As most of you already know, on December 10 I had my DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforator) flap reconstructive surgery. So, I thought I’d write a little bit about the surgery and recovery so far for those who may be interested. This procedure involves taking fat, skin and blood vessels from the lower belly and transferring it to the chest to form breasts using microsurgery, which just means it requires a microscope to sew these blood vessels into place.
The day of the procedure, I arrived at the hospital at 5am for a 7am surgery time. They told us to expect a 6 hour procedure followed by another 6-ish hours in recovery. My poor mother spent this entire time at the hospital despite me telling her she could leave if she wanted to. They finished my surgery around 12:30pm and I woke up in a private recovery room with a heater on to keep my body warm. This was to help the blood vessels fuse together.
In recovery I woke up to quite a site. Four drains—two at each (new and very large) breast and two at each hip. There was also mesh and surgical glue holding the flaps of skin on my breasts in place, around my bellybutton from where they pulled the skin down and had to cut out a circle to create a place for it, and from hip to hip where they cut out the fat and skin flaps along my panty line. BUT MY STOMACH WAS FLAT!! I cannot tell you how happy this made me. The results were so much better than what I’d imagined they’d be. And my skin scars rather nicely, so I didn’t even care that I looked like a crime victim.
But my happiness with my new body was short-lived. I spent most of this time in recovery battling several bouts of nausea. Since they’d just operated on my abdomen, the last thing I wanted to do was throw up. I wasn’t in a ton of pain (as long as I stayed completely still) but the nausea was real. I think the nurse who was taking care of me had to give at least 4 IV injections of their magical anti-nausea medication over the course of 7 hours. But it worked and I never had to find out what would’ve happened to my body had I thrown up.
A couple of times during my recovery room stay, the nurse would come in with a little machine she called a Doppler. It monitored the blood vessels underneath my skin by acting as a sort of microphone. She would put a wand on a specific spot on my breast (the surgeon left a single stitch in the spot they were supposed to put it) and we could hear the blood flow loud and clear coming through a speaker on the machine. It was pretty cool. They would do this a few times a day throughout my stay.
My mom was able to visit me every couple of hours as well, of which I only have vague memories. The second time she came in I remembered to ask for my phone because in those few precious moments I had between sleep and nausea, I was bored. There was a TV in the room, but that would’ve gotten on my nerves eventually so I didn’t care to turn it on. Although when I finally did get the phone, looking at the screen made me nauseous, so that turned out to be a bust. So, I slept. I peeked at my new stomach and boobs. I got nauseous. And I slept some more.
Finally, around 6pm, my nurse told me they were moving me to a room. And, as you know, nothing moves fast in a hospital so it wasn’t until around 7:30 that they were finally wheeling me into what would be my home for at least two nights.
I was given some chicken broth and told not to stand up or basically move until the next morning. This entire time I had been lying on my back and it was beginning to get annoying, but I did what they said.
The next morning the nurses said I’d be able to get up and walk once I saw my doctor and he gave the all-clear for it. I saw him at 6:45am and he cleared me to walk, but I still had to wait a few hours for a reason I can’t remember now. But I kept asking if it was time yet, and they were all impressed with my eagerness to get out of bed. I don’t know who they’ve dealt with in the past but laying on your back for 24 hours is not. fun. It hurt like hell to finally get up out of that bed but that small taste of progress was worth all the pain in the world.
By day 3 I’d figured out that the hydrocodone they were giving me for pain was making me nauseous, so my doctor sent me home with a prescription for 800MG Ibuprofen tablets as well as hydrocodone just in case, but I refused to take it. I’ve been sticking with the ibuprofen ever since.
And now I’ve been home for a couple of weeks and things are progressing still. I have graduated from the Hunchback position to walking completely upright, and my back couldn’t be happier about it. My body is definitely starting to complain about how much shit I’ve put it through in it’s relatively short time here on this earth, but I’ve learned to tune it out for the most part.
A week and a day after the surgery, my doctor pulled 3 of my 4 drains out. The two breast drains—that hardly drained a thing after I went home from the hospital—and one of the abdomen drains. He even let me choose which lower drain to take out! I chose the one that was giving me the most problems. The part of the tube that was under the skin was stuck on a nerve that was more painful in its sharpness than any of the pain I had in the early days after the procedure. It was a nice relief after it was gone. This went much better than the last time I had drains in, but that story has already been told and I’m not going there again. I will say I didn’t cry on the way home from this appointment. And the fact that my bathroom trips immediately became 75% less annoying didn’t hurt either.
My stomach still feels super tight when I’m standing up straight. My doctor said the skin would eventually stretch back out again and I’m not sure how I feel about that just yet. Seems a little bitter sweet to not have a super tight tummy anymore, but it will certainly be more comfortable. I can feel it getting better by the day though. A few days ago it hurt to laugh or cough, or clear my throat even, but today, with the exception of once, I laughed all day long without any pain. My family is hilarious, you guys.
Anyway, I am HOME for the holidays and while my schedule seems to have taken a life of it’s own, I’m trying my best to soak it all in. If I learned one thing through all of this, it is that I am not immortal. And neither are the people I love. So I’m doing my best to cherish the time we do get to spend together and make the most of these short but sweet visits. And I’m so grateful to be healthy enough to have the energy for it. (Mostly.)
Merry Christmas, y’all.