Breast Reconstruction Travel & Post-op Visits
A question was posed to me recently about breast reconstruction travel and post-op visits. The question was this:
Terri – when you traveled for your DIEP, did you travel back/ forth for all the follow up visits also? So, wondering how all the follow up visits go in a situation like this? How long did you stay in SA while recovering?
It is an important question to ask. I had the same question before my own DIEP flap surgery. DIEP flap is a very specialized breast reconstruction surgery using the patient’s own tissue. There are few qualified micro-surgeons who perform it with a high rate of success and have amassed a great number of flap surgeries performed. When the numbers are extrapolated, there is not even one in every state. It makes sense, then, that to find a highly-qualified micro-surgeon, patients frequently must travel for breast reconstruction. When you have extensive surgery, return to your own hometown, and you will no longer have access to visit your plastic surgeon, it is a concern. I want to share my experience and how it was handled at the center I chose to have my reconstruction done. Perhaps this will give you some comfort but also give you some pertinent points to bring up at your own consult if you travel for your breast reconstruction.
My Hospital stay
My DIEP flap surgery was performed on a Monday and I was released from hospital on Saturday.
Recovery at the Rental Apartment, a VRBO, was from Saturday through the following Sunday, one week total. I was in San Antonio for a total of 16 days. Two of those days were prior to my surgery to buy groceries, get to know the area, find where the hospital was located, and to have some decompression time with my husband before my Monday morning surgery.
My rental apartment was just a few short miles from Methodist Hospital and PRMA so my care givers wouldn’t have far to drive for follow up visits the week I was released from hospital. The week I was convalescing with my best friend, the one caring for me after my husband flew back for work, took me for the following visits to my plastic surgeon’s office:
- Tuesday: The nurse saw me to check drain progression. And of course, a fun photo!
- Wednesday: My plastic surgeon saw me to check the flap, incisions, and to schedule ultra-sound guided physical therapy when I returned home. He would have given me a referral in my home town but I had been to a physical therapist after my mastectomy and wanted to go back to her. I called her office that day to arrange physical therapy the day I returned home. I also had a drain that was starting to become a bit infected so he wrote a prescription to increase my antibiotics. He also prescribed a low dose of muscle relaxer to alleviate the back-fatigue I was experiencing. Both prescriptions went right to work and I saw relief within 24 hours for both conditions. Dr. C and I also chatted briefly about phase 2.
- Friday: My third and final visit was with the nurse to remove all drains, get my post op instructions, and say some final good-byes.
- Week 6 post Diep flap surgery: My nurse arranged an agreeable time to have a phone call with my plastic surgeon to check on my progress. He asked how I was feeling, if I was happy with the overall appearance of my breasts, and discussed a general date for phase 2. Nothing like a personal phone call from your surgeon after one of his long days at work. It is something that is done at this practice and it’s worth mentioning to your own plastic surgeon to see if you might have a brief, personal phone chat with them. It was a comforting touch.
Post-op Visit with the Nurse
I always had access to my nurse and she was prompt in her email responses. If I had concerns, a phone call was returned quickly. Ask your plastic surgeon’s nurse how you can communicate with her after you return home. I have heard many patients say it makes such a difference to have that wonderful connection and communication with the nurse after you return home. I love my plastic surgeon’s nurse and she deserves a gold star for her care and compassion.
At Home Post-op Follow Up
Coordinate with local resources before you leave. Find out who might remove drains if you come home with them, tend to wound healing issues (wound therapy centers) as well as your primary care physician who might assist you with any further concerns. I asked my breast surgeon’s office if they could remove drains on the chance that I came home with them. The need didn’t arise but they agreed to do it since they took out my mastectomy drains and knew me.
Communication is the Key
The key is communication with your plastic surgeon at the time of your consult. I hope my own seamless experience traveling for my DIEP will help relieve some of the concerns you may have.
Are there other things that you can think of that concern you about traveling for breast reconstruction, DIEP flap or implants? Let me know and feel free to leave a comment.