SAN ANTONIO - Tuesday March 6th, 5 a.m.
I heard the shuffling of nurses, and although my eyes were closed, the bright light over my bed burned them with intensity. "We need to check your flaps, honey," one of the nurses said in a quiet and concerned voice. I tried to answer, "Okay, " but it was tough to talk in my drug-induced semi-coma. I was already familiar with the routine. Every hour the nurses came in, turned on the light, checked my blood pressure and temperature, and made sure my flaps were surviving. Flaps! What a funny name for my new breasts. "Let's see if we can get a strong rhythm," the nurse said. They turned on this mini, portable ultrasound machine that had a small wand attached to it. The wand looked like one of those skinny flashlights you put on a key chain - but longer. One nurse put goop on the end of it and ran it across the center my breast. "Shew-shew-shew-shew." A soft but steady rhythm was picked up on my left breast. That rhythm got louder, and stronger. It sounded just like Nicole's heartbeat when she was in my belly. There was only sound, no picture - but I would be interested to see what it looks like in there. "It's ALIVE," I tried to joke. "My boobies are alive"! The nurses laughed. "That sounds great, very strong, let's check the other side". She peeled back the Velcro-strap on the right side of my bra and moved the wand around the other breast. I could see her doing it, but I couldn't feel it. My breasts were very numb. "Shew-shew-shew-shew." "There it is," the nurse said. "They both sound great". I looked down at my right breast as she started to pull the bra back over it. The first thing I noticed was I had a nipple! I had a nipple!
I remembered Dr. Ledoux talking to me in the pre-op room. "We'll try to re-attach the right nipple. But I'm not sure if we'll be able to. Nipples don't always take once they've been separated from the breast. There's also the issue of aesthetics." "Do what you can. I trust you, if it doesn't look right don't do it, and you can make me a new one later".
I smiled. "He did it," I said to myself. It looked great, like my old nipple! I suppose it should since it WAS my old nipple. He couldn't save the one on my left breast because the cancer had been right above the nipple line, but he did save the right one! I still couldn't tell what size my new breasts were. They were obviously swollen, and they looked huge. "We'll be back in an hour, do you need anything?" the nurses asked. "Ice chips please," I answered. Ice chips - the best invention ever made! The thought of drinking liquids or eating food repulsed me, but those ice-chips were awesome! "Here you go, honey," the nurse said. She filled a Styrofoam bucket with chips and handed me a cup with a spoon in it. "If you need anything else just call." "Thank you," I said as they left the room. I decided to try to stay awake for a while and get try to get my bearings. The first thing I realized was it was easier to move my arms. I could actually lift my hands and arms to my chest. I felt both breasts. They were tucked under a support bra, which was loaded with gauze. "They sure don't feel very small," I thought.
Before surgery I told Dr. Ledoux, "If they're getting cut off, let's build them back smaller and perky." "We may be able to get B cups," he said. "We'll just have to see what we have to work with when we get in there." They were certainly bigger than B cups right now. "Swelling," I reminded myself. I would have to wait to see what they would actually look like.
I wanted to sit up in bed, but found that to be almost impossible. I couldn't put pressure on my arms because that could hurt the delicate blood vessels that are keeping my flaps alive. "The first 72 hours are the most crucial" Dr. Ledoux told me. "That's when most flaps fail, if they are going to fail."
It took three plastic surgeons 81/2 hours to build these beauties, and I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize them. Dr. Nastala, and Dr. Chrysopoulo assisted Dr. Ledoux in the operating room. It was a delicate surgery of finding perforating vessels in my stomach and attaching them to my chest. Those vessels were the lifelines of my new breasts, providing the blood flow to the tissue. If the vessels tore, the flaps would fail.
"How do I do this?" I thought. "Maybe I can scoot my way up, using my legs." "MMMMM" - the support garments on my legs hummed as they filled with air, squeezing tightly. I realized my belly was numb, thanks to the morphine pain pump surgically inserted in my stomach. "I can't do this," I laughed out loud. I was helpless. I couldn't use my arms and I couldn't use my legs. I called for help.
"Can I help you?" the nurse asked through the intercom after I pushed the 'help' button. "Yes, I would like to sit up a little bit, and I can't!" "I'll be right there," she said.
She came into the room, and rather than sitting ME up, she just pushed a button and raised the back of the bed up. "I guess I could've done that myself," I apologetically said. "No problem," she kindly responded. "You'll have to get used to doing things differently for a couple of days".
That little bit of work wore me out. I pressed the pain pump and fell back asleep, this time sitting up in bed!
8:30 a.m. "Hi, baby," I heard Tony say in a soft voice as he leaned over me and gently kissed me on the cheek. I opened my eyes and smiled. "Hi!" I said. I looked at the clock, and couldn't believe it, it was already 8:30 in the morning. I had slept for three hours. "Nicole sends you hugs and kisses and can't wait to see you after school. How are you feeling?" "Groggy, and it's still hurts to breathe." He handed me the breathing exerciser. "You know what they said, you have to practice." "Okay." Reluctantly, I agreed.
I put the tube to my mouth and inhaled as hard as I could. The marker went to 50, 100, 150. "It hurts, it hurts," I cried. The urge to cough was strong, but I fought it, afraid of the pulling a stitch in my stomach. "That's good, baby," Tony said. "You doing better than yesterday. Don't give up, just try a little harder each time."
I really did feel stronger, and better than the night before, but I knew it would be a long road to recovery. The only way to get better, faster, was to get up and start moving. "I want to try to walk," I told Tony. "Already, are you sure?" "Yes." "Okay, I'll get the nurse."
The nurse came in with a walker. "Are you sure you are ready to get out of bed?" She looked worried. "I'm sure I'm ready to try," I answered.
The nurse removed my compression garments from my legs and put slippers on my feet. It took both the nurse and Tony to help me out of bed. Using the back of my neck, they pushed my body in an upright position. The blood rushed from my head, and for a moment I felt dizzy. "Take your time," the nurse said. "We aren't in a hurry here". I sat at the edge of the bed for a moment. Tony helped me with my robe. "Are you ready to stand up?" he asked. I shook my head no, smiled, then nodded yes. I felt so weak. I stood up, with both Tony and the nurse holding me. I placed my hands on the walker and realized just how hard this was going to be. I knew I couldn't put too much pressure on my arms because of the blood vessels and the flap, and my stomach was of no help at all. All of the pressure of my body was placed on my middle and lower back.
"Are you okay?" Tony asked. "Yes" I defiantly answered. "Let's do this."
I took my first step. Pain rushed through my back. My legs felt like lead balloons, and it took all of my might to move just one inch. Tony held on to me, and the walker, and the nurse held on to my IV pole. I felt like a very old woman, struggling to maintain my balance and move one tiny step at a time. I made my way out of the room and looked down the hall. It seemed like an endless corridor. "Don't try to do too much, take it easy." The nurse said. "I want to make it to the end of the hall." I told her.
The pain again rushed through my back. "What have I done," I cried out in my mind. "Why did I do this?" "No, Leslie," I told myself. "Don't go there. You made the right decision. You must keep going! You must push yourself."
I didn't make it to the end of the hall that day. I made it past the nurse's station and back. That was enough to wear me out for the day. When I got back to the room, Tony and the nurse set up the recliner and I sat there instead of in the bed. It was actually more comfortable. I pushed the pain pump and dozed off.
11:30 a.m. "Lunch," a woman said as she walked into the room holding a tray. "You're on a liquid diet per doctor's orders." She awoke me from a deep sleep. I guess I had become accustomed to the nurses checking my flaps and vitals; I pretty much slept through it. "Enjoy," she said as set up the tray. There was juice, beef broth, and a can of Ensure. I hadn't eaten for more than 24 hours, but I really wasn't hungry. Ice chips were still my cuisine of choice. "Thank you," I said.
I looked around. Flowers were everywhere. "Wow," I said to Tony. "When did all these get here?" "While you were sleeping," he said. "Read me the cards, honey." There were flowers from KSAT, the CTRC, Dr. Ledoux's office, friends, family - too many to name - but each one made me feel so special and so loved.
"Hand me some ice chips please," I said to Tony. "Here you go, honey, but you should try to eat something." "I'm really not hungry yet."
As I woke up a little more I realized something. I was feeling better. It still hurt to breathe, and inhale from that exerciser, but I felt stronger. I unstrapped my bra, and for the first time, really looked at my new boobs. They were remarkable! Even with the swelling, the stitches, and the bruising, I could tell they were going to be fabulous! My friends Ginger Taylor and Jeanine Claus both came by for a visit, as did my buddy and co-anchor Steve Spriester. I was so proud of Dr. Ledoux's work, I wanted to show my boobs off to all of them. Ginger and Jeanine looked and wowed over them. Steve, however, opted out of the viewing party. He was the perfect gentleman. "Normally, I'd be all about it, but 24 hours after surgery? I think I'll have to decline." I laughed, and smiled.
I really don't remember much from their visits because I was still a bit out of it, but I do remember Steve telling me, "Our six o'clock news was voted 'Best Newscast' by the Associated Press." In all that fog and pain, that little piece of news meant a lot to me. Funny how that's what I remember!
Earlier in the day Pete Lopez - a physician's assistant for Dr. Ledoux's office - stopped by for a visit - as did one of the surgeons, Dr. Chrysopoulo. Both were very encouraging and told me I was progressing perfectly.
Before surgery the doctors warned me I would feel like I was hit by a Mac truck. So, when Dr. Chrysopoulo asked, "How are you feeling?" I jokingly answered, "I now KNOW what it feels like to be hit by a Mac truck. It HURTS!"
He laughed, and as I said, "Maybe tomorrow I'll feel more like I was hit by an SUV!"
Another day over, another day closer to recovery!
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