Heavy duty pain meds and I don’t get along, and thankfully in my case the pain really wasn’t bad by the 4th day. I switched to Tylenol Arthritis every 8 hours, and asked for a muscle relaxer for night (I learned during my first reconstruction that a muscle relaxer was actually more effective than pain meds). By 2 weeks, I was really only taking pain meds at night, and once I was off the aspirin (blood thinner), I switched to ibuprofen at night just to nudge away any swelling.
The abdominal situation makes getting out of bed difficult that first week or so (hubby would literally reach around and gently hug me and pull me upright). If you’ve had a c-section, it’s akin to that. In my case, other than the occasional zinger (sharp, shooting pain that are the nerves reviving), I haven’t experienced much pain in my breasts. Most of the discomfort was the abdominal incision, and my freaking back. Since your belly is initially very tight, you have to walk hunched over, and boy does the back scream after a bit. Many women use walkers to take the pressure off the back, so keep that in mind as a tool if you struggle with walking those first few weeks. One of my nurses recommended Salonpas Pain Patches for any back pain, and I’m so glad she did because they worked GREAT.
Overall I experienced more post-op pain with implant surgery and mastectomy. But DIEP is definitely a longer, slower recovery…I get tired much easier, and everything in the first few weeks just takes everything out of you so easily. My thought is that the body is working hard to heal many different areas with this surgery.
Online Support Groups
If you’re on Facebook, there are several support groups available. You can definitely get a lot of information in these groups, but a word of advice if you join them prior to your surgery: keep in mind that these are SUPPORT groups. Meaning that many of the women posting are in need of support because of something that they’re worried is going wrong or has actually gone wrong. It doesn’t mean that the majority of women have complications after DIEP (in fact it’s the opposite), but reading about and seeing images of complications can really do a number on you (in fact I freaked myself out pretty good the day before surgery). These groups are great resources for getting scoop about a surgeon, recovery-related tips and products, and after surgery it’s really so nice to have somewhere to go to see if anything you’re worried about has been experienced by others.
Other DIEP tips
As mentioned, all surgeons are different and follow different protocols. I came home with no bandaging (other than some sort of special guaze in my new belly button), just glue, even on my drain sites. Which was great in some ways, but also made it more difficult to choose clothing that’s comfortable. I discovered I needed to fold up a bit of guaze under my hip drains and lightly tape them down so they didn’t move to keep them from getting irritated. My surgeon also isn’t a fan of much compression, whereas some surgeons are all about it. I say follow what your surgeon suggests, as they’re going with what they’ve experienced to work the best for their patients.
And speaking of clothing and compression, I’m definitely camp commando since surgery. Everything irritates the incision, and it’s just more comfortable. However I’ve found I need underwear on when I wear leggings for my walks (because the seam on all of my leggings hits right at my incision…arrgh). My doc said light compression is fine (light enough that it leaves no mark on the skin), and I do find a bit of support and compression on my walks makes me more comfortable. I found these high-waisted postpartum panties, and I love them. They’re very soft, the waistband is wide and comfortable, with just a wee bit of compression. Once my incision is scab-free and I’m back to underwear wearing I know these will be my go-to’s.
If you’re reading this and you’re still deciding whether or not to go the DIEP route, my BIGGEST tip is to research your surgeon options. Make a list of questions and ASK THEM during your consultations. I’ve realized after reading posts and seeing images of others that surgeons methods vary widely. As a prime example, I had the ever-so-lovely c-section shelf…didn’t matter my weight, that shelf was there. I was concerned about having that plus a giant DIEP scar above it, as I’d seen images of those that have both (though keep in mind there may be anatomical or medical reasons for where they can make/take the new incision…again, ASK). Luckily not only did my surgeon bring the DIEP down to my c-section scar, but he tucked everything up too…he’s a while-I’m-there-might-as-well-make-it-look-good guy, meaning my shelf is no more! In fact he refers to the procedure as a tummy-tuck-transfer.
As I finish this post, I’ve just hit the 5 week mark! I feel like I turned a big corner week 3, and this week I definitely feel like another corner is being turned…I just feel stronger, definitely don’t tire as easily, and am even pondering going to a volleyball game. I can also tell my focus is much-improved (thus the tackling of a blog post). Be easy on yourself, follow all of your doc’s care and exercise instructions and you’ll be feeling more yourself before you know it.
As healing continues, I’ll update and add anything helpful here. Or anything I’ve forgotten…I tried to keep notes on my phone along the way, but for sure I’ve forgotten something #DIEPbrain.
And ye olde medical disclaimer: obviously anything I’ve said here is my own opinion based on my experience and research…I’m not a doctor nor have any medical background. Always follow the advice of your own doctors. My only hope is to provide some insight and helpful tools that were of huge help to me in my DIEP recovery.
Please comment below with any questions! And if you’ve already had your surgery, welcome to the DIEP side!