Nipples Optional: A Memoir - Section III: The Incision
Although it was a big decision to have the mastectomy, thankfully Bridget had already made many of the small, yet crucial, decisions for me. She picked out wonderful doctors who made the reconstruction and recovery process seamless. I also decided to use Dr. J as a breast surgeon. Although, at the time, Bridget was having rippling around her breast implants, so I chose to find a different plastic surgeon. I only met with one other plastic surgeon and he must have impressed me, because despite the implant leaking when he let me feel one, I chose him (He reassured me they won’t leak once they are implanted but I fear that may have foreshadowed my future. See our next book Uterus’ Optional.). In general, silicone implants have a life of roughly 10-20 years. Doctors typically caution patients that they will likely have reconstruction at some point in their lives. But one problem at a time, please. Dr. R gave me the option to do an immediate reconstruction with implants (vs the expanders that Bridget used). That worked out well because I lived in Chicago at the time, although I was having my surgery in Kansas City. I was able to stay in Kansas City for two weeks for my recovery, but that would have not been enough time to fill my expanders. With the doctors and details in place, all I had to do was schedule the surgery. Friday, October 13th was the first available date. Friday the 13th…sure, why the hell not?
Sweet, sweet Josh was there, holding my hand, as I got wheeled off to the surgery room to have my breast chopped off before we were even married. I only remember bits and pieces about the day of my surgery, which is probably for the best. What I do remember is that I laid in a hospital bed, prepped surgery, surrounded by my family. Was there a priest there? I vaguely remember someone finding a priest somewhere. In retrospect, it was a very morbid scene. Thankfully, the drugs were starting to kick in. The last thing I remember as they wheeled me off to surgery was a nurse saying, "It is Friday the 13th, I hope you aren't superstitious." I replied, "I'm not superstitious but I am a little-stitious," and then I blacked out.
I woke up from surgery as I was being wheeled into my recovery room. The first person I remember seeing was Chris, my childhood friend Laura’s, mom. Seeing her made me want to cry. She was like a mom to me growing up, and there she was, 20 years later, still kissing my boo boos and telling me everything would be okay, just like when I was three. The nurses, on the other hand, were sub-par. Although I was heavily drugged, I clearly remember a nurse waking me up the night after surgery and saying, “Excuse me ma’am, what did you have surgery for? A mastectomy. Oh yea, that’s right.” I get it, it would be a little confusing to see a 23 year old woman recovering from a mastectomy but it didn’t end there. While I was being discharged, I quickly grew frustrated with the lack of information I was provided. The nurse must have noticed and tried to justify the rushed discharge by saying, “Your mom is a nurse, you will be fine.” “A BABY nurse. My mom is a BABY nurse! Babies don’t have breasts, you idiot!” I screamed in my head.
My support and nursing staff (Bridget and my mom) were far more superior at home. Many people sent cards and flowers, praying that I had a quick recovery. My future mother-in-law, Mary, even offered to bring me lunch. I had been cooped up in the house for several days and was eager to enjoy the nice Fall weather so I recommended we go out for lunch. I’m sure it was not her preference to go to lunch at Panera with her future daughter-in-law and her drainage tubes pinned to her sweater, but she kindly agreed. A few days into my recovery, it was time to have my drainage tubes removed. I’m not sure if this was supposed to be done by a real nurse or my personal nursing staff, but it was ultimately done by my mother. Not being accustomed to “at home care” like this, I was understandably very anxious. While my mom investigated by incisions, Bridget held me down and forced a Xanax in my mouth. It wasn’t a pretty scene, but it was done in a loving manner (which is more than I can say for the hospital staff).
During my recovery, I also received a very thoughtful bouquet of flowers and note from my college roommate. Her note read, “You cannot direct the wind, but you can adjust the sails.” There were no truer words to describe this shitty situation. And life, as well. Life is a series of adjusting the sails over and over again, just hoping you don’t capsize the boat.