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  • Writer's pictureAja McDonald

Let’s Talk About Drains (Surgical Drains)

Proceed with caution: Before you continue to read this post, please be aware that it may not be for the weak of stomach. My way with words followed with a photo may paint a picture you may not want to envision. As you were.

I’ve never had a surgery before and the only experience I’ve had with a surgical drain was when my best friend in the states had liposuction.

So when she got to come home with them in, I helped her clean the areas and make sure they didn’t get too dry by rubbing an ointment on the incision areas to keep them soft and prevent the drain areas from getting aggravated or infected. This was early 2000s so things have changed over the years.

Since my mastectomy, I woke up with a surgical drain and a vacuum bottle attached to it. I was actually surprised that I only had one surgical incision that I could see. Surely there was more, right? Nope. This wasn’t the early 2000s liposuction experience and I also had one of my breasts fully removed with some friendly lymph nodes that joined in on the cancer party.

I wasn’t scared about the fact that I would have a drain. I mean, I did help a bestie take care of hers (while also documenting her bruising each day through photos that we could look back at later… and I may or may not use as reference for SFX makeup ideas…). And if anything, I felt I was fully prepared for what’s to come because I do have a high pain tolerance and most of my body is covered in tattoos. I think I know myself pretty well by now.

At first, it was a bit weird to have something added to your body part count. At the hospital, I had nurses that helped me so I didn’t think much about moving around with it until I got comfortable after a few days. But it didn’t take long until I found some independence and could carry my basket around my hospital room. I just had to make sure I didn’t trip over it. And then it was learning how to get my clothes on around it. Showering around it. Not forgetting to pick it up when I would walk off to do something.

Once I was discharged and went home, I found I was only ashamed of this new addition when I left the house and tried to hide it in the drain bottle bag my breast care nurse gave me. I mean, not everyone wants to have a view of your fluids flowing through a tube into a specially made bag that contains your bottle of liquid “you.”

A view from my hospital bed of my LVS NG drainage system.

LVS NG™ is a postoperative wound drainage system and its unique feature is the use of a constant low suction force. This system has a high vac bottle with a connecting tube that converts the negative pressure to low suction force.

As the days went on, I found myself mesmerised by this drain and tube attachment. I would sit in the bathroom for at least 5-10 minutes before I realised I was hypnotised by the movement of the pieces of me travelling along the liquid flow of my drain (yes I took photos). I at first started to watch the tube to see if there was any movement in the liquid and make sure the vacuum bottle was still collecting fluid. There was a point that a large part was collected in the drip part of this tube and I worried it would clog the flow. But no, it just hung out there. I got so used to it, I named it “Chunky Brewster.”

By the next day, “Chunky Brewster” was starting to be up to no good. Three days in at home and I was starting to get concerned that maybe she was going to ruin the party as she started to move from the collection drip of the drain down to this new area attached to the tube that I could not see through. I was worried “Chunky” would stop the flow and I didn’t know what would happen next if the system did get blocked. When the nurse came by on day four of being home, she had a look and said it should be fine. Just as long as the little “accordion” like dude on my bottle doesn’t go up, then there is still suction happening.

Everything was working as planned… until four minutes after 9pm when the little accordion like dude went up and the suction had stopped! Guess what time 9:34pm is? It’s four minutes after the district nurses finish for the day and someone like me has to go to the ED area of the hospital and wait instead of having someone come check on me at home. Thanks, “Chunky.” And so my husband and I waited as I got to lay on a bed in the ED instead of sitting in the waiting area. A couple hours later everything was sorted and fixed and we could go home. It’s not ideal, but I knew I was in a better place being there than worrying all night at home.

Each day since I have been home, a district nurse has come by to check on me and measure the amount of liquid built up in my drain bottle. At one point, I started to feel like a brewery of some sort. There were several bottles changed throughout this whole process. When I got to chat with my parents for the first time after leaving the hospital, my father asked what this bottle was by me and I informed him how it worked and that the bottle was my personal flask. He made a grossed out face when he realised what it was as I carried on pretending I was going to have a swig. I took great pleasure in this moment.

Today is the 11th day from my surgery and at 1:30pm I got to celebrate the fact that my drain was ready to be removed. The nurse was great at walking me through the whole removal process and I immediately felt free and less aggravated once it was out and she patched me up.

These first 11 days I have had to learn how to cope with the pain of my arm swelling from the surgery and lymph node removal, drain tube mischievously causing sharp pains in my side, having a compression wrap around my chest and keeping everything in place, trying to build a pillow incline so I can sleep somewhat upwards and at the same time be able to accomodate my drain. This first step has already been quite a journey.

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