This is my experience post-operatively after having my chest surgery.
The surgery went well. I got to have a good chat with the anaesthetist before surgery began, and he had mentioned that if I were to come round feeling nauseous, then I was to say and he would give me something to make me feel better quickly. As it happened, when I did start to regain consciousness, I did feel quite sick and said so. Instantly, I was given something to make me feel better – so it’s always worth asking about this prior to surgery if you feel (or know) that you might not react well to anaesthetic.
The first day after the surgery was spent sleeping. I knew that I would be expected to stay in hospital for 2 nights, but this can vary considerably, so it’s worth checking out how long you will be expected to stay in before you go for the operation, and you can prepare accordingly then. I didn’t have bandages on, just small steri-strips across the scars, and circular bandages around the nipples.
I was offered a choice between having my nipples grafted back on, or, having them kept on the bloodline. I asked a few transguys about which option was best to take, and none of them said to keep them on the bloodline. When the surgeon asked again, I was confused as to the best option – there was the same level of survival rate for both options, and neither of the choices took longer than the other. So it just came down to how it looked. The reasoning my fellow transguys gave me was that the nipples could be grafted back on in a more masculine place on the chest. However, keeping them on the bloodline doesn’t mean that they will be out of position. In the end I opted to keep them on the bloodline as I felt it would be less traumatic to the body and would perhaps allow a better chance of survival for the nipples. They don’t look out of place at all, and so far (4 weeks post-op) I am not having a problem with them, and they appear to be healing nicely.
I made the decision that I wasn’t going to have any stimulants as far as possible during the first few days of recovery, in order to give my body the best chance of healing effectively. I quit smoking quite a while ago, which is often one of the first things that the surgeon will ask, as it can affect the smaller capillaries and blood vessels and affect the healing process negatively. Other stimulants include caffeine, energy drinks and chocolate. By having these, the body has to make hormones to deal with these going into the body – especially if having them excessively – and so if the body is producing hormones to get your blood sugar under control, then it is diverted from assisting with the healing process, and slows healing down.
I drank plenty of water, and also herbal teas such as licquorice and peppermint (for detox purposes), or ginger and lemon (for nausea) to help in clearing the effects of the anaesthetic from my system as soon as possible. I also had juices and ready-made protein shakes that were allowed to be stored in a fridge on the ward so that I was getting plenty of protein, vitamins and minerals, as well as providing nutrition at a point where physical hunger eluded me. Anaesthetic can dull the appetite – and at the point where we need to eat well in order to allow us to heal too!
When I did feel like eating, I couldn’t face the food that was available in the hospital, and opted for chicken salads, or superfood salads that contained lentils and quinoa, chickpeas and tomatoes – all great foods for helping to heal. I maintained this for the first fortnight, gradually reintroducing coffee in small amounts, with plenty of water to drink. My partner and I opted to have foods that would help me to return to normal digestive habits as soon as possible – plenty of protein, with plenty of fibrous beans and vegetables. Many people mention that anaesthetic can cause the body to become constipated as a side effect, and the longer that goes on, the more uncomfortable you can feel. I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t a problem for me – and luckily it wasn’t. I know that during the surgery I was given diamorphine, but post-op all I took was paracetemol and ibuprofen – and even then I didn’t feel the need to take them regularly. I was very lucky that I wasn’t in much pain, only slight discomfort, and that was usually first thing in the morning when the muscles were stiff from inactivity.
One of the positive things about the way my surgery was done was that there were no incisions made under my arms, and so I had a complete range of movement from the beginning – although I was not allowed to make any fast or energetic arm movements. That has been a blessing in that I have been able to do most things for myself without requiring assistance. The only area that I have assistance is getting into and out of the shower, just in case I slip.
So, onto the important stuff – out and about and training once more!
I asked about getting back to running and weights, and there are two different answers. I got a stern look from the surgeon to make sure I knew how serious she was, and she told me the following:
No running for 6 weeks. Not even a shuffle. Any bouncing of the pectoral muscles could cause some of the stitching to ‘ping’ within this time. Too much of that and there would be problems with the tissues knitting back together properly.
No weights for 12 weeks. Even then, when I come back to it, start off light and build my way back up to where I was. Let the muscles get used to the workload again, and allow the muscle time to develop, rather than rushing to get back to where I was beforehand.
Due to the nature of the work I do (PT and Sports Massage), I can’t go back to work for over 8 weeks, and even then I have to ease myself back in so that I don’t overdo things and end up needing more time off than I had initially planned for.
However, I can walk. I can walk as much or as little as I wish, as long as there are no vigorous arm movements that might pull the stitches, and as long as I don’t sweat excessively in the first few weeks as that might irritate the stitches (I was advised against swimming also as chlorine can irritate the stitching too). So I have walked. I did nearly 110 post-operative walking miles to the end of the month after my surgery had taken place. They were slow and steady, but I felt better for getting some exercise rather than none.
My healing continues to go well, and I will carry on doing as I am told so that I get the best result possible. I am extremely happy with the result from my surgeon – she has done an excellent job, and I am glad that I listened to what I was told.
Everyone has their own experience with surgery. This is mine, and I know not all will be the same, but I wanted to share for those who are approaching surgery and maybe aren’t sure of what they should be doing in order to allow themselves the best chances of recovery. Hopefully there will be something here that will help – even if it’s just helping you to decide what questions you want to ask your surgeon.
Check back soon for my piece on the exercises I used to prepare my chest for the surgery, to make sure I had built up the muscles as best as possible.