My Recovery From Bilateral Mastectomy
The doctors’ primary concerns when you wake up in recovery are your levels of pain and nausea. I wasn’t nauseous and only had a mild soreness in my chest. I had a makeshift padded bra on and four drains coming out of my chest area—two on each side. I also had a Marcaine pump in a fanny pack that was strapped around my waist to deliver pain medication directly to my chest. I stayed in recovery for about an hour and then was moved to another room.
The First 72 Hours of Recovery
I was surprised at the level of comfort I was in when I woke up. I really didn’t feel pain—it was more of a tightness and soreness. In addition to the Marcaine, I was given a morphine drip that I could control. It released the drug about every 20 minutes.
The first day, I only walked to the bathroom but was comfortable in doing so and able to comfortably brush my teeth. Later that day, I was visited by one of my doctors. He opened my bra to look at my breasts. I wasn’t bruised and was surprised at how normal they looked. I only saw my breasts from above, so I could not see my incision sites. I slept on my back with the bed inclined and was able to sleep through most of the night.
On day 2, I was able to get up and walk around the hallway slowly with assistance for about 5 minutes. I comfortably washed myself. You are not allowed to take a full shower while your drains are in. The nurses came in a few times a day to remove the fluid from my drains. I still felt soreness and tightness and started to feel heaviness on my chest. Getting up and out of bed was not as difficult as I had imagined. I was able to push myself up with my arms and hands. My doctor’s physician assistant checked in on me and looked at my breasts and checked my drains.
On day 3, the doctor returned to remove the Marcaine pump. I was also taken off the morphine and put on oral Percocet. Being off both the Marcaine and morphine, I became more aware of my breasts and started to feel some pain. It was more difficult to get myself up and out of bed. I did get up and walk the hallways again but felt pain in my chest as I walked. The tightness, soreness, and heaviness were more noticeable.
Out of all of the items on my “what to bring to the hospital” list, the items that I used were my slippers, robe, lozenges, iPod, toothbrush and toothpaste. The bra has Velcro on it to hold the drains, so the safety pins were not needed. I wore a hospital gown during my entire stay and never wore any pajama pants. I used the hospital pillows for behind my head and arms, so the travel pillows were not used. I must admit that I did not wear a seat belt on the ride home from the hospital and I have heard that patients use a pillow between themselves and the seatbelt to protect their chest. I was also able to drink out of a regular cup and the nurses gave me some straws to make drinking a little easier.
It is always nice to go home and be back in your own surroundings, but now, you are no longer in the hospital’s care. I was given oral pain medication and an antibiotic to take twice a day. I am very lucky to have my mother and friend staying with me to assist me. The nurses instructed us on how to remove the fluid from the drains. This is to be done four times a day and you must record the amount of fluid that is collected. It is possible to do this on your own but can be awkward and uncomfortable. When I laid down, I had pillows stacked behind my head to raise my body up and pillows under my arms for comfort and support. My pajama sets came in very handy—the baggy button down tops were great. The large fit worked well over my drains and the button down made it easy to take on and off. For the next few days, I didn’t do much but watch movies and television, talk to family and friends and walked in front of the house a bit.
On day 5, I started to feel the pain subsiding and went out to a local hair salon to have my hair washed. This was suggested to me by a former patient and felt great since it had been five days since I washed my hair. I was up and about more and felt more comfortable moving around. I didn’t feel as much pain when I walked around, and the heaviness in my chest wasn’t as noticeable.
Post-Operation Check-Up With the Doctor
On day 6, I had an appointment with my plastic surgeon. I was switched from the makeshift bra into a post-surgical bra. Unfortunately, my drains were not yet removed, as the doctors recommended to wait at least a week before removing them. The doctor told me to start doing range of motion exercises by lifting my arms slowly up in the air. I was told to avoid lifting anything over 5 pounds and to stay away from activities like sweeping and vacuuming—anything that uses the chest muscles. They also suggested that I start trying to wean myself off the pain medication, taking Tylenol during the day and the pain medication at night.
1 Week Post-Operation
One week after my surgery—I went out, did a few errands today, and walked around a little. I am not driving yet. My mood is good, and I am feeling positive about the surgery. I have thought some about losing my own breast tissue, but I don’t think I will fully process it until I stand in front of the mirror and see my new breasts for the first time.