I’ve been posting a lot about surgery recently so I am ready to move on to other topics, but I wanted to do one last post about some tips and things to expect when you are freshly post-op from top surgery. Again, these are my experiences only, so keep in mind that everyone experiences post-op differently. Good luck!
Also, this focuses mostly on the first week post-op, when (if you have a double-incision as I did) you are wrapped up in the very tight, uncomfortable bandage with the drains.
Most guys probably want to know right away how much pain you’re gonna be in. Well, obviously everyone has a different threshold for pain so that’s a tough question to answer. I’ve heard from most guys, myself included, that the recovery isn’t actually that painful. For me, the most painful thing was the bandage. It rubbed my skin raw in four different places, and was so tight that it hurt to get up, sit down, and lay flat. I took pain pills (Percocet) the entire time I was wrapped up in the bandage. The pills dulled the pain and made me apathetic to the discomfort. The minute I got my bandage off, I didn’t need them anymore. If you handle pain even moderately well, and if you are able to take the pain meds, then I’m pretty certain you should be able to bear it just fine.
I’ve known guys who have been allergic to tape, glue used to close your incisions, anesthesia, latex, etc. You might unfortunately find out while recovering that you have an allergy. Sometimes you might be able to handle it with over-the-counter allergy meds, sometimes you may need your surgeon to intervene. I actually was allergic to the antibiotic that I got originally prescribed. It gave me a fever and made me extremely nauseous, so my surgeon had to call in a prescription for another antibiotic that was milder.
You will have to most likely wear some sort of pad with antibiotic cream on your nipples. You’re surgeon will have a plan for you, but if you can get away with it, I suggest Tefla non-stick pads (or the off-brand of course). I wore these over my nips with a light ace bandage holding them in place. There is no adhesive so you won’t irritate the skin around your nips.
Ace bandage and tank top undershirts:
If you have to wear an ace bandage, put on an undershirt as a barrier between your skin and the ace. A lot of guys report a sensation that the ace bandage is always “slipping” down and they have to readjust frequently. One guy I know even stopped wearing his ace because he was so frustrated by that and it resulted in a complication. I recommend wearing an undershirt tank top, aka A-shirt or, if you will, “wife beater” as a barrier because the fabric of the ace kind of “grabs” the fabric of the tank top and at least I didn’t experience that “slipping” sensation.
Sleep and dreams:
You might sleep great, you might sleep like shit. It all depends. I’ve usually heard guys say that at least at some point during immediate recovery that sleep can get kind of difficult. I had to sleep sitting up for the first week that I had my bandage on because I couldn’t comfortably lie down flat (the tightness of the bandage I had to wear the first week put too much painful pressure on my chest). It was impossible to get comfortable and took my mom and my girlfriend and about 15 minutes of shuffling before we could get the pillows just right (which inevitably lead to some really frustrated laughing). My pain wasn’t too bad so at night instead of taking the Percocet I was prescribed, I took two Tylenol PM instead. I kept the bottle bedside, and when I woke up in the middle of the night, I took two more and laid there until I fell back asleep.
Five out of the seven nights I was wrapped up in the bandage immediately post-op, I had nightmares that my bandage was removed and I still had breasts. I attribute it to a combination of pain meds and anxiety over not knowing what was underneath the bandage.
The reality that you had surgery might hit you hard, and that’s OK. Allow yourself to be overwhelmed with what you just went through. It’s kind of huge. It might blow your mind. Take care of yourself mentally as well as you are taking care of yourself physically. If you start to feel overwhelmed with anxiety and are having a hard time processing the surgery, don’t feel afraid to talk to someone, or at least journal about it.
I definitely experienced a complete sense of awe and overwhelmed emotions at having just gone through the surgery. It seemed a little unreal and for a minute I couldn’t believe what I had just done. But, the feeling passed. It’s all part of the process.
You may get stopped up, you may camped out on the toilet nonstop. The anesthesia, pain meds, and stress all affect guys differently, so be prepared for your bowels to not exactly, uh, cooperate with you. I thankfully didn’t have any problems like that but I’ve heard the tales of woe from others.
One unexpected thing that came up for me was while I was recovering I unexpectedly got into an argument with someone, got really upset, and my blood pressure rose. Because my bandage was so tight I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and I began to feel really dizzy and I thought I was going to pass out. I immediately stopped the argument and just told the person I could not talk about it, and I layed down and went to sleep for a bit.
I didn’t expect to fight with this person at all, but it happened. It’s a word to the wise, however, to make sure you are spending your recovery time with people who make you feel relaxed and calm and who you most likely won’t argue with.
Unfortunately you may have some complications to deal with. Luckily I didn’t but, here are some things that may come up. Your nipple grafts might not take 100%, you could have a build-up of fluid after the drains are removed, you could develop a hematoma (small sac of blood at the surgical site). I don’t know all the full complications that could arise, these are just a few that I know have happened to others. The best thing to do is just to follow any post-op care instructions as closely as you can and make sure you are seriously resting, drinking lots of fluids and eating.
I’ve been told that your chest will change many times over the course of the first year you are post-op. If you have irregularities in your scars, maybe a dog ear, or things just look weird, of course check in with your surgeon but also understand that it just takes a lot of time for your chest to heal and look the way it is going to look forever.
Getting your bandage off and drains out:
…is amazing. Nothing feels better than when that damn bandage comes off. Getting your drains out doesn’t hurt, it just feels really odd. Some guys have reported feeling faint when the bandage comes off, so be prepared to maybe sit down really quick. I’ve heard stories of guys fainting once they see their chest because it still looks pretty gross. Be mindful of how sensitive you are to blood and guts.
Also, my family doctor warned me that when my bandage came off I might have the sensation that my chest is “falling” or not being help up, which I actually did feel that. It’s an odd feeling, like without the bandage the front of your chest is just going to fall off, but it passes.
Seeing chest for first time:
When I saw my chest for the first time, to me, it looked like a bald chicken or turkey in a cartoon that had just gotten it’s feathers blown off. Seriously, it looked like an uncooked turkey. It was pale and wrinkled from the bandage and just… bald looking. Totally flat. It was unusual at first glance, and I didn’t expect to think that. It wasn’t a magical movie moment or anything. It wasn’t until I got home and spent some real time in the mirror that I really fully understood what I looked like.
Pains, tingles, pulling, numbness:
My chest isn’t totally numb. I can feel touch everywhere. Right on my pecs and my nipples I can’t really feel light touch. If you rubbed a feather there I probably wouldn’t know. However I can definitely tell when I am being touched, and usually, how. (I plan to post more on this later).
At 5 months post-op I am still having some pain. It hurts to have pressure on my chest or if someone taps my chest, slaps it, or leans on it. I still feel my scars pull a little bit if I am reaching from something really high up. Sometimes my scars will just hurt for no reason, but if I rub them with some Vitamin E oil, that usually goes away.
Immediately after getting my bandage off, with the drains still in.