Abdominoplasty: The First 24 Hours

There’s so much to say about my experiences having to do with this surgery and the recovery process, but the summary is short:  “I’m healing nicely, the follow-up visits to the doctor have gone well, and I’ll see him again on Friday.  Until then, it’s ‘take it easy,’ which aren’t words in my vocabulary.”  I’ve posted some brief updates on the Needless Pounds Facebook Page, which many of you follow.  For those of you who only read the blog, below you’ll find a more thorough description of my surgery and recovery to this point.  Expect posts for each follow-up visit to the doctor as well as some “highlights” of the recovery experience.  Know that I was medicated following surgery, so my version of the facts comes filtered through pain medication.  Jennifer, my “responsible adult” may have a different version of the story.  Hers is much likely far more factual.

Cut Here

The last time I wrote about this surgery, I explained that a number of factors fell into place at once enabling me to schedule it — a class was rescheduled, my surgery savings account balance was sufficient to fund the procedure, and my surgeon’s office was able to work me in.  Since then, a lot has happened.

Last Minute Surgery Preparation

I knew my surgery would be on Wednesday morning, and I anticipated a follow-up visit to the surgeon that Friday or Saturday.  Living 45 miles from the surgery center, I decided it would be better to book a hotel room in town and recover there rather than to try to travel back and forth twice in a week after a major surgery.  Additionally, the pool of “Responsible Adults” in my life is more highly concentrated around the surgery center than around my home.  If I needed something in a pinch, it would be much easier to “phone a friend” and have it delivered to a hotel room in Little Rock than to my home which isn’t actually within any city limits.

How many nights should I stay?  Where should I stay?  What do I need to do before the surgery to prep my room so I’ll be set for a successful recovery?  There were many options.  I decided to go with an extended stay hotel located between the surgeon’s office and the surgery center where the procedure was to be performed.  Much of the decision here was based on price.  While I had never been to an extended stay hotel, what I read about them was promising.  Like regular hotel rooms, you have a bed, bathroom, tv, table, and phone.  Additionally, you have a kitchenette which includes a sink, stove, microwave, fridge, and dishes.  I’ve written a review of my stay on Trip Advisor, which I will share on this blog in a separate post.  Extended Stay America calls themselves, “Your Home Away From Home.”  Ehhhh… not exactly.

The Day of Surgery

Jennifer, my “responsible adult,” graciously arranged time off work to get me to the surgery center, sit with me through the surgery, and spend the night with me afterward.  She got a lot more responsibility than she bargained for.  I couldn’t have asked for a more resourceful, patient, resilient, and thankless friend.

We arrived to the surgery center on time, and I was shown to my gurney very quickly after signing the last remaining consent forms.  Nurses directed me to disrobe, connected me to sensors, and started an IV.  The doctors came in to make their final markings and to verify that I had no known allergies to anesthetics.  The mood of the surgery center employees was generally much more laid back than the mood of hospital workers, I noticed.  I still felt I was in capable hands, but I felt those hands were enjoying their work.

The drugs were injected, I was wheeled away, and … I woke up happy to find that I had made it through surgery.  Two nurses were present in recovery, one of whom was named Jennifer, like my “responsible adult.”  She took very good care of me.  Although I was out for 3 hours, I felt less groggy this time than I did with the gallbladder removal.  I didn’t suffer cotton mouth nearly as badly.  After neither surgery did I experience nausea.

The recovery nurses were very curious about my weight loss.  In my drugged stupor, I told them about the UAMS program and encouraged them to check out my blog.  Some ice chips, a Diet Coke, and the application of my $50 compression hose were all that lay between me and the trip home.  As I got up to switch from gown to clothes, the nurses noticed a pool of fluid on the gurney on my right side.  They inspected my right drain, which is essentially a suction bulb connected to a tube that runs inside me, and noticed that it wasn’t collecting any fluid.  They reconnected it, cleaned me up, slapped on some extra gauze, and helped me out the door.

By the time we arrived at my “Home Away From Home,” the gauze was saturated, and blood was starting to trickle down my leg.  I walked straight into the shower, dropped my shorts, and work began.  It was leaking from the side where the drain wasn’t collecting fluid.  Jennifer cleaned me up, had me apply pressure to the spot where the blood was coming from, and went to get a clean pair of underwear from my luggage.

While she was getting those, I fiddled with the drain.  It’s a plastic bulb that resembles the end of a blood pressure cuff or a plastic grenade.  It was squashed in from the end, forming an igloo shape.  I smushed it around from the side, forming it into a flat oval.  Almost instantly, fluids started filling the bulb.  Blood was still coming down my leg, but it was slowing.  Jennifer cleaned me again and helped me into the dry underwear.

As I lifted my leg to step into the underwear that Jennifer was holding open for me, what she later referred to as a “waterfall of blood” erupted from my incision and soaked me, her, and the clean underwear.  Back to square one we went again.  I showed her the drain that hadn’t been working, and we hoped that it just needed time to catch up.  Jennifer went to her cell phone and reached out to one of her friends:  “Hey…  are you busy?  You’re at the grocery store?  I need you to pick me up a pack of Depend’s and run them by here.  Thanks.”  Not only was she responsible, Jennifer was resourceful, too.

I sat around in a bloody diaper for the greater part of Wednesday afternoon while the bleeding slowed and eventually stopped.  I would make occasional trips to the bathroom to have my drains emptied, the blood washed off me, and a new pair of Depends issued.  Concerned that I might be losing too much blood, we decided to call the after hours number on the paperwork.  While we waited on a call back, we kept emptying drains, rinsing off blood, swapping diapers, and resting between rounds.  Jennifer called a second time, leaving a more urgent message asking for guidance, but our calls were never returned.

At some point, we both slept.  I in my recliner, and she on the bed.  I remember waking up around 4:30am needing to use the restroom.  Not wanting to disturb her, I considered making the trip alone.  After trying, unsuccessfully, to close the recliner by myself, I woke her up.  She accompanied me to the bathroom, cleaned me up once more, helped me empty my drains, and got me back to my chair in a fresh diaper before returning to bed.

A couple of hours later, I was awakened as Jennifer was saying her farewells.  I had survived the night, and she had to leave for work.  She made sure my phone was nearby in case I needed to reach her.  With that, I was on my own until Friday afternoon, when she agreed to pick me up for my follow-up appointment.

Going It Alone

Jennifer had pretty much created a workflow for trips out of the chair.  Sit up, apply pressure to the leaky areas, waddle to the shower, rinse down the bloody parts, dry off, empty, measure, record, and reset drains, take care of any food and drink needs while out of the chair, grab a new diaper, and head back to the chair.  I was able to manage this cycle quite handily on my own.

My time was punctuated not by day and night but by sleep/wake cycles that were dictated by the need to empty the drains or go to the restroom.  Generally, both were accomplished on the same trip, swinging by the kitchen to load up on a protein-rich meal or snack before heading back to the recliner.

I kept myself distracted with my iPhone and the television.  Although I had a book and a laptop, neither were opened.  I texted friends, kept a keen eye on Facebook, read the news, and listened to many hours of podcasts.

While the above sounds like a nightmare scenario, we survived it, and we’ll be stronger for it.  That, and who else do you know who can claim to be the source of a “waterfall of blood”?

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