Another day and night of oxycodone, the third day.
I awoke to a large spot of pinkish sera seeping through my surgical bra where one of the drain tubes had been removed. It wasn’t bright red, so I wasn’t especially worried about bleeding to death, but I was concerned about it leaking through to my clothes. Everything was wet, and I felt gross, not smelly, just cold and wet. Again, the Daughter carted me to the doctor.
“That’s looking better,” he pronounced, as he removed the bandages. “You’ve got a long way to go, but it’s healing.” He prodded the left nipple with the stainless steel probe. “Can you feel anything yet?” I shook my head “no.”
“Well, it takes time for all the nerves to reconnect.”
He handed me a mirror, and, for the first time, I had a look. It was pretty grim. There were little oozing raw spots, here and there, on my left breast, and a half-dollar-sized wound on the lower half of the right breast that looked like fresh ground sirloin. I could see that the edges were starting to granulate and heal, but the rest was what I’d heard the Veterinarian call “pink and healthy.” Maybe another woman would have swooned, but I had seen worse.
“Again,” said my doctor, “this is a rare complication, as I explained, but —“
“I understand,” I interrupted him. “I can deal with it. It is what it is.”
He stopped, looked me directly in the eye, and considered me for a few seconds. Maybe he thought I was going to cry. Maybe he thought I was going to sue for malpractice. Maybe he just didn’t know how to respond. He changed the bandages, hooked and zipped me up, and helped me sit up.
“So, I’ll be ok to travel in about three weeks?” I asked.
“No,” he answered. He looked from the Daughter to me. “Where are you planning on going?”
“Well, we’re going to Cancún, Memorial Day weekend.”
“No,” he laughed. “You’re not going anywhere, especially not on a plane to Mexico.”
“But I’ll be with her,” the Daughter replied. “It’s just a plane ride and sitting on a beach drinking Margaritas.”
“No,” he said. “Think about the air pressure on the plane and all the unhygienic places you’d be exposed to.” My spirits sank.
“I want to see you again on Monday. Over the weekend, change the bandages once a day. Cover the wounds with antibiotic cream or Vaseline and new gauze pads. Call the office, if you have any questions.” He shook our hands and stopped at the door. “You really don’t look like a woman who’s had surgery.”
“Why does he keep saying that?” I whispered to the Daughter, when he left. “Is he trying to cheer me up? I have these awful blisters. Isn’t that bad? And, if I look so great, why can’t we go to Cancún?”
“I don’t know, Mom,” she sighed. “He’s worried about complications, plus you have those huge open wounds. Just get dressed, and let’s go.” She drove me home and settled me on the sofa with the dog. I ate some soup and slept for several hours, until around 3 pm.
When I awoke, I felt a little warm, with sun streaming through my living room windows. 60 pounds of hot Golden Retriever weren’t helping. My icepacks were sloshing. I refilled them and laid back down, shivering under my blankets.
I texted the Daughter.
“Did you take your temp?” she replied.
“I don’t have a thermometer that hasn’t been used in the Dog.”
“Put some ice on your head and take Tylenol.”
“It’s on my chest.”
“The ice is on my chest, not my head. I don’t use Tylenol.”
“What are you feeling, exactly?”
“Chills. My forehead feels warm. Hey! I can clean the thermometer with that surgical scrub.”
My temperature was exactly 100°. Normal people wouldn’t worry too much, but I have always had one of those body temperatures that is subnormal and sort of dyslexic. It’s 96.8°. I am always cold. People at church anticipate my icy grip when we “pass the peace.” Consequently, when my fingers feel warm, I assume that something is wrong.
“You have a low grade fever. Let me know how you feel in 30 min.”
30 minutes later, I dutifully texted my temperature, 101.3°.
“Uhm…call the doctor?” she texted, along with his emergency number.
“No, I don’t want to bother him.”
“It’s Friday afternoon. You don’t want to end up at Patient First.”
“Should I take Motrin?”
“You should call the doctor.”
“It’s almost 5, and they’ll be closing.”
“Call the doctor, Mom. That’s why he has an emergency number.”
Sure enough, they had closed for the weekend, but I left a message on the answering device. I felt worse bothering the doctor after hours than I did about the fever. I’ve been on the other end of an after-hours phone call. You understand that it’s part of the job, but there’s always a big sigh when you see a message. Still, it was only 10 minutes after closing, so I knew I wasn’t ruining his night. Within three minutes, he returned my call. I apologized profusely for bothering him after hours. He was most cordial and approved my request to discontinue the oxycodone and start Motrin. Again, I apologized profusely for bothering him.
Within a few hours, after taking the Motrin, my temperature started dropping. Without the oxycodone, I was comfortable and, once again, slept like a baby, on my back. When I awoke, I made first attempt at changing my dressing, smearing the wounds with Vaseline (which, I discovered, leaked through my clothes), covering them with gauze pads, and securing the whole thing with bandage tape). At 8, my phone rang. It was my doctor calling to check up on me. I was enormously impressed and, once again, felt stupid for bothering him with my insignificant little fever. In fact, I wished that it had been worse so that I could justify his concern.
Two more nights and days without oxycodone, and, on Monday, I was back in his office.
“Hey, Suzanne, how’re you feeling?” He shook my hand, and we went through our routine; he did the unzipping and unhooking and prodding, and I did the jokes.
“So, guess what?” I asked. “My left breast came back online.”
“What?” He looked at me warily, probably wondering what I was babbling about now.
“My left nipple,” I explained. “It has feeling again. Little electrical jolts. It seems to be entertaining itself at the most inopportune moments, like when I’m sitting quietly in church.”
He smiled and shook his head, hooking and zipping me back up. I felt short, childlike, and completely ridiculous. It occurred to me to keep my mouth shut. But…naw…
“It’s sort of like dressing a baby doll, isn’t it?” I laughed.
“Yeah,” he replied, “it really is.” This time, he laughed with me.
By my last visit, in mid-July, after two months of frequent exams, prodding, poking, and joking, my doctor declared that I was healed, except for some “rigid fat necrosis.” (Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?) I told him that I was regaling my friends with stories about my surgery, which stopped him in his tracks, but I reassured him that he was never the butt of my humor. I left him my latest motto: “I am not always happy, but I always try to be cheerful. Sometimes, that’s the best I can do.” As usual, he nodded his head. I hope I’ve spread a little sunshine his way.
Next week, I return for my final visit, and, possibly, the dreaded “after” photos. This time, I’m prepared. I’m preparing my witty repartee to ward off visions of Victorian England, and, as I told him on the morning of surgery that I would, I’ve gotten rid of the “armpit fat” and flabby abs (although, they remain glaringly white).
When I look down at my chest, I still marvel at how different my new breasts look. From that view, they look perfect. When I look in the mirror, they look like something attached by Dr. Frankenstein. It’s not the scarring. It’s the strangeness of them. We’re still becoming acquainted. My neck and backaches are a thing of the past, and I’ve treated myself to some cute lingerie, of course. Once again, I fit into some of my favorite clothes, including a gorgeous Italian wool gabardine suit that I had tailored in Hong Kong almost 20 years ago, an Armani knock-off that spans the vagaries of fashion. So, who am I to complain? Life is good (mostly). Soli Deo Gloria!