Health Blogs | Breast Cancer | Chemotherapy

Post-surgical Drain - How gross is it?

May 8th, 2012 by AndreaHut

The most important thing to know about this contraption is that it is not as disgusting as you imagine. Really. Having said that, nothing prepared me for the experience of living with an annoying plastic football-shaped device attached to me. At least its not that big. Just a few inches long. It is, however, the single most annoying contraption ever. If you had a double mastectomy, you'll have two. Lucky you.

At some point shortly after surgery, a nurse will teach you how to milk the drain the plastic tubing that comes out of your side (or both sides, if you had a double mastectomy), with a little stitch and a little football shaped sac at the end. I swear thats what they call it: Milking the drain. Never mind the irony of having just lost your milk ducts. Surgeons and nurses arent big on irony. Lots of women find the process disturbing and are worried about doing it right; quite a few have their husbands do it. I didnt think it was that big a deal. If youve changed diapers, youve done far worse. Far worse!  Its just fluid with some blood stuff mixed in and you dont touch it - you just see it.

Its not a big deal. All you do is kind of squeeze the tubing from the top into the drain - like flattening the kinks out of a rope or hose. Thats it. Youre just pinching your fingers together and running them down the length of the little hose - ok, so its a little gross - and then you measure the fluid, and keep a log. My surgeon finally told me I didnt have to be perfectly exact, just do the best I could. I was sure that every drop mattered in the measurement, but it doesnt. Just picture me in the bathroom with the little measuring thing they give you, trying to decide if I should put it on the counter and lean over, or bring it up to eye level. I mean, is it measuring for baking, or just stir-fry? - because theyre different. The most important thing is that you do it at about the same time every day and that you dont let the drain back up or the football get too full, because that can cause infection.  

You keep a log so you know when the flow slows down enough, for the surgeon removes the drain. This is painless. Yay, painless! I cheer for anything that doesnt hurt. It's kind of weird when they take it out, though. The surgeon will clip the little stitch that holds it in and then just pull the tubing out. You can't feel it at all.

The drain tubing runs from that little incision, up under your arm, then loops back and into your chest area behind where your breast used to be. Some of the post-surgical pain under your arm and under the surgery site comes from this tubing. Nobody told me. I had to figure that out for myself. I had pain in my armpit and could not understand why for quite a while. The thing about the tubing in you is that it moves, so you will occasionally get a sharp pain or tugging feeling, and you just have to try to move around until it changes again. Its not pleasant but it's not dreadful.

Dont worry about how long it takes for the surgeon to decide to remove it. My drain was in forever! I felt like a kangaroo carrying its young in a pouch. I hated talking to women who said, Oh, the drain - that was nothing, I had mine out in a few days. Mine stayed in for four weeks! And then we finally took it out and I still had to go in for aspirations. No, this is not looking to the heavens for inspiration, this is where they stick a needle in the pillow of fluid that has now formed under your arm, and they drain it. The great news is that you feel NOTHING. It does not hurt at all. The other news: the sound of the liquid draining into the metal pan can be gross. Plus, dont look, that is gross.

Top 5 tips for dealing with the drain:

1. Buy two surgical camisoles to have when you get home from the hospital. They have three pouches - two over your breast area that you can fill with cotton poofs (these come with the camisole) to simulate your missing boob, and one pouch at your waist to hold the drain. If you have two, you have one to wear while one's in the laundry.

2. Be sure to have enough loose shirts around for those first couple of weeks because the drain kind of sticks out and looks like you're hiding something under your shirt. Don't be surprised if shopkeepers look like they're keeping an eye on you in case you're shoplifting.

3. Milk the drain as often as the nurse tells you to. It's important.

4. Don't be alarmed by the little clots and gross things that show up in the tubing. It's all normal and by the end it gets clearer and clearer.

5. Wash your hands really well before emptying the drain. It's the only time it's open and has the possibility for infection.

Don't worry - this too shall pass!


 
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Tags: Breast Cancer, cancer free, Chemotherapy, radiation


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