Friday, 12 June 2009

Dressing For Chest Drains

After the success of my corridor walk yesterday afternoon, Nick was keen to egg me on to higher achievements. He suggested that we aim to go out of the hospital today. I was excited by the idea. “We could walk down to the Providores and have tea,” I exclaimed.

“Only, what am I going to wear?” It’s interesting how quickly one falls out of the habit of getting dressed. Whether on holiday or in hospital I’m always quite happy to wear the minimum required. For the past few days I’ve been dressed only in my compression bra and a pair of stretch jersey shorts.

The physiotherapist came to see me a couple of days ago. She gave me a leaflet entitled Exercises After Breast Surgery. She told me that many women end up with a very restricted range of shoulder movement because they do not do their exercises after breast surgery. It was interesting to see that most of the illustrations in the leaflet were of much older women. It brought home to me the fact that being diagnosed with breast cancer before the menopause is still relatively rare. More than 80% of breast cancers occur in women over fifty. The leaflet illustrated five different breast surgery survivors doing their exercises: an elderly white lady, probably in her eighties, with long hair; another white lady in her eighties, with short hair; a lady of African origin, probably in her seventies, with short hair; a younger white lady, probably in her late forties, with shoulder length hair and, finally, a middle-aged man with a beard. I was impressed by the thorough inclusiveness of the leaflet designers.

Since the physio’s visit I’ve been assiduously doing my exercises. They’re quite simple, for example: brushing my hair, drying my back with a towel or raising and lowering my elbows to shoulder height. But I don’t think I could put anything on over my head. I will need an outfit that is comfortable and easy to don, that covers up the bandages and the compression bra.

I instructed Nick to bring a pair of black leggings and a voluminous white pirate shirt that buttons down the front.

Mr Hadjiminas visits every morning, always wearing a tailored suit. This morning he expresses great satisfaction with my progress, going so far as to call me his “star patient.” I think that great doctors are defined not just by their brains and technical skill but also by their ability to enrol patients in their own recovery. Mr H certainly fits my great doctor criteria. His enthusiasm in turn encourages me to make every possible effort to get back to vibrant health.

Flossie arrives. It’s more of a morning fly-past than a visit. She lingers just long enough to knock back a caffè latte and drop off her latest gift to me - a sparkly silver bat-winged top with a V-neck. Now I can guess what you’re thinking: “That Flossie has finally lost the plot. Tipped right over the edge, so to speak. You're in the hospital, not auditioning for Saturday Night Fever.” I hear you. When I open the bag I have to look long and hard at the sparkly silver top and then remember to close my mouth. But wait a minute. The top is loose enough to wiggle into without too much trouble, the batwing sleeves are not too restricting, the V-neck exactly covers the neckline of my compression bra. Flossie is a genius. She has discovered the perfect post breast surgery attire.

When Nick arrives he helps me into the silver top and leggings. It’s really a smart look. Then I regard the two tubes protruding from my waistband with drainage bottles attached. “The whole outfit will really be let down by that Pret a Manger sandwich bag,” I observe. Nick shoots me a look of excited triumph and then produces a black crocodile Bruno Magli handbag. Nick has been through my wardrobe and picked it out himself. The two bottles fit perfectly inside.