I learned a very valuable lesson while taking care of my wife Chris following her mastectomy: "It’s surprising what you can do when you absolutely have to." Here’s the story (adapted from "Cancer for Two"):
She came home from the hospital with several “drains.” Picture a small clear plastic bulb, like the end of a turkey baster. A tube comes out of the bulb and disappeared into her body near the site of the surgery: the purpose is to allow fluid from the surgery site to flow through the tube and collect in the bulb rather than accumulate and cause pressure. The tube was held in place by a single stitch.
Late one night while emptying one of the drains, I accidentally pulled on it which caused tension on the stitch which felt like a thorn to Chris. I realized that the only way to fix it would be to cut the stitch, thereby relieving the pulling on her skin. But if I did that, what would hold the tube in place? We were going for our post-operative appointment the following Monday; if I snipped the stitch now would it be okay until then?
I came to the horrifying conclusion that the drain was going to have to be pulled out and that I was probably going to have to do it.
I paged the surgeon on-call and explained the situation; he agreed that the stitch had to be cut, and that definitely meant that the drain would have to come out because we could not leave it in without the stitch there to hold it in place. He said that it was time for the drain to come out anyway, so it wouldn’t be a problem.
Right. Not for him!
What about the hole that it leaves? Is it going to bleed like crazy? How do I patch it up?
I was way outside my comfort zone.
He told me that it probably wouldn’t bleed much, and to just put a bandage over it.
How much tubing will come out? I was imagining three feet of tubing with blood and entrails attached--what the hell was I doing in this situation?
He said that it would only be about five or six inches. I told him my fears and tried to make light of it and he assured me that it would all be okay, and we laughed about it together. Sort-of.
I remember thinking, “Am I really having this conversation?