A Vegan Experience of Surgery & Recovery: I had chest reconstruction surgery on August 22nd 2017. For Vegan Mofo 2017, I will be writing about my experience preparing for surgery and my ongoing recovery.
I thought I’d talk a little bit about my post op appointment on here, as it was definitely a
traumatic memorable experience.
Just a warning that this post goes into detail of having my bandages and tape removed, mentions of blood and incisions. If you’re really not comfortable with this stuff, maybe don’t read…or read and be thankful it wasn’t you!
Now this will be different for most people because every surgery is different and even if you’re having the same procedure, every surgeon is different too. They all have different ways of doing things. For example, my partner waited 4 weeks before his post op appointment. Yes. He had to keep the same bandages on (and not get them wet in the shower) for a month. It wasn’t as smelly as we predicted. I guess what I’m saying is that my experience wasn’t great BUT yours will probably be very different. Don’t let my experience scare you, just put some things in place to be a little more prepared, because I wasn’t and I think that’s what made it so bad.
So my post op was exactly 1 week after surgery. I had a few concerns about having my chest revealed to me so early on but generally I was excited to see it and because the surgery wasn’t too bad, I didn’t think I would need support. I went by myself. I think this is the mistake I made, I think I should have had someone there with me.
I was in good spirits when I got called in to see my surgeon. He very quickly got me sat down ready to take the bandages off with a nurse to help. They stood on either side of me and told me that this would hurt a little as the tape would be attached to hair. I cheerfully replied ‘I shaved my armpits though!’ thinking it would be fine. It wasn’t. It really really wasn’t.
I got cut quite far round towards my back due to the size of my chest, so when they both started frantically tearing off the bandages that weren’t covering incisions but were causing severe pain, I knew pretty quickly that this was going to be bad. It really fucking hurt. Not only that but they were ripping the bandages away too quickly. I’m an anxious person and I understand why they wanted to get them off as fast as they could, but the pace in which they did it made me feel completely out of control of the situation…and that is what I struggled most with.
My body went into shock. I was shaking, my palms were sweaty, I was lightheaded and I had no control of my arms moving down to try and protect myself. Once the main big bandages were off, they had to get the steri strips off my incisions. Now, whoever had put them on had cut them into tiny little bits, so they were having to get their nails under these short bits of strip and quickly rip them off. Whoever put those strips on…fuck you. They definitely weren’t supposed to be done that way because my surgeon mentioned finding out who did it and telling them off. As they were ripping them off, my incisions were bleeding. I couldn’t see it but my surgeon had to keep asking the nurse for gauze. I daren’t look down.
After what felt like ages and a LOT of swearing later, all the bandages and tape were off. I was shakey but relieved…it was over!
Or so I thought
‘Right’ my surgeon said ‘That’s the worst bit over. Lie back and I’ll take your staples out’
You what? You fucking what? STAPLES?
This guy did NOT mention that he would be stapling me. I looked down. I had staples all along my incisions and in my nipple grafts. This isn’t what I was prepared for, none of the people I know who have had this exact surgery have had staples. I couldn’t believe there was more to come. I think he saw the look on my face because he reassured me the worst bit was over.
Well, how do you define worst? Because, yes, he had stopped ripping tape off my incisions at high speed but lying back, shaking uncontrollably and having someone snip and twist out staples didn’t feel much better.
‘You won’t feel this’ he said.
‘I can feel you wiggling inside me’ I said.
It was sore and not pleasant. Staples shouldn’t go in the body. Especially in nipples. Just. No.
After that, it was over. For real. They mopped up some of the blood and asked me if I wanted to see my chest before they put tape back on my incisions. After what had just happened, I was a bit scared to see it. I stood up and had a look at my chest in the full length mirror. At this point I was so shakey and overwhelmed, I shed a few tears when I saw it for the first time. I couldn’t believe how flat it was.
After a quick look, they put some micropore tape over my incisions and went through all of the instructions for how to look after my chest over the next few months as this would be the last time I see my surgeon. He discussed things like when my incisions would be waterproof, what to expect with healing, how often to change my tape, what complications to look out for etc etc. I retained barely any of this because I was in shock.
I was then shuffled out of the room and that was that.
I walked very carefully back outside to the bus stop. I felt a LOT more fragile than when I turned up for my appointment. I guess the staples made my incisions feel a lot more secure. I was in a lot of pain at this point and felt like everything was going to rip open. When I got to the bus stop I burst into tears. My boyfriend called me and could tell that I was in shock. I also started to feel really nauseous too. I took 10 minutes or so to get myself together as much as possible before heading into town to get a nice big sugary drink.
It probably took me around 45 minutes to recover from the shock of it all and I really regret not having someone there with me. That would be my biggest piece of advice, especially if your post op is just 1 week after surgery. Also bring something sugary for if you get the shakes.
I felt like a bit of a wuss for reacting this way to the appointment but later spoke to someone else who had their unveiling on the same day, who went back to the car and cried! So I felt pretty relieved that it wasn’t just me who felt this way about it. Looking back it was pretty traumatic and I got a bit teary when I spoke to people about it for the next few days. It was definitely the worst part of the whole process. Also, there’s nothing to really prepare you for seeing your chest at that stage. Of course I was thrilled it was flat, but it was also difficult to see my nipples and incisions out in the open, so early into healing.
So that was my post op experience! For anyone I may have terrified by sharing this, please remember that everyone’s experience is different. My boyfriend had zero problems at his post op, it didn’t hurt him like mine did. So that sort of balances it out a bit, I guess. I just know that I wish I had had a little bit more of a warning about what to expect, I would have approached the whole thing very differently and wouldn’t have had such a shock!
That’s all for today, I’ll be back tomorrow with something much less nauseating.