On November 13th, 2018 it was time to rebuild my breast. After more than a year of expanders, it was time to create my new permanent boobies.
I had chosen for the DIEP flap procedure. During this surgery, the plastic surgeon will use tissue from your belly to rebuild your breast. The expanders had sufficiently stretched my skin and would allow for a nice D cup.
I did not want implants. Although that would have been the easier less invasive option, I wanted something more natural. There has also been quite some controversy about implants leaking and making you sick.
I arrived in the hospital early and ready to go. My surgery was scheduled for 11am. A nurse hooked me up to an IV and the parade of doctors and nurses started. A general MD to do a final check to make sure I was in good shape for the surgery. The OR nurses to introduce themselves and get my husband’s contact information. They would be calling him throughout the procedure to let him know how I was progressing. The anesthesiologist to discuss the medication I would take during and after the surgery.
Off I went. They give you a sedative before you get rolled into the OR and by the time you get there, you’re almost asleep.
The next thing I remember is waking up in recovery. The surgery had lasted 7.5 hours. Unfortunately, there had been some complications. Towards the end of the surgery my body temperature started to go down and they had to warm me up to make sure the blood vessels stayed open.
During the DIEP flap, the surgeon transfers not only the skin but also reattaches the blood vessels and inserts nerves so my breast will eventually regain sensation. Every three months a nurse in his office does a sensation test to see the progress.
If your body temperature cools too much, the blood vessels contract and it’s very difficult to re-attach them.
I was brought to my room in the women’s wing of the hospital. The first 24 hours are critical. There is a risk of your body rejecting the transplanted tissue and the skin can die. I had sensors all over my breast and a nurse would come every hour to monitor me.
To ensure I would not cool down again, they had covered me in, what is called a Bair Hugger. It looks like one of those old-fashioned pool floaties. The Bair Hugger was attached to a machine that would pump warm air into it which in turn would keep me warm.
The first day after the surgery I had to stay in bed and more as little as possible. Besides my breast, I had a wound from one hip to the other. After the two flaps are removed the skin is sewn back together similar to a C-section scar, just wider.
On the second day, I had not the friendliest nurse and the experience with her was terrible. In the early afternoon she told me I had to get out of bed. I had to start moving around to avoid blood cloths, so they want you to be up soon after surgery. I started off by sitting on the edge of the bed, which was fine but then she kept on pushing me to stand up and move to sit in a chair. I warned her I would faint if I stood up, but she kept insisting. I had fainted in the past and I knew the exact feeling. As soon as I stood up, I fainted. I woke up with 15 people in my room checking vitals, administering medication and more. I had indeed fainted. I was so frustrated that she hadn’t listened. A good lesson for the next time, I will not do anything I don’t want to do.
As the days progressed, I started to feel better and move around. One of the awesome night nurses would take me on little walks around the area.
It was time to go home and continue the recovery process.
For those of you wondering about pain. I have to say the most painful part of the surgery was the wound on my belly. It feels like your insides were ripped apart and put back together. Sneezing and coughing were the most painful.
I had some issues with the wound closing and developed an infection that left me with a hole the size of quarter. It took over a month for it to close. I was put on very strong antibiotics which did the trick for the infection. However, another area didn’t close until April, when I had another surgery. It just kept oozing and I would cover it with gauze to make sure it would not get on my clothes.
These were minor issues in the overall scheme of things and given the size of the surgery. My breast looked great and I started to feel like the new version of me was coming together.