It's been a minute, but let's talk about my b*o*o*b*s

I'm in the sixth grade. I'm sitting on the floor at my friend Sharon's house. Rachel is there, too. My well-meaning friends turn to me and gently let me know that I "really don't need to bother wearing a bra." They aren't wrong. I'm wearing one, but the situation doesn't particularly warrant it. 

Two years later, I found myself sporting a C cup. My mom, a talented seamstress, made me a dress at about that time. It was a slim-fitting column dress with a matching jacket, as I recall. The white fabric had large polka dots; we jokingly called it the Wonder Bread dress. My mom took my measurements. 36-24-36 At some point in history, those numbers were considered "perfect measurements" for a woman. This was 1984; I'd like to think the world as a whole is less concerned about such things these days. I'm confident my daughter has no earthly idea what her measurements are. She just knows she's cute. 

Growing up with a fun array of medical issues made me a target for bullies. When you're bullied, you don't want to stick out in any way. You don't want to be remarkable or different. As such, I seldom wore anything that called attention to my figure. I mean, I definitely wore some tight jeans as was the fashion of the time (anyone remember Bonjour jeans? I wanted Jordache but they were deemed to be toooo expensive), but I wasn't one to wear revealing clothing.  

As I got curvier over time, back pain came along with it. I have a permanent groove on each shoulder. When my daughter was a newborn, I went to Weight Watchers and lost a good bit of weight. I cannot lie - that weight loss involved a lot of deprivation. After a number of years, I stopped going as I was no longer adhering to the program and didn't want to spend money for no reason. Weight Watchers is, after all, a business and not a fix for what probably amounts to a mountain of mental health issues. Menopause hit me early, at 42 years of age. I wasn't at all surprised. After all, my "stuff" had never worked correctly; the foreman (AKA my brain, I assume) wisely shut the factory down. It's true what they say about menopause - weight becomes easier to gain and exponentially harder to lose. Having a desk job doesn't help. 

For years I've thought about getting a breast reduction but never asked about it at my annual visits with my primary care physician. I thought, "this is my own fault. If only I could restrict my food enough to lose some weight, maybe the back pain and related inconveniences wouldn't be so dramatic." I'd also heard that it can be very difficult to get insurance to cover a reduction. I heard rumors about insurance companies requiring physical therapy or hitting a particular BMI before they would allow the procedure to be done. 

In May of this year, I decided just to talk to a surgeon and see how it all works. I made an appointment with a local plastic surgery office. The first thing I noticed about the practice is that every practitioner (from the surgeons to the nurses) is a woman. The front desk folks are also women (at least everyone I've seen so far). "Girl power!" I thought to myself as I saw the names listed on the glass when I entered the building the first time. 

Meeting the surgeon was a very positive experience. Measurements were taken, the process was explained, and I was deemed to be a "very good candidate." She warned me that it can take weeks to hear back from the insurance company and even then they might reject the request. The nurse took photos of me in various poses that were intended to tell the insurance company, "Hey, see? This is a problem." If I were a younger person, I might have found those photos to be troubling but the great thing about being in your fifties is that you care less and less about that sort of thing. Or most things, really. 

About a week later I received a call from the scheduling team at the surgeon's office. The insurance company had approved the procedure. I was incredulous. I logged into my account online just to see it for myself. Approved! Suddenly, it seemed like my decades of back pain might actually come to an end. The pain between my shoulder blades has been relentless, and no amount of yoga, massages, and CBD oil seemed to make a difference. Maybe I could wear a button-down shirt without having to get into theatrics with safety pins to cover the gaps. Maybe I could find a sports bra that fits!  

My surgery was scheduled for June 24th. I was given pages and pages of pre-surgery instructions. Stop taking ibuprofen x days before surgery, take a shower the night before and the morning of the procedure. I couldn't help but wonder if they'd be able to tell if I took two showers or not. Don't worry, I did it. I tend to be a rule-follower. At a pre-surgery visit two weeks before the surgery, the surgeon pulled out a pen and did some marking just to give me an idea of what she'd be doing. I'll let you Google it if you want to know how these things are done. There is nothing sexy about this surgery. Also, the surgeon has to be able to remove a certain number of grams from each side in order for the surgery to qualify - or at least to meet the definition of what a reduction is. At my first visit, the surgeon waved a paper in the air. "There's a scale we have to follow. It was developed by a man." I mean, of course it was. Her expression was like that emoji where the mouth is a straight line. 😑

On the 24th, I arrived at the surgery center at 5:30 a.m. as instructed. As odd as it felt not to wear one, I didn't wear a bra that morning. It seemed pointless. I knew I'd be sent home in bandages. I wore some comfy stretch pants that seemed unlikely to cause me any grief before or after the surgery. The next two hours were spent in preparation. As usual, getting my veins to accept an IV was a task and a half. The nurse was able to get it into my hand but by then I was sweating, and my heart rate had accelerated significantly. So much drama with my veins! Always! A parade of people came through the pre-op room. The anesthesiologist, several nurses, etc. My surgeon came in to do her official markings on my chest. I wonder if NASA knows about the pens they use for this purpose. It stays on the skin for ages! 

You might be wondering about my husband. He camped out in the waiting room with a book. I didn't see any reason to have him sitting in the room with me while I was poked and prodded. 

At 7:30 a.m. sharp, the surgery crew came to wheel me down to the operating room. The bed banged into the door on the way down the hall. "There goes your Google review!" I said. Nobody laughed. Tough crowd, I guess. Moments later, I awkwardly shimmied from the standard bed onto the operating table. Mask on face. Claudia go night-night.

I woke up in recovery four hours later. I had been warned that it would be a lengthy surgery. The surgeon told me beforehand that there is a flurry of activity in the first hour or two; everything after that is refining the shape and volume to get the best results. By early afternoon, I was snoozing in a recliner (with my first dose of pain meds on board). I'd planned ahead and set myself up in my husband's comic book room. I needed to sleep in a semi-upright position for the first few days. And in my case, I also needed to be in a room where the cat couldn't walk on me. 

I spent the next few days in a bit of a haze, but I was careful to follow all of the post-op instructions. My daughter helped me with my first shower - I was allowed to take one 48 hours after the surgery. I came home from the hospital wrapped in what seemed like yards of six-inch Ace bandages plus a special surgical bra. And did I mention the drains? While I have no regrets about the surgery, I wish I had asked more questions about the drains. I knew I'd have them, but I hadn't asked how long, how uncomfortable, etc. I have two tubes sewn into my flesh - one on each side of my rib cage. There is a squishy bulb at the end of each tube.  The job of the drains is to collect serum and blood from the surgery site. I had my first post-op appointment a week after surgery. I thought the drains would be removed at that time. Nope! There is a hematoma on the right side and all that gunk still needs to make its way out. 

Other than the discomfort of the drains (my kingdom for a decent night of sleep!), I've only had one other hiccup. I developed tightness in my chest and some difficulty breathing five days after the surgery. After consulting with the doctor on call, I was instructed to head to the ER. A gazillion tests later, it was determined that I didn't have a blood clot in my lungs. That was the big concern and of course such a thing could have been catastrophic. I was glad to have the peace of mind. By the way, this visit involved yet another botched IV insertion. Gah! However, a lovely nurse named Audrey came in and saved the day with her IV skills. The first nurse said that he had it until I "tensed up." Maybe it was all the stabbing that caused me to "tense up." 

The ER doctor came into speak with me after all of the tests came back. "Were you in a car accident?" he asked. "Or maybe they dropped you during surgery?" He chuckled. 

Why did he ask? X-rays confirmed that I have THREE broken ribs that are partially healed. I know exactly how it happened. I had a relentless cough a few months earlier. Then I got better. And then it happened again. Did I seek medical attention during that time? Yes, I actually did, even though I am not one to race off to the doctor over a cough. I had developed a searing pain in my ribs from all the coughing. I kept telling my husband that I felt like my bones were MOVING. The pain was unreal. My primary care doctor was unavailable, so I saw a different doctor in the same practice. He's okay, but his English skills are iffy. He sort of punched me in the cheek with his hand. "Does that hurt?" I mean, it kinda did but only because he had essentially thrown a right hook. He proclaimed that I had a sinus infection and prescribed accordingly. I'm positive that I never had a sinus infection and that what I really needed was pain management for broken ribs (and some sort of cough suppressant, I suppose). Sigh.

I don't know exactly what caused the tightness in my chest when I want to the ER. I'm assuming it was a combination of post-surgery weirdness plus the hematoma (the pressure was on the right side where the hematoma lives) plus healing ribs. I was just relieved not to have a blood clot in my lungs. I am not done parenting my daughter even though she is 19; I need to stick around for a while. 

My next appointment is on July 9th and my plan is to offer cash money to get these drains out. 

In time, once all of the swelling goes down, I'll have an idea of how everything shakes out. Other than the discomfort of the drains, my pain levels are relatively low. My back hurts less already! I'm hoping that in time, this big change in my life will allow me to be more active and to feel more confident (in myself and in my clothes!) So far, I have #noregrets. 


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