One week ago I was hunched over in the ER with a 102 fever, waiting to be admitted and fearing the unknown. After posting Red, Hot and Angry Boob, my fever quickly spiked and the next several days were a blur.
I finally made it to a hospital room at 2am with little rest to follow. The pain was practically unmanageable. I knew something was wrong…really wrong. My plastic surgeon’s PA came to my room Saturday morning. After an exam of my red, hot boob and glimpse of the murky fluid in my drain, she broke the news to me that surgery was imminent. My plastic surgeon called shortly after to confirm surgery would be happening within the hour.
While the infection remained unknown, they knew it was severe and the left expander had to come out ASAP. To be perfectly honest, my memory is foggy but I am crystal clear that I felt relief knowing they were taking out this infected object. I felt so bad, I just wanted someone to make the pain go away.
They removed the infected expander and washed the site out, taking cultures before and after the ‘wash’. They also placed a wound vac – kind of like a medical Dyson grade shop vac to keep fluid and infection out of the site.
We later found out my bacteria was serratia – not the normal staph infection my surgeon has seen in the past. So once again, we can file this life hurdle under, “Things that rarely happen to people, but happen to the Dempseys”. You can also file this under, “Another medical term McCall learned to spell”.
Less than 48-hours after removing the expander, I had another surgery to wash out the infection again. My plastic surgeon had hoped to place another expander, but the infectious disease doctor was against it. It was too risky with a bacteria like serratia. They decided the best course of action was another wash-out surgery, take cultures and if the cultures came back clean, my surgeon would place the expander the following Monday, tomorrow. The other major part of this compromise was for me to have at least one week of the IV antibiotics in my system.
Before discharging from the hospital last Tuesday, they placed a PICC line. I now have two bodily accessories – a JP drain and a PICC line. I will have my PICC friend for two weeks for my IV antibiotics. Between my drain, caved in chest wounds and PICC line, I float between being too tired/hurting to care and massive anxiety wanting to rip everything off my body.
Since coming back to the peaceful condo, I have experienced severe headaches, nausea and pain. Thankfully, those subsided as the week went on. I was able to reconnect with work and writing, which is the best thing for my spirit.
As I am starting to feel small glimpses of myself, I face another surgery tomorrow. Friday I met with my plastic surgeon and got the good news that all cultures taken during last week’s surgeries remain clear of infection. This gives him the green light from infectious disease for surgery tomorrow to try and place the expander again.
Tomorrow will be my third surgery in a week, fourth overall. I would be lying if I did not say I am terrified – the What Ifs swirl through my head. As scared as I am, I do not want to spend the next few months looking at my caved in, sutured up left chest. Tomorrow is our best shot at putting in the expander without losing skin/nipple and forcing a more complicated reconstruction down the road.
The mental side of this journey has been as painful as the physical. I work hard not to live in the land of ‘Why me?’ while also honoring the fact that this effing SUCKS. My heart sinks when I see my kids because as much as I want to be with them, I can’t do anything with them and I just want to go back to bed. I remind myself (and so does my own mom), that I will be back up and at it soon and I need to rest and honor MY body right now – easier said than done. I have the never ending ‘Mom Guilt’ of what I ‘should’ be doing. Thankfully, I have my mom and a gang of gal pals who remind me daily to put my feet up and take care of myself.
My reflection in the mirror is equally hard to see and process. Overnight my breast became a caved in mess of folded skin, sutures and swollen tissue. When the wound vac was in my chest, it looked like something out of a bad horror film. My current reflection is a reminder of my painful reality. I don’t care how many years of body image therapy work I have under my belt, nothing could’ve prepare me for this. I have cried tears of sorrow, anger and disbelief. Some days I refuse to look in the mirror and then I have moments where I stand in awe of this body of mine. In the blink of an eye, my body has endured so much and managed to heal a little bit every day. My reflection is not the prettiest it has ever been, but it is definitely the strongest – missing boob and all.
So I ask once again, if you are the prayer kind of the good vibes kind, send them to ‘Leftie’ (my girl gang lovingly named her). Tomorrow I will once again put on the hospital gown. I will climb onto the OR table, again. And do the damn hard things AGAIN – with one boob and a massively grateful heart for the army of love and support around me. Life might not always be beautiful or easy, but it sure is worth it.