Call Me Pamela: The Breast Reconstruction after Mastectomy
Finally, the day of my boob job was here. I felt incredibly guilty for feeling excited about having another surgery but getting my boobs back, and bigger then before, really made me happy. I knew I was never going to look completely normal and that no plastic surgeon could recreate everything exactly right, but I was glad to get rid of the tissue expanders that were locked inside my chest muscles for months. Hard as a rock, they prevented me from sleeping on my stomach, poked me when I rolled on my side and made wearing a bra an impossibility. Baggy shirts were my fashion of the season because the expanders looked like two large mishapen potatoes on my chest.
At the hospital, I changed into the surgery uniform that became so familiar to me: the gown that’s impossible to tie in the back by yourself, the sticky socks, the bathrobe. Shivering, I wrapped everything around me as much as I could and almost bisected myself with the bathrobe sash but I was still freezing. I lay on the stretcher in one of the pre-surgery bays, clutching the skimpy sheet.
My stone faced nurse came over to inquire about important things like if I ate that morning and if there was a chance I was pregnant. After denying both, I sheepishly asked if it would be possible to get another blanket. To my surprise she finally cracked a smile and brought over an extra sheet. It didn’t help much but I was momentarily distracted by the rising tempo of the surgical suite. Employees in various scrubs switched from walking to jogging while constantly lifting their heads to a board on one wall as if the Superbowl was playing. I figured the different patients and their surgeries must have been listed there.
An anesthesia nurse opened the sheets drawn around my bed and stood by the portable computer next to my head. As he started typing my answers to his questions, I noticed a growing frown on his face and a deepening furrow between his eyebrows. Finally, he turned to me and said:
“How old are you?”
“Thirty six.” I replied puzzled. Didn’t he have my file up on the screen?
“And what’s your name?” He further inquired.
I answered and the confusion on his face cleared.
“Oh…OK…that makes sense – I got someone else pulled up here. It says you are 55 years old, but you look too good for that.” He laughed.
I guess that was a compliment. As he switched to my file on the PC, I wondered what would have happened if I either looked that old or if I was really close to being 55. Would they have given me the wrong drugs? The wrong anesthesia? Cut off a part of my body by mistake?
My thoughts were interrupted by a new nurse that peeked in through the curtains.
“Oh my gosh, look at those beautiful eyes….are you a model?” She said with a wide smile and cheery gaze. OK, I said to myself, maybe, despite having no hair, it still was not that bad. My original poker face nurse, who meanwhile came back to my bed, frowned.
She sat down next to my right arm and prepared the IV materials. She informed me that the surgeon did not like the IV in the crook of the elbow but lower. Since by then I was as frozen as Sir Hillary sticking his ice pick in the top of Mount Everest, all my viable veins retreated deep inside my body. The nurse took the needle and stuck it in my forearm. She frowned, paused, and then stuck it deeper. Still unsatisfied, she wiggled it left to right a few times, pulling it half way out. When I thought I was going to utter something inappropriate, she pulled the needle completely out and sighed:
“Aaah…it’s no good, I have to try somewhere else.” Then she set about preparing another torture spear. I took a deep breath. She poised herself with another needle which by now grew ten fold in my eyes. I took another deep breath and she plunged in, only inches from the original spot. When I thought she went all the way through my arm and pinned it to the bed below, she finally exclaimed victoriously:
“I got it! Wheew…that was a hard one.” And turned to me as if somehow this was all my fault. I felt like saying that if it wasn’t 60F in the room, my body might actually cooperate but her stone face stopped me from commenting.
As I was being wheeled to the OR, the anesthesiologist came sprinting from the end of the hallway calling:
“Wait, wait..I gotta put this in.” And as my bed was temporarily stopped, he squeezed something into my IV. I hoped he realized I wasn’t the 55 year old. In the operating room, I barely made it from the stretcher to the table and I was out.
Next thing I remember I woke up in the PACU. I felt a slight twinge of nausea. I slowly reached behind my ear where the anti-nausea patch was supposed to be. It wasn’t there. He forgot. I cursed.
About 45 minutes later, when the nurses saw my eyes were open and I was moving slightly under the blankets, one of them appeared with my clothes and said:
“I am not kicking you out, but here are your clothes when you are ready.” And she walked away.
I tried to sit up but my chest hurt. It wasn’t as painful as the mastectomy but I felt like I did a hundred pushups and was subsequently punched in the chest multiple times. The nausea made the room swim in front of my eyes. I looked down at my chest but I couldn’t gauge my new breast size under the tightly woven bandages.
The nurse returned and this time pulled the sheet off me and said:
“I am not kicking you out, but do you want me to call your ride?” And she grabbed my socks wanting to put them on my feet. I realized that unless I wanted her to dress me like a child I needed to actively get up and get dressed.
I spent the next two days resting and wondering what was going on under my bandages. By the time I went to the surgeon for a post op check up, I had a full blown rash from the surgery antiseptic because I wasn’t allowed to take a shower and wash it off. But who cared, right? I had new boobs.
Finally, the moment came at my surgeon’s office. I felt like the Venus of Milo getting unveiled. Before I could take a good look, the doctor pinched my new breasts on the bottom which made the implants move up and down in sync with her pinching. When I thought I was going to slap her hands, she stopped and nodded approvingly. Then she left the office for a minute. I used the opportunity to jump off the exam bed and walk to the full length mirror attached to the door.
Damn, I thought to myself. Unlike the misshapen expanders, I saw two nicely built, real looking breasts. I turned sideways, moved my arms around, put my hands in my waist and smiled. Then I cupped my new breasts and pushed them up as if in a bra. Right at that moment, the doctor came back in.
“Uhmm….I was just…” I stuttered, my hands falling to my sides.
“That’s allright”, she said, “you like them?”
“I sure do.” I said, my smile widening. Finally. I would be able to walk in Victoria’s Secret and shamelessly shop my heart out.