DIEP Recovery – 1 Year Later

Hi friends, I meant to post this relatively soon after my surgery (I started writing it at 11 weeks out), but life has been good and busy. So here I am, over a year post-op from my Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy (skin sparing, non nipple sparing) with immediate DIEP Flap reconstruction, trying to remember everything that happened. Ha!

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PRMA is the best!

I had my surgery at PRMA in San Antonio and my experience there was wonderful; if you’re considering this type of surgery I highly recommend them.

I have to say that my recovery was not nearly as bad as I had anticipated. Everyone’s experience is different and we all heal at different rates, but I wanted to post about my experience to help other ladies facing this surgery have a little bit better understanding of what they might expect. This will be a ‘healing journal’ of sorts so it might be utterly boring to the average reader. Or you might also be a total weirdo who finds this stuff fascinating…but who am I to judge?

Pre-surgery anxiety is no fun so I wanted to share something that helped me combat it. I reminded myself over and over that all I had to do was ‘just get to the anesthesia’. Reminding myself that I wouldn’t be awake for the surgery or have any part in controlling the outcome was calming. The only requirement on me for surgery day was to just show up = oddly comforting.

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Waiting for the good stuff to kick in.

My husband can’t remember how long my surgery was, but it usually takes 6-9 hours. His Aunt Dee Ann and Uncle Chuck came all the way to Texas from Oklahoma to spend time with us and sit with Josh during the surgery. It was such a comfort to me that Josh wouldn’t be sitting in the waiting room by himself while I was in surgery.

My first memory from my hospital room was waking up as a nurse was opening up my surgical bra to Doppler my breasts. I was like, ‘Hey girl hey; we just met!’ Actually, I was pretty groggy and nurse Michelle was really tender and apologetic about the awkward awakening. There were light-up oxygen monitors attached to my breasts that the nurses checked regularly to make sure my new girls were getting enough oxygen (this was the cause of much joking and giggling between Josh and me.) And every hour on that first day/night of recovery Michelle would use the Doppler machine to listen to each breast to make sure that blood was flowing. It was actually pretty cool. After the first night the Doppler machine was brought out less frequently, but was still a regular part of the day. I had a lot of different nurses the three days I was in the hospital, but they were all incredibly caring and gentle with me. I’ve also never experienced so many people telling me how good my breasts look. 😛

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So many jokes.

That first day when Michelle came in to check on me I took a peek and was really happy with what I could see, but I got nauseated when I would try to peek at my stitches, so I just avoided looking for a while. Apparently, nausea is a normal occurance post-surgery. I had an anti nausea patch behind my ear that helped, but it also made my eyesight kind of wonky which is a normal side effect. It felt like my eyes were trying to focus on two separate things at once. Besides the patch, my meds consisted of 2 extra strength Tylenol, Gabapentin and Celebrex for nerve pain, baby aspirin to reduce the risk of blood clots and Colace. Luckily I didn’t need any narcotics for the pain and was pleasantly surprised by how good I felt. My chest was super sore and my stomach was incredibly tight, but I would classify it as intense discomfort as opposed to pain.

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So pretty.

I was looking like a beauty queen in my green hospital gown and bright yellow socks, surgical bra, surgical binder and compression stockings on my legs to reduce the risk of blood clots. Hot stuff guys, hot stuff. My plastic surgeon’s office, PRMA, provided me with my surgical bra; if yours does not I recommend getting one with holes under the arms for your surgical drains to poke through. I had one drain in each breast and one in my left side at the edge of my stomach scar –(some people have two stomach drains). The surgical drains are used to remove fluid from the surgical sight; the fluid is collected in a bulb attached to the drain. My nurses stripped the drains (basically pushing the fluid out of the tube into the bulb) every day and would record the amount of fluid I was outputting (once my fluid levels were low enough my drains were removed). Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the drains are the literal worst. They are in the way and can cause pain where they are stitched into your skin. They are necessary, but I did a little happy dance when I had them removed. My breast drains were removed at about 8 days post-op and my stomach drain was removed at home in Missouri about a week after we returned home. I was worried the drain removal would hurt, but it was absolutely painless.

The first day after surgery I had to go for a walk up and down the hospital floor. The first time out of bed was interesting. The nurse had to unplug me from all of my monitors. I needed help getting out of bed because my stomach was like, “Nope, nope, nope.” But we made it happen and I got to stand up…sort of. Ok, I was hunched over like Quasimodo because my stomach was so tight, but I managed. I shuffled along the hallway at granny speed and tried to make my nurse laugh by shouting, “Coming through!!” I only made it halfway down the hall before needing to come back. I was tired, winded, and my back was killing me, but I was pretty proud of myself for getting moving so quickly, even if I didn’t leave skid marks on the hospital floor. The next 2 days I walked 3 times each day and each time got easier and easier. My stomach started loosening a tad so I was able to stand a bit straighter and my granny shuffle got a bit speedier. I was still exhausted and winded after each walk, but I could see the progress even if it was miniscule.

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Bra, binder, drains, hunchback and super tired face.

On day 3 in the hospital I was able to take a shower. My nurse showed Josh and I how to properly shower so that my stitches weren’t affected by the water stream. I won’t go into all the details, but you really haven’t lived if you haven’t showered wearing a surgical bra. I also fell madly in love with Josh all over again. I was totally dependent on him to care for me and he was incredible. Taking a shower proved to be completely exhausting. Getting undressed, taking the shower, drying off, getting dressed again…oh my gosh, I was completely drained afterward, but Josh took everything in stride.

After day 3 I was released from the hospital. We had traveled to San Antonio for the surgery and I wouldn’t be released to go home for another 5 or so days so we packed up and headed to our hotel in Austin that Josh’s Gma had so generously acquired for us.

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On the roof of our Austin hotel.

 

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Enjoying the view while I recovered.

That week I still walked partially bent over and my back was pretty sore, but I was walking at a more regular pace. We went for regular walks around our hotel, but I would get winded easily. I was able to brush my own hair, but couldn’t raise my arms very high. I was taking my meds regularly and was not in any pain, but I would wear out very easily. Showers were still exhausting so I took my time and rested afterward. I’m not going to beat around the bush on this, my stitches looked super knarly and I had a very hard time looking at them at first. On day 3 in Austin, after getting out of the shower and looking at my stitches for the first time I had a pretty intense moment of despair. I felt like I had just allowed myself to be mutilated and had some pretty dark thoughts; I felt like I looked like one of the victims from the TV show ‘Criminal Minds’. My doctor had warned me that experiencing despair and depression after this type of surgery is common, so I laid down and took a nap and afterward I was so much better. Who doesn’t love a good nap?! Afterwards I didn’t experience another bout of despair and none of the dark thoughts returned. My drains were super annoying, but when my two breast drains were removed it felt incredible!

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Wearing mens undershirts underneath the bra and binder made things a lot more comfy. Cut off the sleeves and cut up the middle front so it’s ‘easy on’.

I had my post-op appointment 9 days post-op and we were given the go ahead to go home. Riding in the car back to Missouri was not bad at all. We got out and walked every few hours, but I wasn’t in any pain other than slight nerve pain in my breasts where my nerves were ‘waking up’.

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Once I was home I had a lot of help while I recovered. My Aunts Renee and Enid each came for a week and my sister and her girls spent a week with us as well. It was frustrating to just sit around and heal while everyone else cooked meals, gave the boys baths and played outside, but it was also such a wonderful time of peace and relaxing. It seemed like each day my range of motion improved and soon I was able to lift my arms over my head and take my first shower all by myself!! Woooo!!

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Fun with cousins.

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Aunt Renee teaching the boys how to drive.

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My sister taking care of my dudes.

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Aunt Enid taking care of me.

I am now over a year post-op and life is back to normal. I look great and feel great. I still have some numbness and tenderness across my scar on my stomach, but no pain and I have regained probably around 95% feeling in my breasts (miscrosurgery is incredible!)

I hope you’ve learned a little about what a hospital recovery from PBM with DIEP Flap is like. Again, everyone’s experience will be different. It was definitely trying and exhausting, but I’m so glad I went through with it. I’m very happy with my results and my recovery has been pretty incredible. I hope this can be an encouragement to those of you considering the DIEP Flap procedure, offer some answers, and maybe put your mind at ease.

I also wanted to let you know what I wore while I was recovering. I had major anxiety about clothing because it was so hard to find summer shirts that buttoned up the front. I ended up wearing athletic shorts and Y back tank tops from Wal-mart. The armholes in the Y back tanks were large enough that I could get them on without needing to stretch out my arms and they were so nice and cool in the Texas heat.

 

This is the wedge pillow I used to sleep on. It was perfect; no recliner needed. I used this and a few regular pillows under my arms to keep them elevated as I slept.

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And you will want some sort of pillows to put under your arms to keep your arms from putting pressure on you breasts.

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The heart pillows were my favorite.

I’m glad you’ve stuck with me this far. If you have any questions I’m more than happy to answer.

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