Scars and healing at (almost) 6 months

Life has done that thing that it does when we’re not looking.. it has moved on and passed by before we even noticed!

I’m almost at 6 months since my surgery and am doing really well. I’m still struggling with my image of myself as in my head.. I see myself looking as I did previously and often do a double take in a mirror as it isn’t what I’m expecting to see in my head.

Healing is going really well, with my boobs healing at a much faster rate than the tummy. My boobs now feel natural and normal – the tissue has settled to the position I think things will stay at and there is a nice softness again (after the reduction the boob tissue gets very hard and swollen!).

I’m still wearing the compression garment on my tummy. ARGH! I’m so very ready to see the end of this thing.. I think I need to do something momentous when I can finally stop wearing it! My tummy is doing well, but is slower in healing and settling. I still have swelling there, and I easily swell all over the tummy area given certain circumstances – salty food, menstruation and really hot weather. So when considering all of those things, I’m fluctuating between different stages of swelling most of the time really.

The lower abdominal muscles are still incredibly tight and I need to be careful not to stretch that area too much. That lower abdominal area is also where I have most of the swelling so I’m taking a stab in the dark here but would hazard a guess that there is a connection between the two (who would have known?! :P)

Onto the progress pics.. my scars are going really well with the boobs lightening much faster than the tummy, but they are all doing well.

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Exercise – how I love (and loath) you!

The all important sports bra arrived last Friday and given I have done no exercise I felt the need to get right back on the horse as soon as possible.

I strapped the girls in and exercised Friday night.

And..

It was just.. brilliant!

Generally this is not a word I would use to describe exercise, but it was an entirely new experience for me! Exercise has always equated to pain and being incredibly uncomfortable. This time however I was down over 3kgs in excess skin that had been removed and I cannot express the difference it made to exercising!

To think back on it I don’t think it’s the weight loss that was the contributing factor to the ease of exercise, but more the loss of the skin and very large boobs. Pre-surgery I could feel the skin moving almost like a wave in a water bed. My body then had to compensate for the movements of the skin/tissue as well as do the exercise that I was doing. In effect, working doubly hard as I would unconsciously adjust the level I worked out, or how I worked out to limit any bounce that cause pain etc.

My expectations working out for that first time after 3 months off was that I would be highly winded, unable to keep to my same intensity and that I would have lost a great deal of muscle strength. I was prepared to build back up to previous levels over the next few weeks..I was greatly surprised to find this wasn’t true at all!

Exercising without the big boobs, and the excess skin on the tummy was almost a freeing feeling. I could go faster as I didn’t have the wave effect in my boobs and tummy.. my breathing was easier.. the level of intensity was at the same level as pre surgery and I felt none of the pain that I felt before.

I’m so very excited about what this means for me and my relationship with exercise! And it felt SO good to be able to exercise again – I really did miss it (yeah I’m weird.. I accept that! :P).

What’s this thing about drains??

For any of you out there that are looking into significant surgery like breast reduction or abdominoplasty, you will likely find reference to surgical drains.

Just to give some context (stay with me here) – the body has a natural coping mechanism when there is any sort of trauma.. and that mechanism is to create and store large amounts of fluid within your body at areas where trauma has occurred.

The amount of fluid that is created can have a negative effect on healing however, as it can further delay the body healing, causes significant swelling which can be (and is!) very uncomfortable and sometimes painful and other bad stuff (I’m not in the medical field – that’s the best I can do :P). Sometimes the body also makes excess fluid which is not a good thing either.. Now, our bodies are pretty darn amazing things and fluid is generally absorbed by the body and goes away, but the body cannot keep up with the amount of fluid created sometimes and it is already working really hard to repair whatever trauma has occurred.

This is where a surgical drain comes in! It really is as it sounds.. It is a tube inserted in the body at the site of incision and drains excess fluid that the body is creating at that location. Drains are inserted during surgery in most cases and you will wake up with them in place. They have a long piece of tube that is stitched into your body that has a bottle at the end to store and measure the level of fluid.

I know when I started on my journey this was one of the things that freaked me out! I had previously experienced a surgical drain with my gall bladder surgery so had an idea what was coming, and was not at all excited by the prospect!

The use of drains was one of the first things I asked my surgeon about (and I recommend you do the same! Not all surgeons use drains..) and below are the top questions I had:

How many drains will I have?

For me there were 4 drains.. 1 in each breast (drain entry point under my arm) and 2 drains into the abdomen (drain entry point in each hip).

How long do the drains have to stay in?

This differs for every single person, and is dependent on their body and how it heals. My surgeon estimated that the breast drains would be in for 24 hours and that the tummy drains could be in for about 4 days.

His educated guess was pretty close! The breast drains came out the next day as they weren’t draining much at all, and the tummy drains came out at separate times. The right hip drain came out while I was still in hospital at 3 days, but I was sent home with the left drain still in as that side still had a good bit of drainage.

I went into my surgeon’s office on day 5 or 6 (I think! I can’t remember exactly) and his nurse took it out when I went there for a check up.

Do they hurt??

His response to me was that they can be uncomfortable at times but they don’t hurt.

What was it really like – hmm now this is a tricky question to answer. The breast drains didn’t hurt at all and I couldn’t really feel them. Where they were stitched into my body felt a little irritated but nothing to write home about.

The hip drains were a little different.. Because the drain entry point was on either hip I would knock it if I leant too much on one side or another – that was a tad painful. I found that the left side got a lot more sore than the right, but that is also cause that was the side I needed to roll onto to get up out of bed so I had to knock it regularly.

How does it come out?

Well the only way to get it out is to pull it out!

The stitches will be removed and then the nurse will quickly (but carefully) pull the tube from your body.

I have to be honest here.. It is one of the weirdest feelings in the world! It isn’t pain really but a very uncomfortable and odd experience. There is a lot of tube inside you.. It can be about a metre of tube in some instances that is curled up in your body. When it is pulled out you can feel that tube move within you. It is almost as if there is some creepy crawly moving around inside you (gross huh??)

I’d felt this with my gall bladder surgery and hated it.. So was pleasantly surprised this time round! With the breast drains I didn’t even feel them come out, and with the tummy drains I did feel it but it was quick and clean and gently done. Not the horrible uncomfortable feeling I had experienced before.

Can I shower with the drains?

My surgeon is happy for showering with drains (phew was I relieved!)

Not all surgeons do however.. Some will not want you to shower until they are out as infection loves water, and water/infection has a direct path to your internal trauma where it can have a field day.

My surgeon kept stressing again and again how important it is that I dry really thoroughly after showering so there is no moisture anywhere (using a hair dryer to dry yourself helps greatly with this!).

You develop a bit of a love/hate relationship with your drain/s! It becomes a constant companion, and anywhere you go it goes too! To bed, the shops, the bathroom, the car… EVERYWHERE!

Just to show you what I’m talking about.. Below is a pic of my tummy drain (left hip entry point)

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Below the tape

Currently I have micropore (paper tape) over all of my incisions. This serves a couple of purposes – it protects the incisions areas, and also  helps to keep the scarring very thin and assist in keeping it flush with skin (not forming raised scars).

We changed the tape about a week ago.. which filled me with excitement, but also fear! I hadn’t properly seen my incisions at all, and having the tape there left me in a pleasant state of ignorance as I could pretend that the incisions under the tape were non existent. Interestingly though, at the same time I also worried that under the tape I may have some open wounds or infection.. or worse – necrosis! So, it was both with trepidation and excitement that I approached the official unveiling!

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Left breast – there is still bruising and pen markings!

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Right breast – less bruising and pen marks

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Right hip – excuse the pubic region!

I can’t tell you the relief I felt after seeing these lines! For the scars to look like this at only 6 weeks after surgery is brilliant, and means they will fade to very small, clean, silver/white lines.

The tummy – that which I avoid

I’ve been avoiding any pics of my tummy for a number of reasons:

  • I’ve spent my lifetime to date hiding my tummy from others and myself, and tend to pretend it is not there for the most part
  • It is the area that will take the longest to heal and will take the longest for swelling to go down

Because of these reasons I find that I am ignoring it as a part of my healing journey. I don’t like the stages of healing in this area, as I cannot yet predict how this will look in the end and know I have up to a year of changes here (as I’ve said before.. I generally don’t do patient well :P)

I’m still adjusting to my changed body shape – and find I dress to hide my tummy still. I’m choosing loose tops that hand from my boobs as this is what I always did before to hide my tummy. It’s going to take me some time to adjust to these changes I think..

Time for me to embrace ALL of the journey, and today I acknowledge that I am happy with who I am at this stage, as well as any of the stages coming!

So to honour that.. I took some pics

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Welcome to Swell Hell

I have hit that brilliant point in recovery which is infamously phase known as Swell Hell!

My body has decided to try to fill out every inch of my skin with as much fluid as is possible. I’m pudgy, and swollen and have a nice kinda pregnant look going on.

It’s temporary, and all a part of the healing process (it is your body’s natural way of healing) but I have to say.. it’s damn uncomfortable!

I don’t know whether it is a good or a bad thing that my swelling is being indiscriminate.. it isn’t limiting itself to my tummy and/or boobs.. oh no! My body has decided that other areas just must have sympathy swelling such as my lower back, my butt and my thighs.

This shall pass! (I have to keep telling myself.. patience is not one of my virtues!)

Week 2 – 4.. where did the time go?

I’ve just passed the 4 week mark – and the time is going by very quickly!

Last week I went back to work and it went much better than I thought. I expected to be so exhausted that I would pass out as soon as I got home, but I could sustain myself till bedtime which was a pleasant surprise!

Achievements as at week 4:

  • I can stand upright and walk at normal/fast pace
  • I’m FINALLY sleeping on my side (I cannot express what a difference this has made! Just brilliant!!)
  • Surgeon was over the moon with my healing at 3 week checkup, and states I am doing remarkably well for this early in recovery. All incisions are sealed, and my forming scars is nice and thin and clean – woohoo!
  • As a result of the above point, I don’t need to see my surgeon again until September
  • No longer need a chair in the shower – I have the energy and strength to stand up the whole time now
  • Sex – nuff said :P
  • Feeling back in both nipples (something I was willing to live without if I absolutely had to, but incredibly pleased that it is not an issue)

Random statements I have said over the last 4 weeks:

  • OMG! My vagina is the size of a tennis ball!
  • Ugh it keeps getting stuck up my butt! (my compression garment that is.. get your mind out the gutter!)
  • I will be swollen FOREVER!
  • (scratching my fingernails over my tummy whilst chanting..) numb tummy, numb tummy..
  • It hurts it hurts it hurts! Stop it! No laughing!! (clutching my tummy with tears in my eyes as I try to stop laughing at something someone said that was funny)

1st week of recovery

No other way to say it – the first week pretty much sucked!

I was in hospital for 4 days (3 nights) and was SO eager to get home. I was lonely, uncomfortable and bored.. I missed my family and was recovering much quicker than most tend to so was eager to get out.

My surgeon came in to check up on me and gave me the stats:

  • Over 1 kg (2.2lbs) of tissue removed from breasts
  • A massive 2.5kg (5.5lbs) of tissue removed from my tummy

I was blown away with how much excess skin I actually had. I knew I had excess skin – that’s why I was having the surgery! To have this confirmed and validated however.. wow it was a bit of a shock!

It was such a relief to get home, and I set up a nest of sorts in a recliner and have lived in that chair pretty much ever since.

First week was filled with discomfort, exhaustion and a terrible tightness in the tummy from my muscle repair.

I was pleasantly surprised by my boobs! I couldn’t even tell they were there! I could instantly feel the reduction in weight, I didn’t have the constant tension in my neck, shoulder and back and they felt amazing! Pre-surgery my boobs hung so low that they almost touched my belly button (I’m not exaggerating), and all of that has now disappeared! They are firm and perky and I can actually see my nipples! Such a dramatic change!

Tummy was a dramatic change also, however the tummy was (and still is) so swollen that I cannot yet tell how that is going to look.

Now on the other side! (long post.. apologies)

Wow I’m terrible – I meant to come here and update about surgery and recovery itself but just haven’t managed to get here (in my defense.. I get tired VERY easy :P)

This post will focus on… (drum roll please)…. SURGERY DAY!

On Friday 14 June I woke up at 5am and quickly got in the shower to have a thorough scrub with antibacterial wash which I was instructed to do. After that I felt it necessary to blow dry my hair. Why you ask? Because all I could think of was lying on the operating table for 8 odd hours with soaking wet hair and didn’t want that (the things you worry about pre surgery! :P)

I quickly threw clothes on and The Husband and I got in the car and we drove to the hospital. By this time I’m getting SOOO nervous about the whole thing. We get there, do the usual admissions thing and get taken to my room for the next couple of days. My surgeon operates out of a private hospital, so I was lucky enough to have my own room all to myself.

First thing I did of course was to check out the bathroom, the cupboards and drawers as I’m a nosy person and must do such things! It wasn’t long before the nurse came in and had me answer some medical history questions, had me put on my compression socks (imagine super tight white socks that go up to your knees – oh so sexy!) and then brought me a toy to play with.. the spirometer!

What is a spirometer I hear you ask? Essentially it is breathing and lung capacity exerciser. A side effect of anesthesia is that fluid/mucus can drain into the lungs which clearly is very bad and can lead to all sorts of issues. This ‘toy’ works your lungs and assists in loosening any of the fluid that may have moved to the lungs during surgery.

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What you need to do is inhale deeply whilst having the tube in your mouth which will result in the 3 balls rising in the tube.

The nurse taught this to me prior to surgery as apparently once you come out and are all drugged up on pain killers most patients struggle to understand what to do, so they teach you beforehand as then you remember even through the drug haze (this discussion did so much to allay my nervousness.. uh huh.. :P)

Once the nurse left I was left to my own devices for a while.. I got more and more nervous and The Husband just sat there calmly telling me everything would be fine (I think it was at this point I snapped at him that he wasn’t the one about to be put to sleep for 8 hours and have skin and tissue cut from your body!)

It wasn’t long before my anesthesiologist popped in to visit. He went through the procedure in detail with me, and also told me that he also monitors my brain waves to ensure I am properly asleep at all times. This was a relief to a concern I didn’t even consciously know I had! I guess it’s common to worry that you’ll wake up mid operation which is a horrifying thought, but this made me feel so much more comfortable.

Next thing I know, The Husband had to leave and I was put in a gown and wheeled up to the operating room by a male nurse (that I seem to remember being quite cute!)

Once up there my surgeon came to see me and got me to strip the gown off as he began to mark up my body with permanent markers. Let me tell you – not a brilliant experience. I felt like my skin wasn’t mine as he drew lines all over me and contemplated how best to cut into me to get the best result. Don’t get me wrong – I love my surgeon. He is so lovely, friendly, professional and truly skilled at his job. It was nothing to do with how he was treating me, just my mindset at that time.

Next step – time for surgery! I walked into the operating room in a gorgeous hospital gown with my butt hanging out (a nurse was kind enough to put a blanket around my shoulders to “leave me with some modesty”). Now that’s an intimidating walk! I get in there to see a whole bunch of Drs and nurses scrubbed up and am surrounded by medical equipment.. at this point I’m pretty much doubting this whole thing as it’s freaking me out a bit!

I hop up on the table and lie down and I see my anesthesiologist above me. Ahh my knight in shining armour! He talks to me about what will now happen and puts a canuela in (which I didn’t even feel) and tells me he will give me something to help me relax. Me being me I fought the drug and wasn’t relaxing so next thing I know my anesthesiologist takes my hand firmly in his, gently strokes the back of my hand and says “right.. we’re going to do this together..” and he keeps eye contact with me, slowly counting and breathing…

Next thing I know – I wake up in the recovery room, no pain but so very groggy and out of it. I remember that I kept asking the nurses if everything went ok which they reassured me it did.

And that.. was surgery day!