Flying Home After DIEP Flap Breast Reconstruction Surgery
Flying home after DIEP flap breast reconstruction surgery has the potential of both an emotional and physical impact on the patient. It was both for me and I’d like to share my experience with you. It goes without saying, and as I explained in another travel post, be sure to plan on securing a wheelchair to get you to the gate. It was invaluable for me for two reasons. I didn’t have to worry about walking fast to my next connection and it eliminated excess swelling and pain from walking long distances at the airport. It gets you through TSA much faster, too!
Physical Impact of Flying Home
I highly recommend you have a travel partner for phase one of DIEP flap breast reconstruction surgery. I did and they can do the heavier lifting for you. You will be instructed not to lift anything over ten pounds for six weeks after surgery. Lighten up the purse this one time, ladies. I suggest the following items:
- Lip balm to moisten lips
- a small pillow** to put between your incisions and the seat belt
- cell phone with ear buds/headphones & your favorite playlist/games to keep you relaxed, distracted and calm on the flight home
- energy bar, nuts or nutritious snack
- ID and credit card along with a bit of cash for tipping
- prescribed meds your doctor has given you for at home care
- hand sanitizer & small package of tissues
**NOTE: I was seated in the bulkhead and in plain sight of the flight attendants. I was told it was against flight regulations to have a pillow under my seat-belt. They explained to me it left too much room between me and the seat belt and having the pillow there wouldn’t adequately allow me to be secure on the off chance there was an emergency landing. I made it very clear as soon as I got on the plane I just had major abdominal surgery and the pillow was recommended to be place there by my surgeon to protect my hip to hip incision. No further explanation was necessary and they allowed the pillow. If you do sit in the bulkhead you will be asked to place your purse in the overhead bin for takeoff. Again, “milk it” with the flight attendants this one time. If you have come in as wheelchair assisted you are likely to get the extra TLC you will need on your flight home. They very politely placed it in the overhead bin for me and got it back down after we were at a safe altitude.
Wardrobe and Movement
Make your wardrobe comfortable but also as easy to remove as possible for using the restroom. The affects of the surgery may cause some weakness and mobility limitations in your arms when pulling those pants down. Airplane restrooms are not user friendly for that even under the best of circumstances. Depending on the time of year it is still best to dress in light layers. I suggest easy pull up, elastic waist workout pants. Wear comfortable cotton clothing. You’ll already have a t-shirt on first under your surgical bra to protect your incisions. Wear a simple button up shirt and bring a warm sweater to keep you comfortable because flights always have the potential of getting chilly at higher altitude. I also brought a comfy scarf to wrap around my neck for extra warmth. Wear comfortable slip on shoes and without a doubt…. Wear those compression stockings. You’ve just had major surgery and you need to wear those to help with swelling but more importantly to avoid the possibility of DVT (deep vein thrombosis). The chances of this are relatively low but take precautions such as drinking plenty of fluids while flying as well as getting up and moving about the plane when possible. Rotate your ankles frequently and squeeze your butt and leg muscles to help with circulation. Doing simple shoulders rolls while seated is another movement that will help.
I was fortunate and did not come home with any drains. There is a high likelihood you may have one or two drains as you fly home. If you are leery about going through TSA with drains, have your surgeon write out a letter for airport authorities to have available if there is any question. Be sure to clear/strip your drains before the flight. Wear clothing with pockets to secure them or have a lanyard they can be attached to. It’s easy to conceal them under your clothing or even with a neck scarf I mentioned earlier.
Emotional Impact of Flying Home
It was mentioned in my breast reconstruction planner from my surgical team you may feel a variety of emotions as you recover from surgery. Some women I speak to did go through this when they return home. Much to my surprise, my emotions surfaced on my flight home. Before my surgery, I was the planner extraordinaire! I sense many women are for this enormous surgery. Much attention is paid to you before surgery by friends and family. You are taken care of in hospital 24/7 by the medical staff.
This flood of emotions on my flight home took me by complete surprise. I knew I had to say goodbye to my best friend. She flew down to help out after my husband had to go home the week I left the hospital. This woman cooked for me, showered me, got up in the middle of the night to help me out of bed, went on walks with me… honestly, and to put it quite succinctly, when I moved, she moved. I was overwhelmed by her love, care, and commitment to my healing. We had to part ways on my final and short connecting flight home. She got up to use the restroom on the flight and I didn’t want her to see I was upset. When she was in the restroom the tears began to flow…. Uncontrollably. Glad I packed those tissues! I looked down to hide my emotion from everyone but I was in a serious boo-hoo moment. I managed to compose myself before she got back to her seat. As we were whisked through the airport in my wheelchair to the final gate by an attendant, I knew it was time to tell her goodbye. My throat tightened and again the flow of tears began. We gave a final hug, she assured me I was going to be fine and to text her when I got home. She had a bit of a layover before her next flight so I instructed her to go straight to the bar for a cocktail. I made sure I smiled at her as they escorted me onto the plane.
The Final Leg Home and Greeting the Guys
My final flight home was only 45 minutes. It was now dark outside and I’m glad it was on the plane, too. I was sitting at the front of the plane and the tears began again. I was thinking about the enormity of being home and recovering, housework, mail, phone calls, thank you notes to friends, and just taking care of me! I was thinking about how much my husband and two sons had done for me during this entire process and knowing they would be there to pick me up. I was wondering what my husband would think on his “first look” after surgery sans the drains. I was also wondering what condition my house was in after being gone for two weeks!!! Reality 101 set in as I was flying home.
The attendant came to get me from the plane after landing and wheeled me down to the baggage area. Those tears didn’t stop when I saw my guys. They all hugged me gently and accepted my full range of emotions and exhaustion from the day. They listened as I decompressed from my trip and watched me carefully looking at the “new me”. I arrived home late in the evening. The very next morning I had to be at physical therapy at 7:30 a.m. It was time to tuck momma in bed. My oldest son did just that. This was the third time this year he left his wife, my sweet daughter-in-law, to come help out with my care. He arranged my pillows, made sure I had water, tucked the blankets in around me, gave me a kiss on the forehead and told me good night. I was sleeping on the sofa downstairs so I could easily “roll” out of it on my own.