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)