Friday, July 06, 2012

Surgery and Recovery

Two weeks ago, I underwent a tummy tuck. It was a choice I made with the help of my loving husband who totally accepted my body the way it was...and who understood that the biggest handicap for me to being able to do the same was my tummy.

Three weeks before the surgery, Steve and I went to a pre-op appointment where I learned just how different recovery from a tummy tuck is compared to lap band recovery. I learned about drains, binders, narcotics, compression stockings, and not being able to be upright for up to 10 days. I called Mom, who had agreed to care for me for the week following the surgery, and informed her that it was going to be a bit more of a challenge this go-around. She decided, most graciously and generously, to stay 10 days instead of 7, and we all mentally tried to prepare.

I didn't really start to worry about the actual surgery until the week before. During this time, I learned that not only had my uncle been diagnosed with cancer but that my sister-in-law's mother had terminal cancer and my stepsister has lymph node cancer. Mortality started to appear a lot more fleeting. Then I had dreams involving my deceased grandmothers. In one, I introduced Steve to my dad's mom, who passed away several years ago. She approved of him, by the way, which doesn't surprise me at all. I didn't really believe I was going to die, but I was a lot more aware that death is always on the table when you are too.

My surgery was the first one of the day, so Steve and I arrived at 6am. I like having early morning surgeries; best to get it done with and on to recovery. I think the person being operated on is kind of lucky - they miss all the wait time. One moment they're cracking jokes to the nurses and the next they're waking up. My first thought when I woke up: Thank you, God, for letting me wake up in the doctor's recovery room and not on your doorstep. The recovery nurse commented later that she'd been surprised that I woke up so quickly and that I was so chatty after having gone through major surgery. I told her that I'd been told the same thing after my lap band surgery. I guess anesthesia has that affect on me. And, I have a natural affinity for loquaciousness.

I won't go into the details of the surgery here - if you want them, feel free to call or email me and I can relate to you all that the doctor did. Basically, 6 lbs 2 oz of skin and fat were removed from my body. My bariatric surgeon had said that it would be 10-15 lbs but my plastic surgeon said that's a common misconception and usually only 2-3 lbs are removed. So, I really did have a lot of excess material down there! Steve said my surgeon sounded pretty excited about the weight that had been removed. I guess I am, too, but as I told him, I didn't do it to lose weight but to gain a figure.

Once I was awake and a little more coherent (and had told the recovery nurse most of my life story, I guess), she brought Steve in to see me. A very, very short time later, I was in a wheelchair being wheeled to the car and sent home to recover. It seemed a little strange to be going home so quickly, but frankly I was relieved to be able to go home instead of being made to wait any longer.  I longed to be tucked into my own bed. I'm sure the ride home was painful because I remember being in pain the first two days, despite pretty heavy narcotics and muscle relaxers, but the ride is a little drug-induced hazy. The drugs took the edge off of the pain, for which I was very grateful. Surprisingly, they didn't put me to sleep like everyone thought they would, so I was pretty alert most of the day after getting home. Steve ended up having to take care of me and my needs more than either of us thought he would have to that first day, thinking I'd sleep the whole day.

The next day, Saturday, my mom came. I love my husband and he is a wonderful nurse, but my heart leapt for joy when I heard the sound of my mom's voice. She had proved to be a wonderful caregiver when she helped me recover from my lap band surgery, and there's no one like one's mother. She was a blessing the whole 11 days she stayed with us, especially since this recovery was a lot more difficult than my previous surgery and my life has more to it now - a dog, a garden, a home, and a husband that all needed to be cared for in different ways.

Although I was in constant pain those first couple days, it was a dull pain that I could live with. I ate light but fairly normally; soup, oatmeal, crackers, popsicles, pudding. On the third day, I started moving around more and spent a few hours sitting in the living room when my brother came to visit. I'm guessing this extra movement must have caused some extra swelling because suddenly I couldn't get anything to go past my lap band, not even water. It would go down, sit in my pouch, then come back up an hour or so later. This went on for a few days and didn't let up, even when I stopped moving around as much to try to reduce whatever swelling had occurred. We finally started contacting local bariatric doctors to try to get in to have the saline in my band removed so it would loosen and allow food and water to get to my stomach. No one would get me in despite it being somewhat of an emergency. I wasn't in good health by Wednesday, physically and mentally I was depleted and desperate. Mom and I started contemplating driving to my bariatric surgeon in St. George to get my band loosened and called their office to discuss it. Fortunately, my surgeon told his staff about three hospitals in Salt Lake who can perform the task needed. I called the first one and was told to come in whenever. I asked if someone would be there who could do it and he said that if there wasn't they would just call the bariatric clinic across the street and steal one of their doctors. Hmmm. I asked the name of the clinic - it was one who couldn't fit me in to their schedule. I called that clinic back and told them that if they didn't get me in the next day, I'd go to the emergency room and they'd end up having to send over one of their doctors anyway. I got an appointment for 4:00pm.

With my band loosened, recovery took off! I had the doctor remove most of the saline but I'm only able to eat the amounts I could before my tummy tuck, so I know there's still swelling going on in there. It's good because I'm getting the water and nutrients I need to be healthy but still get the aid of the lap band to prevent over-eating.

We knew the first week would be the hardest and it was, even without my band complication to deal with. I was on a drug regime where I'd take a pain narcotic then three hours later a muscle relaxer followed by a pain narcotic three hours later - you get the pattern. I discovered that lortab makes me kind of goofy when it kicks it, not sleepy. We also had to deal with my drainage tubes and the grenade-looking bulbs that collected the blood/drainage. They had to be drained and the amount measured every 6 hours. Once the drainage got to a certain point, the tubes would be removed, which didn't happen until day 11. My mom woke up at midnight, 3am, and 6am for several days to give me my pills and to drain my tubes and to allow Steve to sleep since he had to go to work. Again, mom's presence was such a blessing!!!

I got the tubes removed this week on Tuesday, day 11. They were just barely below the required amount and I'd been praying with all my heart they'd get below it by this doctor's appointment so I could get them removed. I didn't think to ask and no one told me what getting the tubes removed would feel like. After the first one came out, the nurse said most people say it feels like a pinch and a burn. My second one kind of felt like that but a little worse. The first tube, however, felt like someone had stuck a hot poker inside me then removed it somewhat quickly, burning me all the way out. I've never felt such raw, unhindered pain before in my life. It seriously made me rethink getting the second tube removed. Now that they're out, though, I'm so relieved. I can wear normal clothing (though I don't most of the time since I'm just hanging at home with the dog) and I'm not toting around those awful plastic grenades.

I am, however, stuck with a stomach binder for the next few weeks (six weeks minimum post surgery). You see, not only did the surgeon remove a bunch of fat and skin, but he also repaired my stomach muscles. That repair work is very sensitive and the binder gives it the support needed to make sure there aren't any complications. It also helps the skin form to my new sleeker shape. At first, I hated it because it's uncomfortable, but the first night we washed it and I didn't have it on, I could really tell the difference it makes to wear it. Movements hurt a lot more without it. I now have a couple Spanx-like products that fit better under clothes but that offer the same support. They're incredibly difficult to get on though, so I only wear them when going out in regular clothes; otherwise, I'm in the white binder the doctor gave me.

Each day is better than the next and I'm finally feeling like a person again. I constantly feel my stomach area. I take pain relievers still but a lot less frequently, so it isn't pain I feel but more of a tightness. The sores from my tube area are finally scabbing over and are a little itchy, as is the sensitive area down there that had to be shaved as part of the surgery. I move slowly and a little like Frankenstein's monster, but I know it will get easier and easier. I can even take Sadie for short walks without my cane AND can shower without using the shower chair Steve bought when our lawn patio footstool collapsed under me the first time we used it (causing me a good deal of pain).

My body isn't perfect. It never will be. I still have flabby thighs, pooches above my bum, flabby arms, and breasts that sag without the aid of a good bra. I can live with all of those things. The thing that made me feel like I still weighed 350 lbs, my stomach, is gone. I finally feel like I look normal, like I should. I finally feel like I look like me. Yesterday was the first day I truly felt it. My sister-in-law and nephew came for a visit so I actually got dressed and put on make up. Then today I had a job interview and wore a pair of slacks and a shirt that I would never have worn together because the shirt didn't cover my whole stomach area. I almost cried when I saw how normal I looked. I don't need to be the skinniest person or have the perfect body, I've just wanted to feel normal, and today I felt it. It felt amazing!

So, I took pictures. Here's the before - this is me before my lap band surgery.

This is me today.

I should point out that I took these pictures just barely, not this morning, and I'm wearing the bulky white binder instead of the sleeker Spanx-like thing I wore this morning.

Here are some pictures of the white bulky binder.

Doctor told me that it takes up to 6 whole months before the full results show up (swelling and such), but I must say that I'm thrilled with the results so far! The next few weeks will be much better than the previous two and I'll slowly be able to get back into my normal exercise and life routines.

Has it been hard. Yes. Has it been worth it? Yes. Very much so.


Anonymous said...


I'm so glad you're doing well and feeling better. And you look fantastic!

Both times I have come out of anesthesia, I was crying. Not for sadness, though. I'm just really sensitive, I guess. ;)

Mellissa said...

I'm so glad you're feeling somewhat like a normal person again!

You look fantastic! It's crazy because I look at the difference between those two pictures and think, "Wow!" But there's such a story between those two photos. It's one of those times where a picture isn't quite worth your story. :)

Cardine said...

Wow. I didn't realize how hard it would be for you! You are so brave, and your mom is so great!

Cassie said...

You look so awesome! And seem to be recovering nicely. Still time to decide to join me in Cedar next week. :)

AloeVeraSkincareTips said...

Good for you, the after photo looks great and indicates your quickly recovery.