I admit, I tend to be fortunate more often than not – things work out in my favor quite often. Sometimes I say this is because I’m always prepared for the worst, I do what’s most practical, I have a strong work ethic, I stay calm, and I educate myself. Other times I chalk it up to luck. This time, I think it’s a bit of both.
On the FORCE boards today, someone posted about how her DIEP surgery is ruining her life. Several women are agreeing with her, reporting years of complications, extra surgeries, necrosis, pain, deformity, and more. These women have been through a hard time, and I feel really sad for them. I can’t imagine doing something like this, prophylactically at that, and having it turn out worse than it was before.
I’ve been lucky that so far, other than the painful muscle strain that lasted only a week, I haven’t had any significant complications. I know there’s still time – the abdominal incision could open, a flap could still fail, I could be completely asymmetrical when the swelling goes down. But so far, luck has been on my side.
What concerns me about these women is that they seem shocked that these sorts of complications could happen, and it sounds a lot like their doctors didn’t really warn them. I educated myself a lot on all of the complications that could arise – I knew about the problems with incisions not closing, the possibility of multiple surgeries to get a good appearance, flap failure and dying tissue. I read a whole lot and spoke to people who’ve had the surgery. By the time I got to my plastic surgeon, he didn’t really have to tell me that much and I had very few questions – I knew most of what I was getting into. With the exception of specifics to my body type and anatomy, I knew what to expect. He did warn me of a possible hernia if he ended up needing to use any rectus muscle (he did use a small bit), and he warned me that 2% of flaps do fail. Other than that, I think he assumed that because I came in with pages and pages of notes as well as my laptop on which I took notes while he spoke, I was already pretty knowledgeable.
I do really like my doctor, but I’ve come to realize, like many of my other doctors, that he isn’t the best at offering information. If you don’t have questions, there’s very little he’ll tell you (for instance, if I hadn’t gone in for that extra appt to check the muscle strain, I wouldn’t have known that I’m supposed to be wearing a regular-fitting bra right now and not an over-sized post-surgical bra). I think this is because doctors nowadays take for granted that we must all know what we’re doing because we have the internet to teach us all about it. Or, a doctor who’s done this a zillion times just goes through the motions during a consultation and some of the shpeil is just forgotten.
Still, no amount of reading in advance is going to ensure that no complications arise. But you can’t count on your doctor to tell you about all of them. If you want to get through something this challenging, you have to do your own homework. And I guess you have to have a little luck on your side, too.