Recovery days 4-6

January 15, 2011

I decided to switch from vicodin to ibuprofen after having really weird dreams and being tired all the time. Jess had to catch his flight that morning and I was pretty bummed to see him go. His being there was really amazing and helpful in ways that I hadn't anticipated. He was constantly asking his mother's partner (an oncology nurse) for post-op care advice since she had taken care of him during his top surgery. I was also starting to feel crappy about being so dependent for really basic things. Independence is something that's really important to me.

January 16, 2011

The day before, Olex gave me a sponge bath using castile soap since babywipes weren't doing it for me at all. In the early hours of the 16th after settling into bed, the right side of my chest felt cold under the bandages and I was convinced that water had gotten under the padding. Olex called Dr Garramone and he called back saying that as long as the bandage wasn't soaked, my chest would be fine. Olex put his hand between the bandage and the padding and said that it felt dry, so maybe it was just nerves waking up.

(Note: I later learned that the cold sensation was a side effect of stopping vicodin and my antibiotic.)

In the afternoon, because it's kind of our thing, we went to a Target that was attached to a mall because we both wanted to get out of the hotel room for a bit. Since I wasn't using my forearm crutches, Olex grabbed a wheelchair from the store and we looked around. Eventually we got bored and wanted to explore the rest of the mall, but the wheelchair had to stay at Target and the mall didn't have any hanging around so we decided to go back. It was nice to be out and about, though.

January 17, 2011

Removing the ACE bandage

I had a 10am appointment at Dr Garramone's office to remove the drains and bolsters. Olex and I were super excited to finally get to see what my chest looked like! And I was finally going to take the binder off! Presumably for only a little while, but it was still an exciting thought. Thankfully, there wasn't an issue with the cab for this appointment!

Removing the padding

Dr Garramone and his assistant, Lindsey, took off the ACE bandage and the dressings and Olex took a million pictures. I had heard that some surgeons don't allow people to take pictures at these appointments, but Dr Garramone is really amazing about it. Also, it was surreal, to say the least, to feel and see the binder coming loose, but not feeling or seeing breast tissue expand. I didn't feel the drains or bolsters at all, which made me happy because some friends who went to other surgeons said it was a painful experience for them. But I did want to see what the ends looked like, and the tubes in my chest looked like the sharp ends of juice box straws. While this was happening, my chest swelled a lot because the ACE bandage had actually been wrapped too tight (it was also the cause of the pain in my back that was bad enough that vicodin didn't do much to help), so it was hard to get a good look at myself without the aide of a mirror. My skin is also sensitive, so there were also significant marks left by the taped padding coming off as well. I don't think those fully healed until about three weeks. Having never had top surgery before, I didn't think I could complain about the ACE bandage without looking like I was worrying too much over nothing. Oh well. Fortunately, there was no permanent damage.

Olex was beaming, though, and Dr Garramone said the grafts looked really good so I wasn't worried about how things looked. He put guaze and Neosporin over the drain holes (at the end of my incisions, whereas most surgeons poke extra holes) - they ached after the drains got taken out, so pressing gauze on them was unpleasant - and xeroform, Neosporin and guaze over my nipples. I thought he'd replace the ACE bandage because I've heard most other surgeons enforce a post-op binding period to help with swelling, and I asked about switching to a different binder that I would be easier to handle with the limited range of motion in my arms. He shook his head and said that a binder at this point, while not a bad idea, wouldn't make a difference. I was left to put my shirt back on and Olex and I both grinned while I gave my chest another quick look. It was really bizzare to walk outside and be flat (swelling notwithstanding) without a binder.

Seeing my chest for the first time

It being Martin Luther King Day, there was a parade going on. Olex and I didn't want to deal with the impending traffic issues and we were hungry, so we chose to go to the mall near Dr Garramone's office to wait it out and do something tourist-y. I'd like to think I'd want to check out the parade had I been up for it. I used some of the time at the mall to try on (read: practice putting on and taking off) t-shirts. Surprisingly it wasn't too difficult, which made me happy. I was so ridiculously sick of wearing my button-down shirts and wanted to have that skill relearned as quickly as possible. But it was a little terrifying when I saw that one of my nipple grafts was bleeding slightly. I hadn't been pulling my arms over my head or anything, and Olex assured me through the dressing room door that it was normal. Dr Garramone probably said so during my appointment, but I honestly wasn't listening because, y'know, new chest... Olex took the time to buy something for his wife when I couldn't find a t-shirt I felt justified buying. When we got outside, we had to ditch the mall's wheelchair. And then I realized I needed to use the bathroom which was all the way by the food court. This mall was not only huge, but swarming with people. Those people easily cleared out of the way when I was in the wheelchair, but not so much otherwise. I didn't want to make Olex get the wheelchair from the depths of Mordor or wherever he had to go, so I decided to just walk it. With one arm held about six inches from my chest as a sort of buffer. Olex was also ready to jump in front of me anytime I decided anyone got too close. I had images flashing of people shoving into me and ripping the grafts off my chest (the thought still makes me shudder).

Close-up of my right nipple and marks across my torso

After navigating the bathroom, my legs were getting tired, so I held on to Olex's arm. Being from the Midwest and now living in New England, I had a lot of concerns about being in the south, what with being a queer man and all. But thankfully, there didn't seem to be any sort of hostility. One woman commented to her child in a matter-of-fact way that Olex and I were holding hands. I think the kid had asked about it and their mom was only answering. For all I know it might have been a teachable moment. Olex and I - while neither a couple nor actually holding hands - were definitely not the only (non-closeted) queers in the mall, and it was nice to feel pretty safe in that regard. Had I not just had major surgery, I would have wanted to check out the closest gay bar that night.

In All Its Glory
A Job Well Done