DIEP flap Recovery ~ First week home
DIEP flap recovery, first week home from hospital, or in my case back to my rental, was something I called on my best friend and caregiver to help me recount details of that week. We had a few good laughs over some events that I will share with you in this post. My husband was only able to be there for one week during my hospital stay. Since I flew over 800 miles to have my DIEP flap surgery I had my best friend fly in to take over for him the week I left hospital. We chose to stay in a Vacation Rental by Owner facility that I wrote about the benefits of in another blog.
Lots of Sleep
My surgery was on a Monday and I left hospital on Saturday. The sunshine and fresh air were divine after being in a hospital bed for five days. I got into the apartment rental, changed into my favorite button up pajamas with a very loose, drawstring waist to wear over my surgical bra and abdominal binder. I went straight to the recliner and slept. My best friend and husband were in the same room making out a grocery list for the week. As my best friend recounts, “Your husband would not quit talking. I kept giving him the evil eye and wanting him to shush but he wouldn’t”. She asked me if I heard them when I finally woke up and I told her I didn’t hear a thing. Yes, you’ll be that tired! I did not walk that first day home. I only slept and had a very light meal. I took my pain meds that night before sleeping for the night.
You will nap frequently during the day. Remember, your body is healing from a huge surgery and needs rest. When you sleep at night you will need to be in a recliner or in my case, a bed with a wedge pillow behind your upper body, pillows elevating your legs and a pillow under each arm. Think of it as the “beach chair” position. You can request a recliner from a durable medical facility. Ask if it will qualify as durable medical equipment under your insurance plan.
Calling for Help in the Middle of the Night
My sweet friend brought a care package for my week of healing after leaving the hospital. She brought an electric blanket to keep me warm, caramels because she knew I couldn’t eat chocolate yet, a pretty Christmas dishtowel from her adult son who used to play at our home when he was little, and …. A bell. A bell to put in my bed at night and ring when I needed her to come in and help me out of bed to go to the bathroom.
I rang it the first night in the middle of the night. No answer from my friend. I rang it again… still no answer. OK, now I HAD to pee. I very gently and gingerly slid out of bed. I had to turn the lights on. When she saw the lights on she slid into my bedroom like Tom Cruise in the movie, “Risky Business” and frantically stated, “What the hell are you doing up?” I told her I rang the bell but she was in a very deep sleep. Her reply, “Apparently I should have bought a bigger bell!” With that I grabbed a pillow and held it to my belly to protect my stitches and began to giggle uncontrollably. From that night on, I used my cell phone to call her if I needed her in the middle of the night. To this day, that bell sits in my office as a reminder of my sweet friends dedication and help that week. She would come in and place her arm under my shoulder and help raise me out of bed as I swung my legs out of bed. This would help so that I didn’t compromise the abdominal incision or use my arms to push myself up off the pillows. I was able to handle all bathroom issues by myself but those moist towelettes sure came in handy.
My friend helped me with my first shower on Sunday. A lovely woman I met through a Facebook page let me use her shower chair for the week. They can be found for a fairly inexpensive price. It is a huge help the first week after you are released from hospital. It is also very beneficial to have a shower with a removable shower wand for ease in rinsing and cleaning. My friend would pour Hibiclens antibacterial liquid into a shower sponge, place it at my shoulder and squeeze it to let the cleanser gently run down the front of my body. You should not stand with your front to the shower while those incisions heal. Her method allowed for gentle cleansing while protecting the incisions.
Hang the drains around your neck on a lanyard while you are showering. The drains are made of plastic and are easy to dry when you get out of the shower. It’s a good idea to have an extra lanyard while the other one dries from your shower. Start at the top of your head, washing your hair, and end with your feet last. Gently towel/pat dry. The showers usually wore me out and I was ready to rest afterwards. We began short walks outside on Sunday and I walked as far as I could tolerate, not far, but the key is to do it a few times a day. I took pain medication before sleeping that Sunday night.
Here’s a quick look at the activities I attempted that week and how they went.
Monday ~ To my friend’s amazement, I wanted to go out. I was craving a Chick Fil A breakfast biscuit. We hopped in the car for a short ride and went through the drive through to pick it up. It went OK but just the jostling from the road bumps and getting in and out of the car wore me out and I was ready to rest when we got back. I was treated to a delicious, healthy, gourmet soup that evening courtesy of my best friend who is also an extraordinary chef. We walked outside three times that day and try to extend our walks a few steps each time we went out. I wanted to get off my pain medication since I really didn’t need it and so I did not take any before bed that night.
Tuesday ~ I saw my surgical nurse to have my top two breast drains removed. My friend and I went to a breakfast/pastry shop afterward to celebrate. Again, just the brief ride in the car, sitting in the doctor’s office, sitting at the restaurant, all wore me out. Nap time when I got back. We walked three times outside that day and again, extending the walk a few steps each time we went out. That night I began having back pain in the middle of the night. I woke up in tears just from sheer exhaustion and being overwhelmed with trying to sleep through the back pain and fatigue. I got up and walked the floor. I found a rounded corner of the room to roll my back on to try to massage the fatigue. You are in a bit of a stooped position as your body adjusts to the tightness of the abdominal stitches and it can become exhausting adjusting to that position during that adjustment period. I took some Tylenol and fell back to sleep.
Wednesday ~ It was time for my post-operative appointment with my plastic surgeon. One of my abdominal drains had become red and angry looking. It was a bit infected so he upped my antibiotics and it remedied the situation within twelve hours. That drain was removed and now I only had one abdominal drain to deal with. He also gave me a muscle relaxer to take in the evening for my back. Again, we went out to my favorite cuisine, Greek food, to celebrate. I could only eat half of my dinner. Remember, your stomach has been stretched and pulled down tight for that tummy tuck (abdominoplasty) and you just don’t have the room you used to for food. We brought home leftovers and again, that event wore me out. Nap time.
Thursday ~ A day of rest! I knew Friday was going to be a big day getting my last drain out, getting my take home instructions, and making my patient testimony video. For that reason we really took it easy Thursday. We did our walks, showered and just relaxed with lots of TV, naps, and leftover soup and Greek food when we were hungry. I challenged myself to walk the longest I had walked all week. We walked three times that day.
Friday ~ I got up in morning and took a shower, put on makeup and attempted to fix my hair as best I could without raising my arms overhead. I wanted to look nice because I made a patient video that day before I had my final drain removed and received my at home care instructions. I advise you to have someone there with you that day to listen to the at home care instructions. You should also be given a copy of the instructions. We said our goodbyes to the staff. When we finished, I wanted to celebrate so my friend and I went out to lunch at a lovely shopping area. We should have stopped at lunch and gone home. I insisted on walking around a bit. NOT A GOOD IDEA! My legs began feeling like the 200 lbs. they felt like the day they got me out of bed for the first time after surgery. We quickly packed it up and went home to rest the remainder of the day.
Saturday ~ Walking three times, resting and packing to go home the next day.
Each day we stripped drains and measured output and recorded my medicine intake for antibiotics, Colace stool softener, and Tylenol as needed. I was able to go to the bathroom by myself the entire week. I recommend buying some moist wipes to make it easier when you have a bowel movement.
I ate mostly protein, fruits and vegetables. I had frozen blueberries for a snack, Ensure when I got up each morning, instant steel cut oatmeal for breakfast, a handful of almonds for a snack, yogurt, light lunches and dinners, and oh yes, those delicious caramels courtesy of my best friend. I drank prune juice and lots of water to get the system going and never had any issues with constipation. In fact, I started having regular bowel movements day two when I got out of the hospital because of my diet, water consumption, and frequent walks.
This is not the time to have children or pets jumping on your lap. I didn’t have to worry about either but many women do. Make arrangements for your pets to be somewhere else this week. Arrange for your children to snuggle next to you on the sofa and be prepared to tell them they can’t sit on your lap until you heal.
Sunday it was time to leave and go home. It was an emotion-filled day and deserves its own separate blog.