Those Dreaded Drains

Hallelujah! After 2 full weeks my drains came out today. I know I’ve talked about drains in the past, but I realized that a lot of people don’t know what I’m talking about.

After a mastectomy, breast tissue expander insertion, and probably many other breast surgeries you have drains sewn into each of your sides (or one side if you’ve only had breast surgery on one side).

The drains are meant to get rid of fluid (blood/pus) to eliminate the chance of infection. They’re very uncomfortable at first, but the longer you have them in, the more painful they get. It’s like they get so dry and they just hurt so much that even slightly lifting your arms hurt, and bending down is out of the question (which made my painting saga over the past few days even that much worse).

Generally, the drains are removed after a full week after surgery … but, as with the other two times I’ve had drains, my drains stayed in for 2 weeks. Actually, after my double mastectomy last year, the drains stayed in for close to 3 weeks! But I’ll tell ya, after just one week – OUCH! Everything just hurts.

So, for those of you who are going to have a mastectomy, or other type of breast surgery, or those who just want to understand when their family member or friend talks about the drains, I’m going to give a quick overview. The struggles, my friends, are very real.

So, as you see by the photos above, you’ve got these drains sewn into your sides. They have long cords that connect to a large bulb that collects the fluid.

These photos were taken after 2 weeks of having the drains in, so the fluid is much lighter. For the first week, it’s much darker and reddish in color – don’t be alarmed – that’s normal. You also must measure and keep a record of how much fluid comes out of each side daily.

 

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You get a cup like this and you pull the top off the drain and empty the contents and note the amount of ml on the paper the surgeon gives you. Once your full day total is less than 20 ml, but preferably less than 10 ML, they’ll remove the drains… This was 40 ml on my left side over night.

If you’re a normal person you should only have to empty the drains twice per day – when you wake up and before bed – and with each passing day, your fluid drainage is less and less.

Then during your first post-op appointment, a week after surgery, you’ll be lucky enough to get those mini-spawns of Satan removed.

If you’re me, however, and just have issues all the way around – all three times I’ve had drains I’ve had issues – I had to empty my drains about every 2-3 hours.

You also need to make sure you strip the drains to prevent clogging by using an alcohol wipe provided by the hospital and you start at the top of the drain, right outside where it’s sewn into you, then pull all the way down. It’s usually kind of painful/uncomfortable.

For at least the first week, you’ll most likely not be able to do any of this yourself because you won’t have the upper body mobility, you’ll most likely be in an extreme amount of pain, and/or you’ll be heavily medicated. It’s so important to have someone with you for at least a week after this surgery to help with the drains and pretty much anything in life that you need your arms for.

I’m a single 36 year old woman with only a 12 year old son at home and no other family on this side of the country. I’ve been so blessed that my mom has been able to fly out from Kansas to Maryland for my breast surgeries and some of my chemo treatments. Having my breasts removed, multiple surgeries, 4.5 months of chemo, and now reconstruction has been the scariest experience of my life. I’m independent and hate asking for help, and without my mom, I don’t know how I would have survived this … And I surely don’t know how I’d be able to take care of these drains.

Showering with drains is challenging because it hurts to just leave the drains dangling from your body, but you have limited mobility and only two arms and you need to wash yourself. I recommend getting a loofa sponge on a stick.

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This will really make showering at least tolerable – and feasible. You won’t be able to bend to reach the important nooks and crannies without it. You can also hold the drain cords up with one hand and use this sponge on a stick to clean yourself.

For my mastectomy, I never even thought to get one, for my second breast surgery I did and it made showering so much easier. Also, no fragranced, fancy soap. Stick with plain, anti-bacterial; I prefer regular Dial anti-bacterial body wash. 

After you shower, ask whomever is helping you to bandage the sides of your body where the drains come out because sometimes they do leak and it’s disgusting. Do not skip this step! The hospital will send you home with plenty of goss and tape – use it!

You don’t want this stuff getting on your skin, clothes, or bedding.

So now, you’ve emptied your drains, logged your drainage, showered with anti-bacterial soap, had whomever is helping care for you dress your wounds… And now you have to go somewhere, so what do you do with these things hanging off you so people don’t see them?

You have two choices:  you can wear a baggy shirt and safety pin the drains to the inside of the shirt, or you can pin them to your belt buckles or pants.

I personally prefer wearing a baggy shirt and pinning them to the inside of the shirt because when you pin them to your pants, sometimes the drains tug at your sides when you pull your pants down to use the bathroom, which is quite painful. Conversely, though, when you pin them to the inside of your shirt, you have these weird bulges on your sides that you can’t hide. I usually prefer to just stay home when I have the drains in, but it’s hard to not leave my house for 2-3 weeks, and even if I choose to stay in … I still have to go for my follow-up with my surgeon, so I do have to leave my house.

Today, I had an appointment with my surgeon and since I figured (Prayed) the drains were coming out, I decided to pin them to my jeans and wear a large sweater to cover them. Here’s how it looks…

Now, all my scars are covered, my mom covered my drains with bandages, my drains are securely pinned to my jeans and hidden from public view, I am ready to apply my make-up and head to my surgeons office.

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And to everyone who has no idea what I’m going through … I just look normal…I just walk kind of funny and look like I have a weird shaped body.

The drains are out … I think when I have my next breast surgery in a few months I’ll have these darn drains one more time… But I’m going to enjoy the next few months of no drains!

 

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