First Week After Expander Surgery & Post-Op Visit

I have to say the first week after the tissue expanders were put in was rough pain-wise.  I have a very high tolerance for pain, but this was rough.  I can’t take narcotic pain meds, so I was alternating Advil and Tylenol.  For someone who hates taking pills, the handful of meds I now had to take was daunting.  Muscle relaxers, a stool softener, antibiotic, pain pills as well as my regular evening happy meds and I was feeling a bit overhelmed with the pill-taking.  Blech.

For the first week I also had to wear a compression bra.  This thing was so tight I could barely breathe.  I could not take a deep breath and it felt like it was literally cutting into my rib cage.  I was terrified what it was going to feel like when it finally came off.

I wasn’t supposed to be lifting, reaching, or pulling myself up or toward anything.  When I slept at night I slept propped up on several pillows and couldn’t get myself up.  When I moved from a lying or sitting position to a standing position, I felt like my breasts were going to slide right off of my body.  Very painful.  I know there is no breast tissue, but I swear every time I put down my right foot I felt a pulling sensation behind my right nipple.  Ouch.  It was hard to stand up straight, so my shoulders were painfully hunched over and my hands naturally were up and in front of my breasts.  My abdomen was (and still is) very distended.  They told me it was due to the anesthesia and meds and it would go away in a few weeks.  Not soon enough.  I am not crazy about looking six months pregnant on top of everything else.  Oh and let’s not forget the most disgusting part of all of this–not being able to wash under your arms or shave because a)  you can’t get wet and b)  you can’t lift your arms high enough to get a washcloth under there.  Oh.  My.  God.   I had no idea I could smell so bad.  Add greasy, unwashed hair and unshaven legs and I was feeling about as un-pretty as you could feel.

I had two drains, one on each side.   They drained fluid and blood into these hand grenade-looking bulbs that sat in a terry cloth pouch that was around my waist.   They had to be stripped and the amount of fluid measured twice daily.  I called them my “drain babies.”  The kids thought this funny.  Hey, ya gotta laugh about it.  The alternative is depressing.

I also had to take my temperature twice daily, as a spiking fever could indicate an infection.  My temp hovered between 98.6 and 99.3, getting to 100 one time.  There were a few times when I felt as if I had a fever.  I was encouraged by my nipples actually getting hard when I was feeling chilled.  I did not expect they would ever do this again.  I cannot feel them, which I truly wasn’t that upset about since they have always been overly sensitive anyway, but I was really surprised to see them respond that way.

My post-op appointment was about 5 days after my surgery.  I expected they would remove my bandages and compression bra and take a look.  I did not expect the rest of what happened.  After trying to fend off carsickness by keeping my eyes clothes and wet washcloth on my face the entire 45 minute drive, squealing, crying and inventing new curse words as the nurse removed my bandages, they informed me that they would be removing my drains and adding fluid to the expanders.


I thought briefly that I would fall out of my chair.  When the nurse left the room I caught sight of my breasts in the mirror that hung on the back of the door.  They were not as bruised as I expected they would be, but they were very shiny and swollen.  I had a good-sized dent in the top of my left breast, which was basically from the top of the expander kind of furling over.  As they added more fluid it would eventually fill out.  They definitely didn’t look like my breasts.  Their color was good, though, and the nipples looked healthy and almost like they used to look.  I knew my new breasts would look better as they healed and “settled”, but at least they didn’t have anything funky growing inside them.  I’ll take that.

So when they came back one nurse got on each side of me and explained that they would be snipping the sutures around the drains and they would be pulling them out and that I should take a deep breath and exhale when they hit three.  When they were ready they counted off:  “One, two, three!” and they pulled them out.  I didn’t feel it like I thought I would.  I do remember thinking that it seemed they were pulling for a while.  Ew.  They would be leaving the small holes open; just putting some gauze and a bandage over them.   I was worried that they would still leak too much.  They assured me that my body would absorb that bit of fluid and that the longer they stayed in, the more it was risking infection.

They left the room again, this time to retrieve the syringes of saline to be injected into the expanders.    When the nurse returned carrying the syringes (they were huge, had a small line and a butterfly needle on the end), I thought, “Yikes, how much are we putting in there today?”   I figured it was far too soon to be expanding, but they said no, it was a good time to do it now.  They would be putting 60ccs in each breast.  I cannot recall if there was 250 or 280ccs in them already.   The device they use to find the port for injecting the fluid is really cool.  It utilizes a magnet that “finds” the exact spot into which the fluid must be injected.  They marked then cleaned the areas, and once again, with one nurse on each side, they inserted the needles at the same time.  Same deal–one, two, three.  I was numb so I did not feel it (thank goodness) but I did feel a stretching sensation as the fluid was injected into the expander.

Below is from the Natrelle website, illustrating how the tissue expander works:

I had my husband snap a picture when we got home, after the expansion.  I can now wear a sports bra.  The process of trying to find one of those that fit will have to wait for another post.  It was an odyssey, I tell you.

The lovely glow is from not having a shower.   I still have a week to go before they will let me have a shower.  I have very oily skin.  I am very much looking forward to that shower.

I have another appointment in one week for another expansion.  I am in a lot of pain but am feeling extremely lucky that I do not have to undergo chemo.  All of the biopsied tissue and nodes they took from me were clear.  We caught everything in time.  I am feeling very, very grateful and lucky.   Here’s hoping my uterus (which has been an angry little uterus in the past, requiring several surgeries) keeps quiet and doesn’t give me any more trouble.
I’m looking forward to a nice weekend away with my husband.  When this is all over, we’re going somewhere.  We were unable to do anything for our anniversary because of all this, so a delayed anniversary trip is in my future.  Can’t wait.

2 thoughts on “First Week After Expander Surgery & Post-Op Visit

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