Long story short: A year ago this month, I had a breast reduction that ended up with me stuck on the couch for 8 weeks with a giant, festering, open boob wound. During the process, I met a General Surgeon whom I now work for as a Physician Assistant! What? Universe, hello!? I guess everything worked out! My boobs are finally closed and mostly look decent, and it's all behind me. Tra-la-la!
The longer, realer story is this:
A year ago I had a breast reduction I'd been wanting to have forever to shrink my massive, heavy, uncomfortable boobs that I'd always hated. I had (have) chronic back pain and was really hoping this could fix it. In addition to the physical benefits I hoped to gain, I also was looking for mental ones. I loathed the way my breasts made me look old and dumpy post-kids, and extra sultry pre-kids. I didn't want any of that. I had just moved transcontinentally for a fresh start, I wanted the same with my body. Renewal, a cleansing.
Insurance didn't agree that the weight of my tots was the problem with my spine or that I was due for a cleansing, so we paid $13k out of pocket for the surgery- an amount I wasn't comfortable parting with in the wake of COVID, having just sold our small business for pennies of what we put into it, and moving across the country on one income- BUT my husband convinced me that my wellness and confidence in my body was worth it. #thatislove
(Insert Debbie Downer music here) I wish I had gotten wellness and confidence from all of that investment.
Despite my request to be taken down 2-3 breast sizes, the surgeon took me down 1- he must have made a judgement call in the OR that this was what was best for me. As a P.A., I've been in that OR, seen surgeons make that call. Now I wonder if our patients felt betrayed afterwards like I feel.
After the surgery, I was dumped, mostly still under anesthesia, into my husband's waiting car in the parking garage to go home and heal. Within a week, I had a fever and infection, and within a few weeks, the wounds were wide open- one side fell apart completely and required packing and a special wound vacuum machine 24/7 for weeks to get it to a point where it was closed with healthy skin again. I think I had 6? 7? courses of antibiotics by the time everything was said and done, over the course of months. My plastic surgeon largely dismissed me and kept telling me things were fine when they weren't, and eventually I advocated for myself and insisted on getting a wound care specialist- who is now my boss (what!?).
It was hard and uncomfortable to go about life, so I didn't do much off the couch. I sat feeling guilty about all the work my husband was having to do in my stead. I felt guilty about an expensive thing having turned out so badly. I felt guilty that my body still wasn't good, wasn't right. I felt like a failure. I also wrote, watched ALL the TV, and ate ALL the food, and got such an enormous knot in the hair on the back of my head, that between that and the bleach I used to try to brighten my hair/mood, I had to just cut it all off when all was said and done.
So finally, when the skin over the incision was closed 2 months after surgery, I stood up and found I was chubbier, mullet-ier, and more depressed than when I'd started. And, although my boobs were somewhat smaller and perkier, now they were hella scarred and mentally scarring. And I had all of this grief, guilt, and anger about how it all went down.
Of course, I blamed myself on doing something so self-indulgent in the first place, on being fat, forty, and failing as a patient. If I hadn't gained all that weight in the last few weeks/months/decades, the boobs would look smaller and better and my back wouldn't hurt. If I'd kept the wounds dryer longer, they wouldn't have fallen apart. If I'd eaten better, if I'd avoided any alcohol, if I'd worked out more, if I'd chosen a better provider, if I'd taken more precautions, if I'd asked more questions, if I'd insisted my surgeon give me a scout's promise that he'd do what I asked, if, if, if.....it made me not think I was reliable or trustworthy. I didn't feel listened to, honored, respected, or safe. I felt like I got (and took) a bad deal. I felt like someone who trusts the wrong people and isn't able to take care of herself- that was the worst part, I think, losing trust in myself, feeling like a sucker. That's always the worst part when someone betrays me- is I spin it to believe that I'm someone who deserves to be betrayed, who is too dumb and soft to protect herself. I rarely feel anger toward the person/system, it's always toward me. I swallow all of the shame.
How dare I have so many needs? How dare this body, which had already betrayed me by not looking the way it should and by limiting me with its pain, now refuse to heal? How dare I take up so many resources from the people in my home?
And I felt out of control- the postop mess was a further loss of control- after the years of pandemic, losing jobs, losing our business, losing our community- it was loss after loss and I felt wildly out of control. My job on the planet, as I understood it, was to keep things manageable for everyone I knew, and this time had been hit after hit against this identity.
Through therapy and a lot of reflection, I've gone from sad and self-loathing, to angry, to mostly forgiving. It's not even about forgiving the surgeon- I'm still not sure what to do with that- I do feel somewhat compelled to save the other women he might treat like this, but haven't figured out how yet- mostly I've been working on forgiving my body, myself, and letting go of control.
I've had to convince myself that I can trust myself to make choices, and sometimes they just don't turn out the way I hoped they would- but that doesn't mean I'm shit at making choices. I've also had to discover that my body is allowed to falter, to struggle, to need things, and to take its own time to heal and flourish.
Trying to control things instead of working on being peaceful and resilient no matter what happens, left me pretty brittle. It's the big work of my life to let go of control...because really, "I never had control, all I had was anxiety." -Elizabeth Gilbert
It's taken a lot of work to use this as a learning experience and to learn to trust and love my body even more than I did before it all started- yes, even my big little Frankentitties.
Also, as my therapist points out, even though I felt wildly out of control and sloppy and pitiful at the time, I did advocate for myself, I did get myself to where I needed to be, even if the path wasn't so smooth and straight. And I did, apparently, maintain my humor and sensibility, because my current boss found me worthy and trustworthy, even while I was an unshowered, freaking out mess. Meanwhile, every time I have an experience as a patient, it gives me insights and makes me a better provider. In this new gig, I work with patients who are dealing with all kinds of breast issues, wound issues, trauma of their bodies betraying them- I have been there, in a small way, and I can show better, truer compassion now.
So, here's where I am a year after I had a big hole in my chest- I took the time to rage and grieve, and now am working on peace and generosity toward myself. I am softer, slower to react, more forgiving and gentle, clinging less hard to control, and it's actually brought me closer to my body- I'm finally listening as it speaks to me. It's always been talking, I just wasn't listening. Now the ping in the gut, the pain in my shoulders, the tightening in my pelvis- I'm honoring those signs and meditating on them.
Like a big freaking hippie weirdo- yes, like that.
Thanks for hanging with me on this journey. Smooches!
Oh, and here's the gory pics- because we all love gory pics.