Mastectomy #8C: When disaster strikes … confusion reigns (Part 3) …


The days following the mastectomy were filled with confusion.

Even the nurses couldn’t believe what had happened.

Every morning the nurses would ask the same question:  “How’s the arm” and when I replied “the same”, they would say “have you tried moving it?”  I am sure they meant well, and there is an innate tendency in nurses to want to fix things, but even though I told someone to tell the nurses to stop asking me the same question, they still persisted.

(And that was psychological torture in itself, to be treated like a child, to be reminded day-in-and-day-out that there was something wrong, and perhaps I wasn’t trying hard enough to get well, being treated like a thing to be fixed, not a person with feelings.)

The day after surgery, the anaesthetist paid me a visit.

“How’s the pain,” he asked.

“Tolerable,” I replied.

He was surprised.  He told me that at one point during surgery, I had demonstrated signs of distress and he’d had to increase the level of anaesthesia to far beyond what someone of my size and weight would require.  Oh, gosh – really?

I was still too numb at that point to twig, but now in retrospect I wonder: during surgery, was the nerve injury causing such pain that I was trying to break out of the anaesthesia?  And if so, why didn’t the anaesthetist and the surgeon do something instead of upping the anaesthesia?  We will never know.  It’s another one of those conversations that keep replaying themselves and there’s nothing I can do.

To give the surgeon credit, he was on the phone to one of the country’s best peripheral nerve specialists immediately.

Finally, the conjecture was that it was a brachial plexus nerve injury caused by the tractioning of the arm for 2 hours when the pouch had to be created behind the pectoral muscle for the implant.  The brachial plexus got squashed during surgery and that caused nerve damage.

The brachial plexus is a chain of nerves that come out of the spine through an outlet in the neck [the thoracic outlet], and run down the shoulder and arm.  Damage to the nerve can cause paralysis and stiffness and loss of motor function.

Simples.  End of confusion, no?  The question was:  now that we had a vague idea of what had happened, how did we fix it?  Surely this meant I could get my arm back?  As usual, it wasn’t that simple.


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