Carolina on My Mind

Realizations about life, personal and professional


August 2016

Life on the Flip Side-forever and a day later

Today is the last day of summer vacation for my kiddos. In years past this day has been spent poolside with friends, savoring the last few moments of “freedom”. 

Obviously this summer has been a little different. My little situation  has kept me from venturing poolside; each week hoping the last drain would be removed and I could at least “try”. Unfortunately God must be insisting that I have a very large lesson in patience, vanity, and grace because 4 weeks later I’m still “with drain”. 

My family has cared for me so well, giving me anything I want or need and making sure I am comfortable at all times. Today had to be for them…

So today’s musing are being crafted poolside. The worry and embarrassment that my drain and corset are visible had to be put to the side: my vanity out the window for today.  As I write, we are going on hour four…my patience not at all stretched because I see my kiddos absorbing those moments of their childhood that we all remember with such fondness; my husband hopefully resting in our quiet home since he sleeps anywhere other than beside me so I can rest as well as possible. 

Today I’m  not up and socializing or lying in the sun chatting about what  tomorrow will bring. I’m at a table, moving with the shade to stay cool.  But, without them having any idea how vulnerable I feel today, my friends approach and we chat. And it’s with grace that I thank them for coming over and even more for their compliments on my healthful appearance.  

Today will end and tomorrow will start a new adventure for us all. But I feel certain when I look back on this chapter of my life, this day will be one of the bright spots that made the journey bearable. 

Life on the Flip Side: Week 2

Time heals all wounds….patience is a virtue…..yeah, yeah, yeah. I know in time I’ll recover and be able to look back on this journey with grace and thankfulness that the courage to act was there….but not today.  Week 2 on the Flip Side has been  a challenge.  The inability to move with ease and the loss of stamina that came with burning the candle at both ends has been tough.  I still move much more slowly than I’d like and have to rest a lot. This week’s journey allowed time to reflect:

On friends:  This week I saw many friends.  I felt incredibly cared for and loved.  Folks visited, called, or texted…all with well wishes for a quick recovery.  I think my favorite message of the week was one from someone who said “there is obviously a less in all of this….patience and slowing down might be one of them!” This is a tough lesson for me to learn, unfortunately this journey is offering no other alternative.

On the physical aspect of this trip:  There is no simplistic way to characterize the emotions associated with the first time the bandages are pulled back.  There is a sense of loss and grieving for the parts of you that are no longer there; pieces that distinctly characterized you as a woman.  There is a sense of horror and disgust at the incisions and holes that is paired with fear that you’ll never heal.  There is pain in movements that days before were routine and were taken for granted. Being able to once again put my hair into a ponytail without assistance was a moment that brought tears to my eyes…one small step in my return to independence.

On the pink corset:  With this surgery comes an horrific pink corset.  Not only do you have to keep your breast area bound tightly, but the discomfort of having your entire abdomen sucked into this ridiculous contraption day in and day out is noteworthy.  The temporary relief that comes with the few minutes when the Velcro disconnected can be best described as the pressure that is released when opening a package of canned biscuits.  You can therefore imagine the sensations that then come with having to shove those biscuits back into their tube….  Needless to say, the few minutes of changing bandages or bathing are my favorites of the day.

On Jake:  I think perhaps the one being that has been affected more than I ever anticipated is my pup, Jake.  Prior to surgery Jake and I would hang out in the mornings while I read, I was the one who fed him each day, and it was me that he snuggled with each evening.  Now, I am most comfortable in a large chair in our living room that doesn’t allow my Jake to sit with me.  Therefore, he sits beside my chair day in and day out.  He serves as a guard, barking at anyone who comes near.  I think Jake is the one looking most forward to my full recovery.   It truly demonstrates the unconditional love one receives with a pet.

Week 3 of my journey is here; more adventures and more lessons on the horizon.



Life on the Flip Side: Week 1

One week later I’m on the flip side of the hardest surgery of my life.  I move slowly, I sleep often, and the biggest challenge is staying in front of the pain by taking medications on time.  Having approached this journey trying to gather all the information possible; asking all the “right” questions of all the “right” people, I felt mentally prepared for the “flip side”.  But I wasn’t.  At all.  Knowing that there is some woman out there, today, tomorrow, a week from now, next month, next year that will walk this journey, I want her WELL prepared for what is to come.  Here’s my version of Life on the Flip Side, Week 1, things someone preparing for a bilateral mastectomy and its subsequent recovery needs to know:  (Warning: I’m going to talk about vomit–read with caution)

  • Vomit: It IS possible to projectile vomit immediately after surgery.  I’m living proof.  Even after asking that additional medications be added to my sedation because I know I don’t tolerate anesthia well, that was my welcome back to the world of the living…oh, and I also learned that a side effect to intense pain is vomiting.  Moving to and from bed caused this response for the first 24 hours.  Good times.
  • Expanders: If you are preparing to undergo this surgery, you’ve been to the plastic surgeon and held the expanders.  Remember how rigid they are?  Yeah, that’s what goes into your body (along with 250 cc of saline) and consequently feels like you’ve been hit by a truck and the headlights are still deeply embedded into your body…
  • Moving: Before surgery getting in and out of a chair or bed is a task I took for granted.  It is a week later and I still have tinges of pain with just simple movements.  Getting out of bed alone, at least for the first several days, is impossible.  Be ready.
  • Drains: You will enter surgery with 4 appendages, you will exit with at least 6.  Welcome to the world of drains.  If your surgeon is giving you all the clinical information, you will know you’ll have drains.  Let me more aptly describe them:  GROSS.  Two tubes that pull the fluids (a.k.a. blood and other unidentifiable liquids (and solids)) into an egg-shaped bulb that hangs from your side.  Again, simply GROSS.  What’s even worse is I can tell you my average drainage in ml for the past week because you have to empty, measure, and dispose of that nastiness each day.  One more for effect:  GROSS.
  • Muscle Spasms: Before surgery you are warned of muscle spasms.  In hind-sight, if I could roll on the floor and laugh, I would.  “Muscle spasm” to me equated to a Charlie Horse in my leg or that unexpected jump of your arm when its been overused.  NOT SO.  Muscle spasms are NOT THAT.  I’d more accurately describe them as the pain one would associate with the “meat” of your muscle being torn in two.  Think of a piece of beef jerky; that sound, the effort to tear it…yeah, imagine that happening in your body…at any given moment.  Thankfully those have subsided for now but I dread the first time my expanders will be filled because I know they will return.
  • Accept help:  Before surgery we had folks to offer to assist in any way possible; from running errands to cooking meals.  Before surgery we felt like we’d be fine; I wasn’t the cook of the family and my kids are old enough to fend for themselves if Dad had to leave the house.  My first day home my daughter kept saying, “Mom, you have lots of people who want to help, what do I tell them?”  She had set up a few meals with friends via text already but I told her to just handle it.  One of our friends helped her set up a meal train and I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions we made…accepting help.

With each day there is something small that happens that demonstrates progress.  I still can’t imagine functioning normally again.  But I do know time heals all wounds and perhaps Week 2 on the Flip Side will bring more independence, more smiles, and maybe even a dose of the sun.

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