drains – two on each breast – two small and two large.  Under each arm pit I had one big drain sewn in by one stitch, then below it I had a small drain stuck in to collect any other wound fluid that might come about after surgery.

Oh, and I also had two little wires weaved into the incisional area on each breast.  These wires were connected to a big medicine ball, which my surgeons aptly referred to as the grenade.  And inside the medicine ball was a little piece of heaven – lots and lots of pain medication.

Basically I felt like a Christmas tree for the first week after surgery, with lots of fancy and expensive ornaments dangling from my body.  But this one stupid drain on my right side was the biggest headache.  Not only did it collect the most wound fluid – it was the last one they could remove after 13 days – but it was stitched in such a way that it felt like it was constantly tugging on my skin.  When that drain finally came out, I was weak with relief for more than one reason, let me tell you.

So beside the sore chest muscles, constipation, prune juice, achy back, and nagging drain, I really have nothing to complain about!  After all, my biggest fear was nausea.  There is absolutely nothing worse than the repulsive, debilitating feeling of nausea.  I demanded to my anesthesiologists that they give me every anti-nausea drug in the medicine cabinet, there was no way I was going to feel sick after overcoming my greatest fears and defying my destiny of breast cancer.  This moment was going to be too cool, I didn’t want it ruined by even more of my insides coming out in addition to my breast tissue.  But the drugs worked, and I responded well to the pain medication, so I was extremely lucky to have never felt sick through the entire process.

After one week, I finally felt like I was returning to the land of the living from my narcotic-induced state.  My surgery was on a Tuesday – by Saturday/Sunday I took my last Vicodin and by the next Tuesday/Wednesday I took my last Valium.  The exact days still evade me – those drugs were pretty darn powerful and toyed with memory – but it wasn’t very long before it was just my Motrin and my antibiotic (to prevent infection) that was left on bedside table to take every day.

After 6-7 days, I was asked out on a date!
I was feeling so good after a week that my mom allowed my boyfriend to take me out on a date!  Yes, it was exactly like high school, I even had a curfew – which I broke (by accident).  My boyfriend took me to dinner and a movie, actually it was a movie then dinner.  I felt so grown up to be out and about with my boyfriend – going to a movie like a normal couple and getting dinner with other normal folks who were going about their normal everyday lives.

Although, who am I kidding, what just happened to me was so abnormal that I felt like a glaring misfit.  Certainly I would stand out like a sore thumb.  People must immediately recognize what I just went through a matter of days ago.  I was wrong, again.  No one stopped and pointed me out from the crowds.  The only time I got some stares was when my boyfriend had to gingerly help me back into my big, heavy winter coat.  Even though I looked young, I was moving like an old lady.  Maybe this table of girls at the restaurant just weren’t used to seeing a guy act so sweet towards his date.  Either way, I was okay with the stares.  If only they knew I just did the coolest thing by saving my own life.  How many people can say that??

3 Responses to “The Most Attractive Week of My Life”

  1. March 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    I am so glad that you have so many loving people around you that were ready and willing to help you on your way to recovery. Yay!

  2. March 4, 2011 at 7:29 am

    I’m really glad to read about your recovery experience, as I’ll be having my surgery next week. Hopefully things will go just as smoothly as yours did.

    And best wishes for your recovery continuing as well as it has been!

  3. March 7, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Hi Claudia,
    Just read your most recent update. Sounds like all in all you are doing well for yourself! I look forward to hearing more about the implant/reconstruction process. You are so blessed to have such a wonderful, caring, and supportive family and friends. Best wishes for speedy recovery. You are in my prayers…
    THANK YOU !!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Recent Comments