In the school of hard knock(er)s, my lessons seem to always come in the form of surprise pain. Surprise pain is like a sadistic ninja just waiting for me to relax and get a little too cocky with my positive self-talk and mind-over-matter strategies. Today’s surprise pain came when the nurse put the needle in the left port. I instantly got a shooting pain to my left arm down to my elbow. It was so surprising to me, that I immediately started crying. In all of this time, through all of the horrible fills, I’ve never cried in the doctor’s office. Today? Cried like a little girl. I couldn’t stop it and I felt like a goob. I felt bad for my nurse because I think my reaction to the pain startled her a little bit too. The pain basically felt like instant and excruciating tennis elbow (tendonitis). It subsided after a few minutes to more of a dull ache – which is MUCH more tolerable. The right side didn’t hurt like that at all. I would have never thought that my arms would react to expansion the way they have. Seems like so much of my pain is actually in my arms and not in my chest. That sneaky little ninja seems to know exactly where to throw me off course so that I have to face every aspect of this process physically, mentally and emotionally. Challenge accepted you little jerk.
These last two weeks have been really really good for me though. I had a break from expansion last week and got to feel more mobile and “normal” than ever. Seems like the “breaks” are getting better and better. Not only did I get to be part of a friend’s wedding and wear a dress that didn’t make me feel/look like a crazy lady with misshapen boobs…but I took a nap yesterday and laid on my right side! I know that sounds so silly, but I’ve been sleeping propped up and on my back since April 18th. I don’t think I can lay on my side very often, but it’s the little things that keep me going right now.
I still hate that I’m going every other week for fills now. I know that I obviously need to slow things down. (said in my whiniest voice) Extending the amount of time it will take to get me thru expansion is not the only issue that I’m a little pissy about. Two weeks in-between fills gives me time to get used to feeling good. For a few days I get to pretend like this isn’t really happening. Of course, I’m reminded when I move too much or I reach for something too quickly…or when I bump up against something or have to change to a different style of sports bra in order to wear a certain shirt…you get the picture. But during the 10 days leading up to the next fill, I don’t have pain. Because of this, I’m finding myself growing anxious the night before a fill. Each fill just seems to be such a surprise (good and bad), so I don’t really know what to expect until I get them. Sundays are now referred to as the night I have to “put on my big girl panties.”
Today’s fill brought me to 500cc. Only 4 more fills to go. I’m not real sure where another 200cc are going to go though. I just don’t know that I have the room, but he assures me that I will get there. I already feel huge. The fills are REALLY quick. So literally, I walk in, talk to the doc for about 3 min, and then I’m with the nurse for (maybe) 10 minutes. It’s nice that it doesn’t take up too much time…but I still feel like I live there. In fact, everyone commented on my new hair color as I walked in. Kinda funny when you spend so much time at your plastic surgeon’s office that the staff and nurses recognize that I’ve had 4 different hair cuts and colors since April. They weren’t lying when they told me that I’d be part of their family for a year. Getting to know the girls in the office does help me when I am faced with the ninja of surprise pain though. It helps to talk to them while I mentally kick the ninja’s ass so that I can be prepared to walk out and drive myself home. By the end of this I should be a master sniper of ninjas and have a PhD in mental pain management….street education is just as valuable as my formal education and I intend on graduating with honors for this round of degrees.
This is going to be a strange but necessary post. As this blog has progressed, I’ve put a lot of thought into how I describe the emotional, mental and physical aspects of this whole ordeal. I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of explaining things so that you get an accurate picture of the experience. People don’t really talk about the details of breast reconstruction very much so I’ve tried my best to be very transparent and descriptive. Up until now, I’ve worked hard to find ways to explain what I mean when I say that the tissue expanders are “hard” or “firm.” I have really struggled with finding the appropriate analogy.
I have a Master of Arts in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication and I’m an adult learning specialist (ala Training Manager). Analogies are a big part of my professional life. I use them in most of my professional writing because they are effective instructional tools. I think that identifying good analogies to use in the training courses I develop is one of my professional “super powers.” I very rarely struggle with creating them to explain complex topics, but for the life of me, this expander experience has had me perplexed. Needless to say, I’ve been on a mission to find the best analogy to describe the way these things feel.
I’ve tried to use words like clay, skeet, bricks. These analogies have not been the best because they are all harder than the expanders and just don’t do them justice. I’ve even been letting friends touch them because it’s just been hard to find a good way to describe them. I giggled when I wrote that because it’s funny to think about how many times in the last few weeks I’ve said “just touch them and you’ll see what I mean.” I’ve ever been felt-up this much in my life. And trust me- there’s nothing “hot” about this. [Side note: The expanders sit high up close to my clavicle, so it’s not as crude of a feel-up as you’re probably picturing, Dad.] I mean, I’m very aware that at some point I’ll stop seeing them as my temporary prostheses and they will return to being something much more private. Until then, my friends are curious and I have not been able to describe them well enough….until now!
Last week I was at a friend’s house for dinner. As we were preparing dinner, I realized that these silly expanders feel just like a head of lettuce! If you’re gearing up for surgery right now and want to know what they will feel like, go to the grocery store and feel-up some lettuce – stat! I realize that now most of you will think about this when you go to the grocery store. I have a feeling that what I have actually encouraged you to do is start a weird phenomenon that will be confusing to on-lookers and cause you to show up on peopleofwalmart. Regardless, those of you that are mentally preparing for surgery and are trying to understand what they will feel like will benefit from this trip to the grocery store tremendously. So I’ll take one for the team and sound like a weirdo by using my new found analogy. I just hope that it brings at least one of you some comfort by helping you know what they’ll feel like as you prepare for this significant battle of mind and body.
And the rest of you can just giggle in solidarity with me when you walk by lettuce in the grocery store. 🙂
Nothing really new to report. The last two weeks I received two fills of 50ccs each. I’m now at 450 ccs and can see the finish line. I’m noticing now that one side appears to be a little higher than the other. I realize that’s to be expected. I mean, picture filling two balloons up with toothpaste just a little bit at a time…they aren’t going to fill up in the same way. I know that once I’m done with expansion they’ll be even, but right now every time I look in the mirror it’s all I see. This week my right side has started hurting my arm pit. Basically, the expander is cutting into my side and making my arm pit look weird. Luckily, not many people would ever even notice that, but it makes shaving difficult. It’s caused a little bit of mobility issues in my right arm too. So all this means is…I’m still a little gimpy.
I laid out by the pool last Sunday for 7 or so hours. I now have freakish tan lines and was so worried my doctor was going to lecture me about it. He just laughed, compared my tan to his and told me to not to get so tan that I start looking like I rolled in Doritos. Whew! I hate the ‘no sun’ lecture. I have to think that he was just so glad to see me smiling and feeling better that he decided to pick his battles. I’m not complaining about that at all. He’s backed off on the “make sure you’re not…” conversations with me, and I can’t tell if it’s a sign that he sees that I’m feeling better OR he’s just decided to go easy on me because he knows it’s been tougher than I had expected. I’m just glad restrictions are decreasing and not increasing.
I’m really thankful that the pain has been tolerable lately too. Last Tuesday was the anniversary of my brother’s death and would have been his 30th birthday. I actually had a really nice day. I had a lot of people share great memories of him with me. My mom sent me all kinds of great pictures of us as kids. My pain was tolerable after the fill the day before. I am glad that pain wasn’t as harsh as it has been so that I wasn’t emotionally drained by the time Jake’s day rolled around. Extreme pain coupled with a sad day would have been hard to handle. This process is just as much mental and emotional as it is physical. Thankfully, I made it through the day pretty well.
Now I’m just coasting through until next week when I get my next fill. I’m on a mini vacation this week from expansion since I’m in Arkansas. I think I have 4-6 more fills left this summer. This next fill on the 9th might be the one that finally pushes my incision out enough so that any creases or folds in the skin are stretched flat. I thinkthe shape is starting to look better even if one is a little higher than the other. I’m already seeing the finish line though and day dreaming about my next surgery. Sooooooo ready. Until then, I’m just hanging in there and waiting to see what the next fill will feel like.