To begin with, my recovery is going much more smoothly than I had anticipated. I am a bit of an over thinker and over preparer, and was expecting to have a rough few weeks. I am actually glad that I prepared myself for something worse, because it has made my recovery seem that much more smooth. Especially in the first week, I was surprised that I was able to do more and more every day, and I think that taking the last couple of weeks to just heal and not do much else has been a much needed break. At this point, I am still a bit swollen and sore, but no more than is expected. What follows is a relatively detailed account of my recovery and some tips for those who may seek out breast reduction surgery, so that other may know a bit of what they may expect.
Don't worry, I won't be graphic about the procedure itself. I understand that there are a lot of people who are sensitive to descriptions of medical procedures, and if you would like more information about how the surgery is performed, there are other sites where you can get a more medical view. If you are interested in having breast reduction surgery, my advice would be to schedule a consultation with a plastic surgeon where they will describe in a bit more detail what the specifics are. Your primary care physician should be able to provide a referral if you aren't sure where to look. For my part, I will simply describe things from my point of view.
I started preparations for the procedure in the weeks leading up to it. I started by cutting out alcohol completely 2 weeks beforehand, and doing some research into which supplements should be avoided. There is a lot of conflicting information on the internet, so the best way to figure out what to keep and avoid is to ask your surgeon's office directly. The reason that it is important to find out which substances are safe to consume is that certain drugs and supplements can interfere with blood clotting, anesthesia, and more. You will also want to make sure to let your anesthesiologist know about any medications or supplements that you are taking.
The day before my surgery, the hospital called to let me know what time to be there and provide further instructions. I was instructed not to eat anything after midnight and to stop consuming fluids after 8am (I was instructed to arrive at 10:30). After checking in and getting called back, there was mostly a bit of waiting and answering questions. I saw the nurse who placed the IV and did some other preparations, the anesthesiologist, his nurse and her intern, and my surgeon who came in to mark me for surgery. Since it is a cosmetic procedure and how things line up matters a bit more, he put a bunch of purple lines on me. I was asked several times to confirm the procedure that was being performed. This may feel a bit redundant, but everyone asks you to confirm identity and type of procedure at every step to avoid mix ups, so it is very important. Then I was wheeled back into the OR, confirmed everything one more time, and then the anesthesiologist put me under.
After that, I woke up in a recovery room a bit confused and shaky. The shaking is absolutely normal and happens to pretty much everyone after surgery. They administered some pain meds and gave me a blanket, and eventually my body calmed down a bit. I remember thinking to myself "Well, it's done. No turning back now." Which I thought was kind of funny for some reason. Once I was doing a bit better I was moved into a private room where my husband joined me. I had plenty of water, some more pain medication, and the nurse checked my incisions and showed my husband what they should look like since he would be caring for me once we got home. Then he went down to get my prescriptions from the pharmacy (some doctors will also give you prescriptions to fill ahead of time) and the nurse helped me to get dressed. Once he came back up, we headed home. Most of that evening is a bit fuzzy, however I remember being more alert than I expected to be. I sent an email to a few family and friends to let them know that I was home and everything had gone alright, had some leftover chicken noodle soup for dinner, and then probably went to bed.
Over the next couple of days I napped a lot. I had very little appetite and mostly just ate a half bowl of soup for my meals. That is actually probably a good thing since the medications cause constipation. Even with the prescribed stool softener, I didn't have a bowel movement for about 4 days and was starting to get uncomfortable. I was moving slowly and not able to do a lot of things for myself. I was not sleeping very well because I was only allowed to sleep on my back, which is not ideal for me as a side sleeper. In fact, I was just allowed to sleep on my side for the first time last night after getting the OK from my doctor yesterday. After 3 days, I was finally able to shower, but was so nervous that I did little more than sit on a shower stool and rinse off with some soapy water. After surgery, I tend to feel fragile. I remembered a similar feeling after my laparoscopy 11 years ago, and those incisions were only about an inch long. There is this feeling like I am going to open up and spill out. This is actually not uncommon, but not everyone experiences it. I had my husband help me to place clean gauze pads for the first couple of days while there was still discharge (also perfectly normal). He also helped to make sure that everything looked alright. It was a few days before I could brave looking at the incisions myself. I felt a little bad about making him look when I couldn't bring myself to, but I was just not ready. The first time I looked at them it was just a glance and I just remember thinking that there was a lot going on and feeling a bit light headed. Turns out, most of what I was seeing was some bruising and a lot of the purple lines. The incisions, while significant, were not as intense as they first looked due to all of the purple lines. Those lines will fade the more you are able to shower.
In the weeks leading up to my surgery, I made a lot of meals that yielded leftovers that I could freeze. In the few days leading up, I made some soups that didn't freeze well that we could eat as leftovers in the first days after my procedure. My husband usually gets home from work around 7:30pm, so I wanted to make sure we had things prepared so that he didn't have to worry about trying to make dinner for both of us after getting home. I was able to get almost 2 full weeks worth of leftovers (we ordered 1 night and made fajitas one evening over the weekend). We will be eating the last of the frozen leftovers (lasagna) for dinner tonight. This was a huge help especially given my husband's schedule. We just had to thaw whatever we were going to be eating the next night. The first few days after he went back to work I was still not able to be much help because I was not able to get to the pots and pans so well, but by the end of that first week, I was able to do most of the reheating myself. (I should have taken a picture of my fully stocked freezer, but didn't think of it.)
It was really helpful to have the ability to engage my core to help me get in and out of bed or up and down from the couch. Strength training was actually something that I had tried as a means to help combat the back pain, so by the time my surgery happened, I had already been working on it for over a year. If you are thinking of undergoing breast reduction surgery, I highly recommend starting to work on building core strength well beforehand.
Drinking from a cup is pretty awkward at first since you have to lift your arm up to tip it back. I highly recommend getting some straws so that you don't have to move your arms as much to drink. I have some reusable, dishwasher-safe, plastic straws that worked just fine. You can also get straws made out of bamboo, silicone, stainless steel, glass, and paper. You can also find reusable straws that bend, fold, and telescope. Just pick whatever you like best. From an environmental perspective, I would recommend going with reusable over disposable, and once you have them, you can take them out and about with you so that you are using fewer straws in restaurants. Some even come with handy carrying cases so that it protects everything else in your pocket or purse.
You will want to have a small, flat pillow to carry with you in the car starting with the ride home from your surgery. You should place the pillow between your chest and the seatbelt as the seatbelt could cause painful irritation to your incisions. Holding the cushion in to your chest will also help by working as a bit of a shock absorber, as you will feel every tiny bump. At this point in my recovery, I have started driving without the pillow, but am still keeping it nearby in case I feel like I need it. I also found that it was helpful to hold in to my chest when going up and down stairs. You should try to avoid stairs as much as possible for the first week or so, but I have a 2 flight walk up to get to my apartment, so some amount of stairs were unavoidable.
Leave extra time
Leave extra time to get places and do things. You will likely be moving slowly, so the bouncing that accompanies faster walking is not helpful. Your drive times should be about the same, but factor in extra time to get to and from your car. After 2 weeks, I am still moving more slowly than usual, partly because bouncing too much is jarring, and partly because I would really rather not slip on ice at the moment (one of the pitfalls to doing this in January in Chicago).
Before my surgery, I wanted to have an extra bra to switch into. You will be given a post operative bra during surgery. My surgeon said to not worry about getting anything fancy or expensive and just make sure that it is soft and has a front closure. I went to Target, and noticed that the front closure sports bras that they had in stock had seams along the bottoms of the cups, so instead I found a regular bra with a front closure and no underwire that seemed pretty soft. After a couple of days, I realized that this wasn't going to cut it, so I wound up ordering some bras from Amazon (I know... I don't like them either, but when you can't leave the house and need something fast, what are you going to do?) The bra that I initially got will probably work just fine eventually, but I really needed something with more coverage, so I got some zip front soft sports bras with no underwire which I will continue to wear for the coming weeks. You will also not be able to put shirts on over your head (I am just now able to start doing that), so you want to make sure to have some button or zip up tops. They don't have to be fancy, since you will not be going out too much. I also found that I could wear tank tops (not racerback) that I could step into and pull up.
Make sure to have someplace to sit down the first time you do things like change dressings or shower. The first time we switched out the gauze pads the day after surgery, I was standing up and wound up getting lightheaded and having to sit and wait before doing the other side. The removal of pressure from a wound tends to make me lightheaded, so I really should have thought about this in advance. I ordered a small stool to sit on in the shower as well. Not only are you removing the bra and the compression that it provides, but you will likely have steam and wet surfaces to contend with as well.
Have a helper when showering
In addition to someplace to sit in the shower, it is also a good idea to have someone helping you. Since I had a small stool to sit on, my husband didn't need to be in the actual shower with me, but he was just outside of the shower handing me the washcloth and helping by pumping soap for me. I still didn't have a lot of range of motion for my arms, so it was incredibly helpful to have his help. After my 2nd shower I was feeling a bit more confident and just had to make sure everything was easily within reach. Using the pumps on the soap bottles was still a bit difficult, but manageable.
After breast reduction surgery, you will have limited range of motion for your arms. Especially if you will be home by yourself, it is a good idea to have everything that you will need in a place where you can easily reach it. We have a small cart that we use as another food prep surface (small kitchen), and I set out some food items ahead of time that would allow me to at least make myself lunch and have some snacks. The picture shows my snack cart after being depleted over 2 weeks, but you get the idea.
Take it easy
Perhaps most important, take it easy and listen to your body. Don't try to do too much too quickly. No one expects you to be back on your feet resuming life as normal right away. Have a pain management plan that you have spoken about with your doctor and follow it. This plan may look different for different people. Make sure that it is an appropriate plan for you. If something hurts, don't do it. Accept help where it is offered, and ask for help when it is needed. There are no medals given out for people who try to do everything themselves. Your body has been through a major ordeal and you need to heal.