This is a continuation of my previous post (6A) on things that they don’t tell you about what happens after a mastectomy. I realise that this post is graphic, but I’m not trying to be sensationalist. I just want to give readers (or anyone who’s about to have a mastectomy) an idea of what might be involved in a mastectomy.
The “they” in the title is the medical profession, and I’m not saying they withheld information, it’s more that there’s only so much they can tell, and everyone’s experience is different. I suspect also that it’s a bit like the conspiracy surrounding the pain of childbirth – it can’t be described and if anyone knew how bad it was, there would be no children born!
What they didn’t tell me:
The Drains: these were long tubes tunnelled into the mastectomy area to drain the wound. They ran from the wound area to an outlet at the bottom of the side of my ribs. They were of different lengths and drained into little clear bags which the nurses would measure, then empty.
I had three drains. Every day one drain would be removed. Every day I dreaded the moment when the drain would be removed. The worse day was when the longest one was taken out. I knew something major was up and it was going to be a nasty one because I got given painkillers before that.
The nurse who did it told me she’d had two mastectomies which meant 6 six drains to remove (so I shut up after that). She pulled on my drain. This one came out from under my armpit, like a never-ending fiery worm. She told me to cry and groan and curse as much as I wanted to, and I did. It was not an experience I would recommend.
Before all the drains had been removed, if I had to go to the loo, I had to carry the drains around with me on a little plastic stand. I kept tripping over the stand, or getting the drains looped round bits of furniture. It was not pleasant, but just one of those things. I was lucky in that because of my extended stay in the hospital, all my drains had been removed by the time I returned home. Some people have to go home with their drains still attached.
The Bed pan: For the first 1.5 days I was bed bound. So I had to use a bed pan. It is not the most pleasant of experiences and I include this here so that you will know what to expect. The faster you can get up and use the loo, the better.
A bit bunged-up down there: I also got constipated because of the anaesthesia and being bed-bound and my body refused to accept the bed pan for obvious reasons. The hospital tried a number of remedies, but in the end, what worked was my trusty senna pod tea.
The pharmacist stared at my packet of senna tea in fascination. “What’s that?” she asked. She was amazed. She had never seen senna in its raw pod form. I guess all that was missing was my cauldron and broomstick. I had a tough time convincing her that it was safe because there was no measurable pharmocological dosage in “immerse 12-14 pods in a teapot of hot water for 6 hours … .”
[Note: if you have any irritable bowel conditions or colitis, please do not use senna pods or anything that will irritate your bowel]
The Bed bath: As it says on the tin. Two nurses washed me. It was a bit embarrassing, but it was very comforting, psychologically, to be bathed the day after surgery, to get all the sticky icky surgical bits off because in the middle of the night I’d been sick and my hair was full of sticky coconut water.