First Impressions (Part II of IV)

The nothingness prevailed for several hours. Gradually this void, in which neither dreams nor recollections were recorded, blossomed into a burgeoning recognition of stimuli around me: bright lights, sounds from equipment and people moving about, continuous warmth from the Bair Hugger blanket, and a voice that said (perhaps for the umpteenth time):  “Mrs. Chao, you are in the recovery room.”  My eyelids fluttered open and then shut, unable to sustain the energy required to keep themselves ajar.  I quickly descended back into my anesthesia driven stupor, periodically surfacing to fleeting wakefulness over the next few hours.

Earl joined me in the recovery room around 5pm and we were transferred to my hospital room an hour later.  By the time I was able to maintain consciousness for more than just a few minutes, darkness had descended upon the world around us.  I was newly aware of the slight pressure on my nostrils from tubes supplying oxygen, the alternating squeezes of the Deep Vein Thrombosis leg cuffs, the not yet stiflingly warm room.

My hospital bed supported me in a semi-upright position with knees slightly bent.  I tentatively investigated my torso and found a snug, restrictive band of elastic encasing my abdomen.  The area which I assumed contained my new breast was blanketed by a thick layer of surgical gauze, taped securely.  Lying motionless, I remained blissfully free from pain or nausea. Twisting slightly to the left or right, however, conjured sharp twinges from my abdomen.

The nurse instructed me on how to dispense Dilaudid, a morphine-like opiate, from my IV cart by pressing an oversized round green button. She recommended that I stay ahead of the pain and try to anticipate my needs rather than react belatedly to them.  Assuming the lingering anesthesia was still masking all potential pain, I abstained for the time being but stored this bit of advice for later.

My Foley catheter was left in place, thus alleviating any need to visit the bathroom.  I was particularly relieved at not needing to leave the sanctuary of my bed since my experience from the first operation taught me that the nausea would first attack when I stood upright.  At this point, I should advise anyone preparing for surgery to avoid eating red beets.  Thursday’s dinner, although both delicious and nutritious, unintentionally led to some confusion among the health personnel emptying my rose-hued collection bag.

Every hour that evening and throughout the first 48 hours, a nurse checked the status of my fledgling breast with a Doppler device.  Pressing the sensor to my breast as an obstetrician would do to an expectant mother’s abdomen, the nurse moved the probe around gently, listening intently for the swish, swish, swish of arterial blood flow and the constant whooooooooo signalling the blood’s return course through my veins.

I slumbered fairly constantly until just before dawn, when I awoke drenched in sweat, mouth parched.  The room’s door remained shut and the thermostat was set high.  My body heat was further supplemented by warmth from the Bair Hugger.  The new breast would thrive if it could maintain an adequate blood supply through the delicate connections created by Dr. Orman’s painstaking microsurgery just hours before.  In theory, any vasoconstriction, caused for example by a cold surrounding environment, could jeopardize this healthy blood supply. Further compounding my discomfort, in case I might need to return to surgery quickly to repair problems with blood supply to the new breast, I was restricted from taking any food or liquids by mouth. My nurse applied moisturizer to my lips and ran a lemon-flavored swab around my mouth, providing scant relief.

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