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day 5

Originally uploaded by l@in.

Recovery has been both better and worse than I anticipated. I think I already mentioned that the implant was removed (and reinserted!), which resulted in the increased level of pain that I’m experiencing. And again, the drain didn’t help (although, I know not having it could have been disastrous.) However, I am feeling better quickly. My range of motion is pretty good and while I’m not trying to lift anything of any significance, I can pick up a glass or a plate in my left hand and carry it a short distance without an issue, which is nice. I’ve even been able to knit small projects! I listened to my Dr.’s exercise mantra, “you can walk”, and did 30 minutes on the treadmill today at a really slow pace. It’s better than nothing, and I’m so happy we were able to get that before the surgery.

I’ve done this enough that I feel like I kind of have a system. I try to do whatever I feel compelled to. If I feel like laying down, I do. If I feel like I need more pain meds I take them (and if what I feel I need seems unreasonable, I know there’s a problem). If I think I can tackle some house work I try and if it doesn’t hurt, I do it, and if it does – forget it. It really helps that I’ve been able to work from home this week, and can hang out with the laptop in bed if I need to.

And if I’m hungry, I eat. This is probably the most complicated thing for me because I do love to eat. I’m also trying to be healthy for many reasons, one of which is because I’m, of course, concerned about the cancer returning. So I try to eat healthy, exercise, and do all the things you’re supposed to do to stay in optimum health. Did I mention I love to eat? And I love sweets? I know when I’m exercising a lot, I feel like I can cut myself some slack, but now that I’m struggling with a 28 minute mile (ugh! it hurts just to type), I don’t really have that luxury. So I stocked the freezer with pasta sauce, chili, and soup, and Joanna has been great about getting me out of the house to find yummy healthy things with the occasional flake (like a delicious chocolate cake from whole foods). I am looking forward to being able to handle the damn blender again – I miss my green smoothies!

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Today I met up with my Castle Connolly, top rated plastic surgeon, for the 2nd post-op visit. She asked me how I was doing with the pain. I was honest and told her that when I was able to rest whenever I wanted during recovery, I was down to taking the pain meds from every 5 hours to every 8 or so, which was a big improvement. Yesterday I had some appointments and errands to run downtown, so it was kind of my test run day to see how I’d do on the metro, walking all over the place and generally having a more normal day than I’ve had since surgery. As I informed my Dr. this pushed me back down to needing the meds every 5-6 hours again. I told her that I had been doing pretty well but refused to suffer in pain when I didn’t have to. She quickly agreed that there was no reason for me to suffer through it needlessly and that I was smart enough to figure out when I didn’t need the drugs again. I also told her that I’d been taking some darvocet that I had left over from severe back pain that I was experiencing this summer which seemed to knock me out and make me feel a little more out of it which let me sleep (otherwise I would wake up in the middle of the night for meds, or sleep very badly and wake exhausted). So she gave me a prescription for that as well.

Since I was still in pain, she said that she’d wait to fill my tissue expander until next week. I said, “No, no, no!” as I had geared myself up for it, had taken some anticipatory drugs and had the rest of the day off. She asked if I was sure, and I said, “Absolutely – let’s do it!” She called my favorite nurse, who gathered the needle and the saline bag and then used a magnet to find the metal valve in my expander so the saline could be inserted. When she got to 100ccs she asked me if I wanted to stop – I told her, I’m ready, I’ll take as much as you’re willing to give me. She stopped at 150ccs, which, according to my understanding is quite a large expander fill and if I have the conversion correct it’s about the equivalent of about 5oz. So now there’s essentially just over a serving of juice that’s been injected to a silicone container which sits half under and half over my newly split pectoral muscle supported by alloderm, and a whole lotta stitching. orange juice

To give you an idea of what this feels like, it’s as if someone has placed a concrete block on the left side of my chest, and occasionally pokes the outer perimeter with an ice pick. The actual filling process is less intense, but still increases according to the amount of fluid being inserted. If you’re familiar with the Peaches song Operation, where she all but screams, “I can take it!”, that’s what was going through my head towards the end of the fill.

Now I’m safely at home with a nice cocktail of valium, vicoden, and darvocet-n coursing through my veins, and thanks to Joanna, sushi waiting for me in the fridge. You should be impressed that I was able to type this out at all.

Today has been spent lazing around for the most part. I’m still feeling pretty good but the pain management gets trickier. The pain is constant and present even with the vicoden and valium. Last night I had a brief meltdown while trying to go to sleep, it seems no amount of pillow arrangement would do the trick and no matter how I laid it felt as if my left pec muscle was being ripped in half. As a result I’ve upped the medication dosage to just a little more than prescribed, and am just trying to distract myself until I fall asleep. This usually entails falling asleep to something on TV. All in all it’s still not bad, but my goodness, moving around, is certainly an exercise.

I think I mentioned before that I was very upfront with my anesthesiologists before this surgery. I let both of them know that I was in an unacceptable amount of pain after the last surgery and had a completely unpleasant experience in the recovery room where, according to my dim recollection, I had to practically beg for pain relief. If this little discussion didn’t help, I’d be shocked because my experience this time was completely different. I felt as if I was taken very seriously in recovery and treated very, very well. One of the recovery room nurses recognized me, fed me ice chips, and provided me with vaseline for my dry, post-op lips.

I find the approach to pain medication by different medical professionals fascinating. My surgeons have always taken my discussion of pain seriously and have never denied me pain killers when I’ve requested them. My anesthesiologists have always behaved in a similar manner. That said, in my last hospital stay it was interesting to get the reaction of various nurses to my telling them I was in more pain than I wanted to handle. A few times it was explained to me that I only needed to click on my morphine pump when I needed it and the drugs would only be released every 20 minutes. I thought it curious that someone who had just underwent major surgery was expected to watch the clock and click appropriately and/or wait a little while to see how the pain was before clicking. My strategy was to click the button when I remembered. Morphine really doesn’t make you the sharpest individual, so I clicked when I could.

Later, after my doctor gave me the go-ahead to leave, I asked the attending nurse about my prescriptions just to make sure that I had what I was told I would get – an antibiotic, vicoden (for pain), valium (as a muscle relaxer for the tissue expanders). First she said no valium – but she’d double check. Then when she did find the prescription for my valium, she 1) assumed that I was taking it regularly pre-suregery, and 2) couldn’t understand any reason why I’d be taking it other than to put me to sleep. At which point I had to explain the tissue expanders, and the muscle spasms which result in trying to get your muscle and tissue to make room for a foreign object.

There were other instances too with various nurses who didn’t seem to have a clue as to why I was there and what I needed. I was asked to hold things, which I couldn’t really do. I was given a monitor on a pole whose wheels didn’t work properly so it was almost impossible to move by myself (I requested and received another). Finally when I left the technition who “helped” me get to the car, grabbed on to my left arm tightly to maneuver me around the wheel chair foot holders which she placed in my way. When I asked her to please not touch that arm, she watched me struggle with the car door.

This is less a rant against nurses and more of my amazement at a system that permits those providing immediate care to those who are almost wholly dependent on them to have a very limited knowledge of the situation of each patient. I had some wonderful nurses each time I’ve had surgery (5 times in the past year in fact). The night nurses that I had this time around were especially attentive and sweet. Overall my hospital experience was good, but there are aspects that make me a little nervous, especially if I were less coherent than I’ve been while staying in the hospital.

That said, I’m still enjoying sex in the city, and playing the sims 2. Joanna went on a bagel run this morning so I’ve had my weekly lox and bagel fix. yippee!

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