Thursday, July 2, 2009


One of the annoying aspects of a mastectomy are the drains. And long after you’re up and about and pretending to be fine, they simply hang around waiting to be emptied. A mixture of blood and serum must exit the surgery site, otherwise it would be catastrophic.

My first encounter with the drain was in the hospital, still high on anesthesia so much that the atmosphere was green and spotted. I stood all wobbly, greasy-haired, staring into the mirror, daring myself to look at the area above my bandages. At first, I thought the silicon implant was out of place or defective. A raised six-inch bump ran across my chest, just two inches below my clavicle. Cheryl had seen it too but neither of us mentioned it, not wanting to scare the other. Eventually the plastic surgeon told us that was a section of tubing for the drain.

It’s no fun to empty these things. And I applaud the women who’ve done it alone. I opted for my trusty assistant naturally. Twice a day, I lay prostrate while Cheryl held the tube and ran her pinched fingertips down along the line to remove any clots. The suction created a dull ache inside my chest and made me feel like aliens were coming to life. Then she emptied the clear bladders into measuring canisters and wrote down the progress.

We did have some luck in all this—because I’m relatively thin (and had lost 9 lbs since diagnosis)—I wasn’t draining the amount of fluids a larger woman would. Instead of the regular two weeks of drains, I had next to no output at the end of week one.

So today, after one endless week of pain and mind-numbing drugs and digestive agony (the likes of which I’ve never felt before and hope not to experience on chemo), a nurse quickly and decisively slipped the drains from my chest. I took a deep breath and on exhale she pulled one tube out. Then the next. It was temporarily painful but an immediate release.

For the first time, I faced my new chest in the mirror. I won’t lie to you. It made me sad for what my body has so far endured, but hopeful for a new way. As I sit here typing, I am free of tubes and straps and gauze and tape with a tight ache that cautions patience.

It is taking time to process all that we’ve been through this past week. But I think I’m back now and ready to write. And ready to catch up on what’s going on out there in the real world with my friends and family.

No strings attached.


Anonymous said...

You are beautiful just the way you are!

Jonathan Odell said...

Michele, I'm sitting here in awe of what I just read. The clear-eyed courageous honesty with which you are tackling this piece of your journey is beyond my emotional grasp. And yet I feel grateful that you volunteer so much of yourself. Your forthrightness somehow emboldens me.