Thursday – Losing My Tail
Thursday was my appointment to have the drain removed. Justin met me at the doctor’s office in the cancer hospital. My surgeon greeted me when he came into the exam room and asked me a few questions about the drain output the day before. It was still at 40 mL. My surgeon said the drain was still coming out because the risk of infection if they leave the drain in after six weeks. Which makes complete sense. It’s a foreign object in an open wound that leads directly into my body.
My surgeon said, “I have to admit, you’re much more contemplative today than I thought you’d be.”
I gave him a puzzled look.
He gave me jazz hands. “The drain’s coming out! Aren’t you excited?”
I thought about it before nodding. “I’m happy the drain is coming out. I’m nervous about what that means for the fluid.”
He snipped the black stitches holding the drain in place and with a quick snaking sensation he held the drain in his hands. “It’s out,” he said, holding it up for me to see.
I looked at it for a moment and then grinned about as wide as I could. It was like I’d lost a tail. I felt so free.
“So,” the surgeon said as he taped a bandage over the hole in my side. “Any big plans for the rest of the day?”
I looked at Justin and asked, “Are you going back to work?”
Justin almost answered before I cut him off. “Never mind. You’re not going back to work. We’re going home.”
I saw my surgeon’s eyes widen before he laughed and politely looked away. I thought back on what I’d just said and my cheeks burned when I realized what I’d said out loud.
Justin and I sat on a bench in front of the hospital waiting for our cars (valet is the best invention ever). He put his arm around me and asked, “Happy?”
“I can’t believe it’s over.” Tears rolled down my cheeks. He gave me an alarmed look and I shook my head.
“Happy tears,” I said. He settled his arm back around me and let me have my moment.
Friday – The Red Breast Protocol
Everything is easier without the drain tube. Showering, dressing, hell, peeing is easier. That first bathroom trip was the first time in six weeks I didn’t worry about snagging the tube in my pants or having it fall out of my shirt generating interesting looks from coworkers.
I still catch myself moving like the drain is there. When I lean forward I press my elbow into my side to keep it from shifting before I remember it’s gone. I hesitate before turning around 360 degrees in the shower. I keep patting my side expecting to find it there.
But it’s not there. Now there’s just a hole in my side.
I expected to wake up Friday morning with the sanitary napkin I’d placed inside my clothing the night before soaked with fluid from the hole. When the drain tubes came out from my mastectomy I soaked through shirts and sheets for at least a week, but when I woke up, the pad was dry.
Before I got in the shower I noticed there was red stripe across the front of my right breast (the one with the implant). I thought it was strange, but maybe I’d just slept wrong. I took a picture and finished getting ready for the day.
By 8:00 I was dragging my friend into the bathroom at work for a sanity check. I lifted my shirt and showed her.
“There’s definitely some swelling,” she said. I got another picture and we compared to the one from that morning. The redness had spread since earlier that morning and my breast also felt warm to the touch.
I emailed pictures to my surgeon and explained my symptoms. Or, rather, my friend did. My hands were shaking too badly so I just handed her my phone to type out the message. Then I realized it was Friday, which is a surgery day for my plastic surgeon. He was elbow deep in another person. There was no way I was getting a response from him any time soon, so I called the reconstructive surgery triage nurse and left a message.
Around lunch time I received a call back. After a few questions she said very calmly, “I want you to be seen today. How fast can you get here?”
My friend drove me across Houston and waited with me until Justin arrived.
The nurse I saw wasn’t my regular nurse so I had to back fill the story of the drain removal the day before and how much it was putting out when it was removed. I had to tell the story again to the Physician’s Assistant (PA) when she came in.
“Six weeks is a long time to have a drain,” she said.
I kind of figured that was the case, and no one wanted to frighten me by saying it out loud.
“Yeah,” I said. “It was.”
When the PA looked at my pictures from the morning before examining me. She confirmed that she saw the redness and that my breast was also warm to the touch. She performed an ultrasound on my right breast. She said she didn’t see any pockets of fluid, but there was fluid around the implant (which she deemed ‘expected’).
After placing a call to my surgeon she said, “Rather than admitting you to the hospital and starting IV antibiotics”
(I didn’t even know that option was on the table until she said it out loud.)
“I’m going to send you home with three antibiotics and you keep an eye on it over the weekend. If it gets worse, go to the ER.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever taken three antibiotics at once,” I said.
“It’s our protocol for situations like this. Actually,” she smiled, “it’s called the Red Breast Protocol.”
I blinked at her, speechless. Really? There’s a Red Breast Protocol? It sounds like a Tom Clancy novel. Part of me wanted to laugh. A bigger part of me wanted to throw up.
“Go to an ER close to home? Or come up here?”
“Implants are prone to infections and so is radiated tissue. We probably admit a Red Breast (I heard the capital letters in her voice) a couple times a week. We have protocols for it, so come up here.”
Justin and I left the hospital and headed toward our home pharmacy where my antibiotic prescriptions had been called in. They could only fill two of the prescriptions and said I’d have to wait until Monday for the third.
I asked, “Well, does any other pharmacy have it?”
She shrugged. “You can call around, I guess.”
I could call around. Like I was being inconvenient.
I just stared at the woman behind the counter. I was completely stunned by her utter failure to give a shit.
I had a quick little fantasy about leaping behind the counter and chewing her face off, then said, “Okay, thanks.”
We drove across the street to the next pharmacy where the pharmacist there was much more helpful. She didn’t have the antibiotic in stock but she found a pharmacy that did have it. She transferred my prescription from the other pharmacy then and there.
I’m still pissed off. I may never go back to the first pharmacy.
When we finally got home I poured one of each of the antibiotics into my palm. They even look mean. One is just your plain white pill. Another is red and beige. The third, the one that was hard to find, is an ominous red and black pill. Lying against each other in my palm they painted quite a picture.
I swallowed them, took a shower and crawled into bed before the sun went down.
I didn’t sleep well. Either the situation or the medication (or both) gave me bad dreams. I tossed and turned before I gave up and got out of bed.
I started writing this post at 12:51am on Saturday morning because the story was taking up too much space in my head. Part of me wants to Google ‘red breast protocol’, but I’m pretty sure the search results will just scare the shit out of me. Instead I’m going to close my laptop for now and read a book for a while until I can go back to sleep.