Saturday, 2 August 2014

Top surgery 3: post-op

I had top surgery on Monday 21st July 2014. This is a record for me, and for anyone who would find an account of the process useful.

Recovery: post-op appointment
(Pre-op and opFirst 10 days)

My post-op appointment was on Thursday 31st July. Andrew Yelland certainly doesn't coddle his patients! He and a nurse (I forget her name, I'm afraid) ripped the dressings away none too gently, and there it was, my new chest, open to the air. 

Honestly, it was a bit of a shock. I'm a planner: I've read accounts of this procedure, and seen endless photosets of Mr Yelland's work (and other surgeons' too), documenting the process from surgery to the faintest of scars, and I thought I was prepared for how my chest would look. I don't think I was, really. The wounds looked just how I expected - a little smaller, if anything - and the nipples were as gooey and swollen and black/green/bloody as I'd seen everyone else's look. Nothing was markedly different from photos I've seen of the procedure, but somehow it was still shocking. I guess the tenderness of my skin played a part - having been completely under wraps for 10 days, I felt very exposed and vulnerable. I've felt that a little just when changing my binder - it's surprising how quickly I got used to being bound up full time. 

Mr Yelland commented that I was unusually swollen at the outer edges of my chest - where I had noticed myself in the couple of days prior to the appointment - and that the big bruise on the left hand side (which was hard to the touch) was also a concern. He told me to keep an eye on it, and asked that I come back to him in a month so he could monitor it. He took photos of my chest, then removed the staples from my nipples and took some more. He put some large plasters over the nipples and told me to take them off when I got home. He also told me that I should leave the binder off for the most part from now on, putting it on only when there's a chance of impact (driving, going on the tube) and leaving the wounds open to the air as much as possible (when lounging about at home).

I was really emotional after the consultation. I had trusted that the swelling was, if not entirely my imagination, then expected - normal - and would naturally reduce as my healing progressed. Andrew Yelland didn't exactly start back in horror at the sight, but he did frown quite a lot, and ask me to come back, and sign me off work (partially) for another month. He was as calm and cheerful as normal, however, so I'm not devastated or despondent - but in the back of my mind there's a worry that wasn't there before the wrappings came off. I guess that won't change until I see him again in four weeks' time.

I'll admit to having a little cry in the bathroom before the journey home, and another one when I got home and took the binder and nipple dressings off. It was partly pain and sensation, and partly emotion - relief at being out of the dressings, distress at the state of my chest, and a certain sense of anticlimax. I guess that, despite knowing better, I had built up the post-op appointment in my mind until it was much bigger/further along than it was: as silly as it sounds, I think I expected to be better. I knew that this surgery with this surgeon gives you an automatic fit note for two weeks, and I think I had believed that since ten days was nearly two weeks, I'd be basically back on my feet by then. 

I wasn't. I'm not now. I'm moving even more gingerly than I was before, and the first evening at home after being unwrapped (I got home at 8pm), the feeling of a loose t-shirt on my bare chest was so overwhelming it made me feel sick. I was on the verge of tears the whole time, and could hardly eat. I couldn't really talk to my family - I felt guilty about feeling bad, about my weakness, about my expectation that I would be better by now. It seems, in hindsight, foolishly unrealistic. I've rallied now, and am settling in for the long haul, and am trying to involve my partner and family again, having rather shut them out in my distress after the appointment. But I think it will be a longer journey than I realised.

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