I woke to pain; the kind of pain I imagine I would feel if my abdomen was sliced open and pinned wide, like a butterfly.
Of course the anaesthetist had done her job well and I was all sewn up and already settled into the ICU (most people go to a regular ward after an abdominoplasty but I have diabetes etc so they were being careful). I knew I was in hospital and that nothing was wrong and that there would be painkillers very soon. So I wasn’t afraid; just in pain.
So I thrashed my head back and forth, careful not to actually move my torso, and said, “Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow” until people came over. I think they asked me to rate my pain out of ten (something that always reminds me of Scrubs pointing out how utterly biased and useless such a scale is). Since I wasn’t actually screaming (a la being in labor) I said 7 or 8. They gave me morphine, which was most definitely the right call. I had a button I could push for more as needed (which had a light that turned off if I wasn’t allowed more yet). I later discovered that only about 1 in 300 abdominoplasty patients require post-op morphine. That astonishes me.
Kids, it hurt. It hurt a lot. It still does. (To be fair, my back pain due to the limited movement is also very bad, and the operation also triggered migraines.)
After that, the hospital visit was about the same things as all hospital visits:
- Negotiating bureaucracy. Every shift and every ward has slightly different rules, and the vast majority are set in iron. Most of the rules are harmless, but it pretty much always means my medications—some of which should NOT be messed with—get screwed up. That certainly happened this time, and over the five nights it didn’t ever get correctly sorted out.
- The gradual transition from sleep to boredom, punctuated by tests. I was bored enough to summon pastoral care just so I had someone to talk to. (I’ve heard hospital staff average a total of 12 minutes per day per patient, and that sounds about right.)
- Toilet functions.
#3 should definitely be #1. I couldn’t tell you how many people asked if I’d farted, nor express how pleased they were when I answered in the affirmative. For the first couple of days I couldn’t sit or stand without help (or, obviously, walk) so some of the nurses got to know me… extremely well. Nurses are always ridiculously blase about such things. On my last day I was going to the bathroom and two nurses went ahead and walked in on me to give me some pills rather than waiting five minutes and coming back.
So there was a lot of grossness. If you’re a woman who’s had a baby, you’ll be familiar with the sense that your body no longer belongs to you. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck, or that it stops feeling like a violation. Abdominoplasty scars go basically from hip to hip (like a great big smile), but are deliberately laid down as low as possible. Which means literally among the short and curlies. (As it were.) I literally cried when I had my dressing changed yesterday. You know what it’s like removing an unusually strong bandaid? It’s like that, except you’re not allowed to wet it, and it’s far too big (and too raw a wound) to rip off fast and get it over with.
The grossest thing that people have to deal with post-op is the drains. The body tries to fill up a wound with liquid, which actually tends to swell and infect it. Drains draw bodily fluids away during that first crucial few days (8 for me). Basically I had two very long flexible straws sewn into the wound. At first it mostly looked like blood coming out through the straws, but it was always a mixture of blood and other stuff that gradually shifted in ratio to the point where the blood could clot, and the fluid in the bags was an orangey colour instead of scarlet.
So this is what the drains actually looked like:
They were uncomfortable as well as gross, poking into me when I sat or walked, and getting quite heavy at times. I’m very glad to not have to deal with them any more.
I’m still on some pretty intense painkillers (again, I’m assured that most people have downgraded to just panadol from here—which is certainly not a go for me at this stage). I’m still in a lot of pain, although I do have periods of time (when I’m sitting still) that I can forget about it.
My body is quite different. Obviously, my enormous stomach is now a normal size (it’s certainly not the world’s greatest stomach, because abdominoplasties don’t work that way), which is extremely exciting. I’m retaining water (normal after surgery because the body is stressed out) and still can’t stand up completely straight, but I can wear all my dresses (skirts tend to be too big now and pants would hurt way way too much).
My appetite is dramatically changed now that my stomach isn’t flopping about willy-nilly (rather, held in place with the muscles that are supposed to hold it)—not only do I eat much less, I stay full longer too. I’ve been getting blood-sugar readings in the healthy range for the first time since I was diagnosed as diabetic.
It’s early days yet, but the worst is over—for this operation, and I hope for my health in general.
Here’s the official pre- and post-op photos:
The surgeon removed 3.5 kilos just from my stomach. He also made me a new bellybutton (which right now is just a horrifying pit of blood and bruising).
This surgery is definitely not for everyone. It’s not an easy thing to go through, it costs a huge amount, and you need to be realistic about results. But I’m certainly very glad to have my innards put back where they belong, and I expect to reap the benefits of that for the rest of my life.