“You’ll vomit in the car,” the Daughter said bluntly, as she drove us away from the hospital. I was starving.
Modern anesthetics are amazing. Five hours after my breast reduction surgery began, I awoke with a nurse by my side and mounds of ice on my chest, zipped into a surgical bra, and starving. Thankfully, I felt no pain. Surgery had taken 3-1/2 hours. My Daughter, the critical care nurse, exchanged go-home instructions with the nurses, as only one professional to another can do, and helped me dress in my comfy hoodie, long knit skirt, and best panties (I am my mother’s daughter, after all). Did I mention that I was starving? I desperately wanted to stop at McDonald’s for fries and a Coke.
“Daddy bought McDonald’s for me after my colonoscopy, and I was fine.”
“No, Mom.” Oh, how painful it is when the child becomes the mother!
“You know, your doctor was nice for a surgeon,” she continued, “He came out after surgery and talked to me and asked if I know a surgeon at my hospital that he trained with. Like, I see him and his patients in the CCU, but why would a famous surgeon know me?”
“What did my doctor say about me, the patient?”
“Oh, not much, the usual,” she shrugged.
“Were you terribly bored while I was in surgery?” The waiting room television had been tuned to CNN.
[Sudden thought: Why do airports and hospitals show breaking emergencies? I guess it’s better than the Maury Show, which was playing at the hospital the day I had my nuclear stress test for high blood pressure.]
“Naw,” she replied, “I went home and watched Xfinity on Demand with my cats.”
“Well, Mom, I only live 10 minutes away, and there wasn’t anything I could do, sitting there for five hours.”
I sighed. Practical Me understood her point, but Mommy Me envisioned her waiting prayerfully.
By 2 pm, we were home. I crashed in the living room, flat on my back on the sofa, nestled into my favorite pillows and blankets with 60 pounds of Golden Retriever at my feet, the best comfort of all. I picked up my cellphone.
“What are you doing?” The Daughter asked. “You’re supposed to rest.”
“I can see my feet for the first time in decades,” I emailed my nearest and dearest.
The Daughter fixed herself a sandwich and settled in a big armchair and ottoman. We were all soon fast asleep, rousing ourselves enough to replenish my icepacks, empty my drains every four hours, eat leftover pizza (which tasted so good), and feed and walk the dog. I woke again at midnight with a crick in my neck and throbbing throughout my chest. I changed my ice and woke the Daughter.
“It’s time to empty my drains and go to bed.” We went into my bathroom, where I had my first look at what I had done to myself. I lowered the zipper of the surgical bra and tried to examine the top of my breasts. Alas, they were swathed in gauze padding and bandage tape, although I spied a little bruising. The surgeon’s purple star still marked the base of my throat, and I was stained orange with Betadine scrub from my shoulders to my waist.
“Wait!” I pushed the Daughter’s hand away. “Why are you stretching these drains? You’re going to break the lines or pull them out.”
“Mom! I do this dozens of times every night at the hospital. I think I can do yours.” I was chastened. She efficiently emptied the drains, professionally measuring and recording their contents. I would have been lost without her.
“You need to take your oxycodone and Ambien.”
“No, I was already sleeping. I’m not taking the Ambien. I hear people sleepwalk on that stuff.”
“The security alarm is on. If you open the door, it will go off and wake you up.”
“Let’s just go to bed. I’ll take the oxycodone, if the pain gets too bad. Put it next to the bed with my water bottle.”
“No, Mom. You take the oxycodone before you feel the pain, or it doesn’t work.”
“I wonder what the street value is of all that oxycodone and Ambien.”
“It’s like having a gold mine in the closet.”
“Take your oxycodone. We have to be at the doctor’s for the post-op exam at 10 to have the drains removed, and you don’t want to be in pain.”
From the Veterinarian, I learned that there is pain that kills you, and everything else is tolerable, unless excessive blood loss is involved. Yes, I’m the woman who spent two hours in the oral surgeon’s chair having her wisdom teeth removed with Novocaine only. I’d rather be in pain than risk opiate addiction, but bossy Nurse Ratched was right. I swallowed the oxycodone and slept like a baby on my back, chest covered in icepacks. Hmmm…I could get used to this stuff.
Night and day, the second day.
I was unconscious until the Dog woke me at 6:45 to eat. I ate my tea and toast and obediently swallowed my oxycodone. Since I couldn’t lift my arms over my head, I wrestled my bandaged self into a button-up-the-front shirtdress. Easy in, easy out, I thought. I settled in the car, reclined, with the icepacks tucked into the front of my dress, for the 30 minute drive to the surgeon’s office.
In the exam room, the Daughter helped me wrestle back out of my dress and into a soft cotton gown. I was still pain-free and hopped onto the exam table, shivering under a draft of cooled air. She took a seat by the door with a good view of the table.
“Good morning, ladies,” the surgeon greeted us. “You don’t look like a woman who just had surgery.” He shook our hands, helped me lay back on the table, and snapped on a pair of latex gloves.
“What should I look like?”
“A lot worse than you do. So, let’s see what we have here.” He unzipped and unhooked the bra, cut away the gauze bandages, and removed the drains. “Well, the incisions look fine, but I see we have some blistering.” He pulled out a stainless probe.
“Can you feel this?” He touched my right nipple.
“Yes.” He touched the left one. “Um, no.”
“That’s ok. It takes a little time for all the nerves to reconnect.”
“Now, I’m going to open these blisters.” I glanced up at the Daughter, who was stretching her neck for a better view and suddenly grinning maniacally. He picked up forceps and a scalpel and then swiftly clipped away the dead skin on my right breast. My Daughter the nurse grimaced.
“Hmm…” he studied the wound. “That’s pretty deep, but it should heal. The dressing will need to be changed once a day, so you’ll need to come back tomorrow. Let’s look at the other one…OK, this one’s not as bad. The blisters are on the areola and underneath.” He stood up and looked at me seriously.
“Now, I explained that this happens rarely, when circulation slows during the procedure, but it does happen and has happened here.” He seemed apologetic. “It should heal just fine, but the scarring may be more obvious.”
“OK, I get that,” I answered. “Just tell me how to deal with it.”
Having spent over 30 years in veterinary medicine, I have acquired more than a little knowledge of how medicine works, even human medicine. Sometimes, sh*t happens. He rebandaged the wounds, hooked and zipped me back into the bra, gave us instructions, and told me to return the next day for a dressing change.
“You really don’t look like a woman who just had surgery,” he shook his head and left us in the exam room.
“So, how bad does it look to you?” I asked the Daughter, when we were back in the car and headed to her apartment to check on her cats.
“It looks pretty bad, Mom.” She sees a lot of patients after breast reconstruction surgery in the critical care unit.
“Bad, as in life-threatening bad?”
“No, but it’s serious.”
“Oh.” We waited in silence at a stoplight. OK. Of late, everything else in my life was complicated, why should this be any different? Minor detail, relatively speaking.
“Just get on with it,” the Shrew in my head hissed.
“Lunch. Today, I want McDonald’s. I need a Big Mac, I think,” I demanded. “A Big Mac Meal. I need fries.” You can’t keep a tough girl down, especially when tasty, salty, greasy food makes her feel so much better.
“And a large, real Coke.”
Just get on with it.
[To be continued.]