Sunday, March 12, 2017

Being on the other side of the bed...

WARNING:  THERE ARE GRAPHIC POST-OP PHOTOS IN THIS POST.  And, this is a really long post.

It is Post-op Day surgery was a week ago tomorrow.  Seems unbelievable really.  It went fast.  

The morning of surgery, we arrived at the hospital at 0530.  My parents and my son were with me wearing their "Fight Like a Girl" buttons and my son had a t-shirt that read:  "I wear pink for my Mom".  
Shortly after arriving, I was taken back to a pre-op room where I changed into a gown and compression stockings....super cool look.  My IV was started and then my family was able to join me in the room while we waited for the physicians to come in.  Our Pastor came by and prayed with us as well.

My Surgical Oncologist, Dr. K came and reviewed the plan with me again and answered any last minute questions.  I signed consent for his part again.  Then, my Plastic Surgeon, Dr. O came in and did the same.  I signed consent and then he marked me up for surgery.  As soon as he left, the anesthesiologist stepped in and I signed yet another consent.  Lots of signing!

After that, it was just a matter of minutes before I said my "see ya laters" to my family and the medications started kicking in. I really don't remember much of anything after they left the room.

I woke up hours later in Recovery...very groggy and my eyes felt heavy. I tried to ask about my lymph node biopsy but my throat was dry and sore and the nurse said she didn't know. I closed my eyes and the next thing I remember was Dr. O standing over me smiling.  He was replacing a T-Sat probe on my left breast and said: "Miss Hudson, Julie, it's Dr. O.  Everything went great.  You are doing great.  The biopsy was clear...we got it all."  That was the phrase I was waiting for....I was CANCER FREE!   

They started talking about taking me to my room, but I really didn't care at that point....I had heard what I needed.  Once the nurses got me settled, my family came in to see was early evening.  My face was so swollen and my eyes so puffy (from all the fluids they gave me in the OR) that it was hard to keep my eyes open.  My family didn't stay long and I fell asleep immediately after saying "goodnight".  

You can see how swollen my face and eyes are!
It was much better by breakfast time.
I remember them telling me that both surgeons said I was a "textbook case" and that my surgery was only 6 hours instead of the 10+ we had planned.  I really wasn't very lucid until about 0300 that next morning.

The nurse had to check my new skin flaps every hour that night with a doppler.  She would come in and
Checking with the doppler for
blood flow to the "skin islands"
put the doppler probe on the edge of the flap and listen for the blood flow.  I also had T-sat probes attached to the new skin that constantly monitored the oxygenation status of the flaps.  I couldn't really see anything from my angle, so I used my phone to take selfies so that I could see.  
Finally got that catheter out and was allowed to go to the
bathroom myself...and wear shorts!
Still had those hose and SCDs though!

I was wearing a bra, an abdominal binder, and a gown. I still had on the knee-high TED hose, a pair of socks, as well as the SCDs on my calves (they inflate and deflate every couple of minutes). There was a pillow under each of my arms and one under my head. My bed was up at an angle because I could not lay flat.  I also had a heavy blanket laying across my chest.  I was SOOOOOO HOT!  As a South Texan, I am a big fan of ceiling fans and air conditioning. I also typically sleep in tank tops and shorts with light covers.  This was miserable for me.  I could see the thermostat in the room next to my bed was set at 76!  They had to keep my new vessel connections and flaps warm, so there was no negotiating on any of this.  Honestly, this was hard for me to get used to....every day I looked forward to my walks in the hall where it was cold to everyone else.  

My fancy post-op bra
By breakfast I was feeling more like myself. I was able to eat a little and finally got to see my abdomen when the dayshift RN came in to do her assessment... she was kind enough to help me take a picture.

Every 2 hours throughout my stay-day and night, the RN would come and do the doppler check. As a nurse in the hospital, I was a pretty decent patient to have....compliant and motivated.  The staff kept telling me I was ahead of the curve and I didn't argue about getting up or doing my walks.  The only thing I really really really wanted out was that annoying foley catheter!  I had nursing students following me that week as well....I actually enjoyed that because they were eager to see and learn everything.  My RNs were teaching them so they would take their time to explain things and I got to learn along the way.  Each day, I tried to take photos of my progress.
My three JP drains....these are a bit annoying.
They have to be stripped and emptied several times a day.

On POD #1, I walked up the hall.  It was more exhausting than I thought it would be, but felt good to be up. POD #2, I felt great!  Got up, ate breakfast, walked.....and then I got nauseated!  That was not my best day. I still wound-up walking 4 times that day, but I never really felt well.   

POD #3 was way better!  I finally got my first shower!  It was one of the hardest things I've done
POD #3 fresh from the shower!
but felt so good!  The sweet CNA was kind and showed me exactly how I would do it at home.  It was hard for me to be the patient. I've never been on the other side of the bed before and totally reliant on someone else to do things for move me up in bed or help me out of my chair. It's a weird feeling, but I had the very best staff taking care of me.
Abdomen and re-located bellybutton

"Lollipop incisions"...the center circles are the skin flaps from my abdomen.
The rest of the breast is my native skin that was spared.  Obviously swollen everywhere.
By POD #4, I could do two laps around the unit.  Dr. O came in and said I could go home.  A few hours later, I was heading out.  The trip home was not as hard as I had imagined.  You definitely want a pillow to go between you and the seatbelt to help cushion for bumps in the road.  It felt good to be free from monitors, IVFs, and those SCDs!  As good as home felt, it did make me feel vulnerable to be on my one checking me every 2 hours.  
Lymph Node Biopsy incision
under my left arm
I stayed up most of the afternoon and took a shower before going to bed.  I slept hard that first night, only getting up twice for bathroom breaks.  POD #5 was even better.  I walked to the mailbox and back with my son and my family came over to visit.
Abdominal drain insertion point

Insertion point of one of my chest drains...
you can see here that my abdomen is swollen.
I really thought 24/7 care seemed silly since I was not really hurting and I was getting around well.  But, it IS necessary.  My mother has been staying overnight and my grandmother and Dad take turns with her during the day.  It is the little things you need help with: I can't bend over and I can't reach above my head.  My pillow is actually a little too heavy to carry.  I can strip my own drains, but I have a hard time getting the abdominal one thru the t-shirt that I wear under my binder.  Last night I got nauseated after taking a pain med and was so thankful I could call me mother from the other room to bring me Sprite and crackers in the middle of the night.

Every day is better than the last and I have hardly taken pain medication.  The sitting and laying around is the hardest part for me, not the pain.  I'm not going to lie to you and say this is easy, but it is not as bad as I had read or heard.  It is frustrating to not be able to do things I want to do and to get winded just walking down the hall, but I am so grateful and blessed to be here CANCER FREE!  

I am going to try to record more of this journey in video form when I can.  To get started, I had my mother help me film a really quick YouTube video of how I strip my drains for anyone who is interested:


12/22/16  Routine Screening Mammogram
01/18/17  Repeat Imaging and US of left breast; LUMP found.
01/20/17  Core Needle Biopsy
01/24/17  Biopsy results positive...Stage 0 DCIS, left breast
01/25/17  Meeting with Breast Center Navigator and Genetic Testing
01/30/17  Consultation with Surgical Oncologist, Dr. K
02/08/17  Consultation with Plastic Surgeon
02/21/17  Pre-op Visit with Dr. O's nurse
02/27/17 Pre-op Labs and Testing
03/05/17 Lymph Node Injection
03/06/17 SURGERY DAY!
03/10/17 Home!


  1. Oh wow... thx for the specific details, I can know what I'll expect but ... feeling a bit nervous knowing I'll soon be going through this as well...

    1. You're welcome! It's really not bad...if you read thru my posts you'll see that recovery is do-able and I'm sure you'll do great!