Insurance and doctors got together at some point in time and decided how long a mastectomy patient should spend in a hospital, and now the rest of us get to live with that. It's funny how a bunch of bureaucrats decide how we feel and when. I always wonder what would happen if the CEO of some insurance company's wife had complications with a mastectomy. I bet there would be some changes, so if there ever are changes, we can rest assured that's what happened. Fortunately, I am the toughest woman in the world, so the idea of going home after two nights in the hospital was fine with me.
I woke up that third morning to someone trying to get blood from me again. I asked for a phlebotomist, so that I could have some part of my body left that didn't have a bruise on it when I went home. A phlebotomist came and she was very nice and extremely effective. Nurses for some reason have lost the ability to draw blood. I blame it on the tendency for the medical profession to continually specialize more and more to the point that I have to see 12 different doctors a year for not much. I'm an old woman and I can remember when you just went to see your doctor on most occasions.
I have to digress here for just a minute. I'm reading a book by an online friend and famous adventurer, Charley Boorman. The book is called Long Way Back, which is a title formulated from his series Long Way Down and Long Way Round in which he and Ewan McGregor ride their motorcycles from Scotland to South Africa and around the world respectively. The book is about Charley's recovery from a heinous motorcycle accident that he was in last year. He lives in London, and he had the accident in Portugal. I was surprised after hearing how awful our healthcare is compared to most of the rest of the civilized world, that Charley had some horrific problems with the bureaucracy in Europe. If you ever wondered what goes on in the rest of the world with this problem, that book is one good example. Charley is feeling much better now, by the way.
So, back to my odyssey. After my blood was taken from me, I got up and around a bit. I had breakfast and the physician's assistant came to see me again. She said that the drain seemed to be working again and that I could go home. Great! I wanted to go home, even though there was no CBS there to watch. I wanted to get started on my list of activities that I had planned, starting with rewatching the television show Northern Exposure. I had all six seasons on DVD. All I had to do was take a shower, which was becoming extremely necessary, and put on some clothes. How hard could it be?
My loving husband decided that it would be best if he left while the nurse helped me with my first shower. I agreed. So I went to the bathroom with the nurse and went about trying to shower with that ridiculous drain tube and collection ball hanging on a lanyard around my neck. At that point they had removed the Lidocaine ball and the drain was the only unnatural appendage that I had left. Seemed reasonably balanced. Lost a natural piece, gained an unnatural one.
I opted to not look in the mirror that was next to the shower. The one thing that I believed I was not ready for was seeing the wound where my breast had once been for the first time. I was doing really well with everything. I'd had no pain killers, except for a little Tylenol. I've always been good with pain. I've always been good with changes in my appearance. This, however, seemed like quite a stretch, and I just wasn't sure what I would think when I saw it for the first time.
I jumped in the shower, and it wasn't that bad. The drain felt weird every time you so much as touched it. That threw me at first. I washed myself, but I didn't look at what I was washing. Looking back, it seems silly, but I was scared to look. I mean, this event caused the formation of several agencies, foundations and so forth. It caused the world to look at the whole subject differently. This event changes the lives of so many women so dramatically that now the whole world looks at it differently. I'd been advised to join a support group and have reconstructive surgery to help me with this adjustment. All of that considered; yeah, I was scared to death to look.
So, the inevitable happened. I stepped out of the shower and didn't think. I immediately saw myself in the mirror. I was shocked. It didn't look that bad. My surgeon did a great job, and it didn't look nearly as bad as I'd imagined. I'd done all of the worrying for nothing. I suddenly realized that I was going to be all right. I suddenly had the cloud of worry that had been hanging over my head dissipate. I new it was going to be a relatively long road, but I knew that it would be all right. I took a deep breath, and the nurse apologized for me seeing the wound when I hadn't wanted to. I told her it was fine. It was all fine. I felt good about it. Well, as good as I could feel about it, but way better than I'd thought I would.
I put on the special shirt that my navigator had given me, the binder to help the fluids flow, bandages, and sweats. I was ready to go home. I had my drain and ball in my special pocket for the trip home and was ready and able to go. The nurses escorted me to the door in a wheelchair as we all know is the custom. I got in the car and my husband drove me home with instructions on how to take care of everything for the next week. At that point, the drain would come out and I would heal. It seemed like the worst was over. There were a few bumps along the short six block trip from the hospital to my house, and each one made me cringe a little because of that stupid drain, but the drive went well all things considered.
Of course, when I got home I discovered that the adventure had only begun. My idea was to go home to a pile of pillows on my bed, climb in, sit back and watch Northern Exposure. That didn't happen. I went home, climbed the stairs with no problem, got comfortably dressed for the day, and went to climb into bed. That drain was the most awkward uncomfortable thing I'd ever encountered. It didn't hurt, but it got in the way. When it got in the way it was uncomfortable, like a little pin kind of sticking you in the side. It wasn't intolerable on a pain scale, but I could not find a comfortable position in my bed to save me life. I spent about ten minutes there and then went downstairs to try the sofa.
We have one of those dual reclining sofas in the living room. My husband helped me onto that and helped me put up the foot rest. It felt way better than the bed. We had to do some modifying to make it relatively comfortable, but we managed to make it livable. So, instead of getting to go to bed and watch TV for a week, I would camp out in the living room for a week. I still had my tiny pillows that the ladies had made for my care package, and they were a Godsend. I was surprised how those little pillows made just the right amount of difference in my situation. They were the difference between tolerable and not. It wasn't what I'd planned, but since October nothing had gone as planned. At least we were getting through it.
I'm leaving it here for now. I will tell you what it was like to camp on a sofa for a week. My husband joined me for reasons that will become obvious as I tell you. One thing I can say is that no matter how well you plan out a surgery and recovery, be prepared for the surprises. They are everywhere. It's like navigating a mine field sometimes. If you have trouble going with the flow, you will be miserable. If you can only work by a plan, you will be miserable. The best thing you can do is to treat the whole thing as an adventure and just go along. I'm not always the best at that when it comes to events like surgery. I love to go out and travel and have adventures. That's why I started Adventures for Anyone. But, when I'm home, I like my routine and I get uncomfortable when things don't go as planned. I had a lot to learn and a lot to deal with during this time. I grew as a person, and I think my husband did too.
I will continue to write the story in the hopes that it helps someone out there deal with things during their own experience. Remember, get mammograms. This is curable. It's not as bad as it sounds. Get the treatment. Life is worth it.