All aboard the freak-out train

I’ve been slowly but surely freaking out about this surgery. I was all ready for it this time last week, but it was not to be. Having to wait a week because of pokey construction at the surgical center didn’t make me happy; I don’t like to wait in general, and on something this big and this important, even less. If there’s more than one person in line ahead of me at the grocery store, I consider that a long wait, so imagine what waiting a week has been like.

The wait is over and the day is here. I’m ready.

I prepared in numerous ways, including waking up multiple times each night; making myself half crazy with worry; imagining every possible way the dreaded infection could sneak back into my life; going overboard on stocking the house with groceries; meeting myself coming and going with laundry and errands; and cooking meals that my children won’t eat.

I also did the one things I really should not have done, and that I also did the night before The Big Dig, aka reconstruction: I watched the surgery on youtube.

No wonder I can’t sleep at night.

Why do I do this to myself? I know full good and well that watching that stuff is going to creep me out. Picturing my beloved doc doing those things while I’m sawing logs really creeps me out. I trust him with my life but hate to think of what he’ll be doing to me this morning. I’m gonna be one sore chica.

I scrubbed myself with Hibiclens this morning, to kill off any friendly or hostile bacteria living on my skin. You know your life has changed — and not for the better — when you have a bottle of the Hib in your shower (insert sad face here). 

Here’s the game plan: I’ll show up at the surgery center at 8 a.m. without having had my daily cup of coffee or one bite of food since bedtime (I’m not very pleasant when I’m hungry; I’ll be the first to say it. And BTW, packing my kids’ lunches without being able to have one bite of food myself is cruel. There’s not much in their lunches I would eat anyway, but still). I’ll put on the hospital gown and shower cap, and possibly the compression hose. I’ll get marked up by my doc, which involves standing naked in a small room while he peers at and examines up-close the fattiest parts of my body; he’ll use a Sharpie to annotate the choice cuts that he’ll be removing, and I’ll try to slink into the OR with my dignity intact. I’ll endure the inevitable digging by the anesthesiologist and/or nurse anesthetist in a fruitless attempt to find a vein that doesn’t roll over and play dead; this usually involves multiple pokes and results in a giant bruise. I’ll watch the clock and wonder how much longer until they give me the shot that makes none of this hardship matter as I drift off into a heavy-limbed, blissful sleep. I’ll endure who-knows-what kind of horror show as my doc and his team manipulate and position my sleeping carcass to extract maximum fattiness. Some he will keep, and some he will throw away. The fattiness he keeps will be spun in a centrifuge to extract all the liquid. Then the liquid-free, pure fattiness will be injected into my sunken chest. I’ll wake up in the recovery room several hours later, trying not to barf and thinking how good it will feel to get home and leave the hospital stink behind. I’ll hope that I get home before my kids’ school day ends, and will hopefully, fingers crossed, please, please, please be one step closer to reaching the finish line and being done with the aftermath of breast cancer.

Fingers crossed.

Round and round

Sometimes I leave the doctor’s office in need of a drink, and sometimes I leave there in need of a nap. Sometimes, I leave there needing both.

Yesterday was one of those “both” kind of days. It was my first visit to his office since the big surgery, and when I walked in the door, his nurse gasped, I can’t believe how well you’re walking! I told her the same thing I told my tennis teammates when I went to watch their match Wednesday: it’s been more than a week since the surgery; I’m done.

If only.

I’m wardrobe-challenged again, like I was post-mastectomy. While it seems like an eternity ago that I was scrounging through my closet after the mastectomy to find something, anything, to wear, it’s all coming back to me now. How complacent, how cocky I have been in recent months, thinking I can just pull any old thing on and get out the door. Now it’s once again a carefully orchestrated project that involves lots of shuffling, digging, flipping, re-hanging, and cursing. This time, though, the challenge is because the remaining drains are at the super-long incision on my belly. One drain on each hip, like an unruly set of twins. I’m starting to despise those twins. I got a mild scolding from Jenn (Dr Spiegel’s PA) when I saw her Tuesday because I was wearing jeans, and they don’t want anything to rub on that gigantic tummy incision. I may just start wearing my pajamas everywhere until that bad boy heals. Or maybe I’ll wear whatever I want and send the same message that Shia LaBeouf sent. Seemed to work well for him.

The first thing the good doctor noticed when he graced my exam room was that I have several bruises on my leg. I got him good, though, by telling him they were from playing tennis. The look on his face was priceless. Oh how I wish I had a freeze frame of that look. That moment between what he thought (she’s been playing!) and reality (no way she could have played already, it’s only 10 days post-op) shines in my memory as one of my favorite moments.

Every visit to my doc’s office results in innumerable nuggets of wackiness. First runner-up for nugget of the day was when his nurse  said she thought my new chest looked really good. I said, yeah, if you’re into that sort of thing. What I meant was, if you’re into a mostly cleaned-up mess, a partially cleared train wreck, and that the docs did a great job with the concaved, ET-looking chest I ended up with after the infection. Compared to that fresh hell, the new, improved version is pretty amazing. And as a testament to the skill and artistry of the surgeons, yes, it’s great.

The highlight of yesterday’s visit came when the good doctor examined my tummy incision and took a look at my lower half. Remember how he thought I needed to gain a bunch of weight to provide the building material for the new girls? And how even after I gained several pounds, he was still convinced it wasn’t enough? Well now that the dye has been cast and the pounds that weren’t reallocated have stuck, he’s not happy with the extra bit that settled on my hips, and says, and I quote, “We need to suck that right out. We need to get rid of that. I’m going to suck that right out so it is gone.” I swear, There is no pleasing that man.

Hunan Plastic Surgery

I read an article about plastic surgery in China (you may have, too, and if so, were you as freaked out as I was?). It told the story of Wang Baobao, age 28, who has had some 180 plastic surgeries. She started with her first operation at age 16, and has 6 or 7 procedures each time she goes under.

She’s had something done to “nearly every part” of her body: she’s had her eyes widened (and more Western-looking), her nose & jaw narrowed, and her chin reshaped. She’s had fat sucked out from her hips, thighs, stomach, and rear end. She even had heel implants, to make her taller (didn’t work). She’s had her breasts done, of course, and she says, “I had to keep having operations to repair them.” Yeah, me too.

China is third in the world of most plastic surgeries performed, behind Brazil and the U.S. No data, though, on how many procedures in any of those countries are for non-cosmetic problems.

The “official” estimate is that 3 million plastic surgeries were performed in China last year. The Deputy Secretary of the Chinese Association of Plastics & Aesthetics says his hospital sees 100,000 plastic surgery patients a year, and that all of Shanghai could see 300,000 a year. Try getting a hospital room there.

However, the Deputy Secretary points out that “most people don’t have surgeries at officially regulated hospitals. Many patients go to beauty salons and other unregulated facilities.” A beauty salon??? Egads. That’s a major infection waiting to happen. Trust me, I know.

Before the economic reforms of the 1980s, people in China were only allowed to have plastic surgery to correct a physical deformity, mostly  hairlip patients. Cosmetic procedures were considered a bourgeois way of life. What’s so bad about the bourgeois? Doesn’t everyone deserve a perfect physique? (says the girl with the flattest and most scarred chest in the Western Hemisphere.) I’m all for economic reforms, and think in general prosperity is a good thing for society, but when the rising tide of affluence is outpaced by the pursuit of physical beauty, we may be headed for trouble. Xi Shirong, the senior plastic surgeon at Beijing Hospital, says he sees at least 20 patients a day, mostly women in their 20s. That’s right, in their 20s.

24-year-old Wang Bei, a singer in China, died in the OR during a facelift. Can someone explain to me why a 24-year-old would need a facelift?

Back to Wang Baobao. She says the technology wasn’t good enough and the surgeons not skilled enough. One might think she’d be able to find a better surgeon, though, considering how many times she went under the knife. Isn’t that the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over & over but expecting different results? She says she kept “needing repair operations.” Again, me too.  Sigh.  She’s spent some $600,000 on her surgeries and says “the effects are not that good. And all over my body, there are too many scars.” Ya think?