If you’ve been following my recent series all about surgery with both the NHS and private providers, you’ll know from reading both part 1 and part 2 that we’ve reached December 2012 in this Tale of Two Titties. We start this instalment with me having elected to have a cosmetic procedure called a bilateral mastopexy (breast lift). In a bid to correct / hide / erase some of the trauma caused to my botched boobies, this seemed like the best, and only real option available to me, however it was something I approached with caution. If you know anything about this type of surgery, you’ll know that as far as a standard, non-corrective mastopexy goes, there are four basic options when it comes to shape and scarring afterwards.
Fewer incisions means less scarring, obvs, so if you’re thinking about having this procedure then that’s a big consideration. I didn’t have the luxury of choice as my procedure was less for cosmetic benefit as defined by the NHS, yes it was to improve the overall appearance, but the reason for undertaking yet another procedure was to correct some of the unnecessary scarring left after having previous surgery with an NHS service. So as you may have guessed, an anchor lift was prescribed in order to cut away a big chunk of older scar tissue leaving me hopefully with something that at least vaguely represented a pair of bangers.
Again, if you’re considering any type of mammoplasty / mastopexy yourself for cosmetic or correction reason, there are a few different options available to you; for example augmentation with breast implants to increase the size or shape of the breasts, fat transfer to subtly fill sagging areas or a lift with internal meshing. I opted for simple(ish) bilateral mammoplasty with a focus on improving the texture and appearance of the skin, particularly underneath each breast. obviously I went in to this knowing that I’d be left with new scars, there’s no magic wand, they don’t just disappear. I remember being worried in the run up to the surgery date and losing around 7kg in weight between the pre-op assessment and the actual procedure. We took advantage of Plankton being under the care of an in-patient assessment centre for two days per week at the time and scheduled it during that time to minimise disruption.
The procedure date rolled around and off I went to hospital. Again. This time with no time to wait in dread in a cold waiting room, I was whisked into theatre shortly after checking in and after making a request for the anaesthetic to be administered as slowly as possible – it’s become something of a treat to feel consciousness slip away slowly – I was waking up in the recovery suite. The pain following this procedure was intense and immediate. Waking up after surgery it felt like I was tied down, as if something was pressing on my chest and I needed visual evidence from the nurse to prove that I wasn’t in fact strapped to the bed. Sidebar Voyeurs, I’m an awful patient, I hate hospitals, like really hate them and refuse to stay overnight wherever possible. I will lie through my teeth to avoid having to stay in hospital. This however, was where I conceded, for a couple of hours anyway. By the time Bo came to visit I was already livid after being told I’d need a three night stay in hospital. Not. Fucking. Happening.
So what about physical appearance after surgery? Well, you’re literally under wraps so shape, size, silhouette and extent of scarring are a bit of a mystery but you always have the pain to remind you that you’ve had something done. There are drains in each breast to help minimise bruising and swelling, the idea is that they drain the blood out of the body so it can’t pool. They poke out of the dressings and hang over the edge of the bed like some kind of weird fashion accessory, I had to carry these everywhere with me during my reluctant hospital stay like a pair of matching handbags, if handbags were transparent, and full of blood. Removing them is the weirdest feeling, like something scratching your ribs followed by an audible pop as they ping out and even at this stage, you still don’t get to peep. After this type of procedure, compression is king. In order to preserve your newly shaped breasts you’re wrapped up in a sticky clingfilm bra, and then given a compression garment to wear for eight weeks straight. No removing, no taking it off to peek and with around 100 sutures on each side, definitely no scratching.
I did actually end up staying in hospital for two nights and then after a WTF am I doing moment, discharged myself to go to a friend’s wedding. I remember wearing a sheer blue dress with my bright red compression garment underneath, sounds like a strong look right? Trust me when I tell you that it truly was, however a cocktail of morphine, Naproxen and gin left me incapable of giving a fuck about my outfit choice at the time (since regaining sobriety all photographic evidence of said outfit has been destroyed / buried / erased from memory). My favourite memory of that night is of me falling asleep crying in a heap on the floor after getting stuck somewhere between dressed and undressed with that godforsaken blue dress over my head, a dress that to this day still mocks me from my closet.
See that’s the one thing I never considered before going into this, the recovery period, and just how restricted you are during it. It’s longer than you might expect, or maybe it just feels like that looking back. The procedure itself took 2 hours and 45 minutes so that gives you an indication of the amount of slicing and dicing that went on, and the level of pain afterwards is something I wasn’t quite prepared for – I’m a badass but I found it rough. The thing that really got me was the frustration of not being physically able to do regular things. Whether it’s a restriction due to pain, physical limitation, or an imposed restriction as part of the aftercare, it’s infuriating to have to rely on another person to do mundane things like taking something down from a shelf, blowdrying or doing anything with your hair, or just putting socks on. You realise just how independent you are when you’re in a forced period of restriction, even if it is one you bought and paid for.
The first time got to see anything at all was when I had the sutures removed and it was a long time coming. I’d prodded and poked my clingfilm bra in the hope that I might be able to claim that it just fell off, but that sucker was stuck fast so my big moment came during my first review. There was no Gok Wan, no mirror covered in a silk sheet and no big ta-dah, just a nurse and a razor blade.
With around 200 tiny sutures in total including all the way round my nips, it’s a lengthy and pretty uncomfortable experience. Actually, it’s probably not, don’t let me put you off the procedure if it’s one you’re considering, my mind over-processes the situation when it comes to bodies and the thought of tiny pieces of thread in my skin most likely made me imagine the sensation to be way worse than it actually was. I definitely did some squirming, I know this because I was constantly told to keep still. And didn’t. Like I said, I’m a bad patient.
I remember looking down at my newly unveiled breasticles and thinking they were definitely a lot closer to my chin than they used to be, something that had me convinced that the surgeon had mistakenly put in implants (he hadn’t). The physical aesthetic of the breast in the weeks and months following this type of surgery is a weird one and it will change so much in that short space of time. See, in order to achieve maximum uplift during a non-mesh mastopexy / mammoplasty, one of the things the surgeon will do (or certainly did in 2012) is to scoop all of the fat and tissue up into the top half of the breast, effectively reversing the natural shape and temporarily increasing the volume dramatically. In the days following discharge, I felt like my boobs were huge because they were that much higher and looking down on them I had a cleavage to rival Pamela Anderson, then I’d look at them side on and realise that they really hadn’t increased in size. Perception is a funny thing. It takes a little while for them to settle into their new position and like I said, they’ll change in the moths following. One of the things about this type of surgery is that it’s never a permanent fix, gravity will do its thing and if you want to fight the droop then it’s a lifelong commitment meaning the procedure will need to be repeated around every 10 years or so, depending on what you want to achieve.
There can be ‘issues’ following this type of procedure and I don’t suppose I have to tell you that I had a few, one of which was to do with scarring. Now you already know that I’m an atypical patient, so again, don’t let this be the thing that stops you from booking a breast lift if it’s something you have your heart set on. Firstly my surgeon didn’t quite manage to remove as much of the scar tissue as we had discussed. Secondly, after six months post surgery my new scars had inverted and puckered creating indentations in the underside of each breast with the right side a lot worse than the left. It might not sound so bad written down but the physical effect was huge, the indentation on my right side was basically the entire underside of my breast and Bo compared it to a shark bite – yeah, it was that bad.
In a bitter twist to the tale, the consultant surgeon was suspended shortly after my procedure so I never had any proper kind of follow up. I remember feeling cheated out of what was promised, despite me knowing that complications could arise. I was disappointed and disheartened and went though a dark period of not wanting to even get dressed or leave the house, I was back in that familiar limbo and again wrote to the CCG with the support of my GP requesting an assessment for corrective viability.
It didn’t take long for them to reply with a definitive ‘no’ accompanied by a list of NHS surgeons who operate private lists at a cost as if that might soften the blow and my mood became sombre for a long period after this.
In late 2013, around a year after my mastopexy it finally hit home that I was stuck like this for the foreseeable future and I lost all hope of ever feeling normal again. With every six months that passed the scars worsened, tightening and further distorting to the point of being painful to the touch. The mobility of my right arm suffered as a result of the scar tissue tightening and I refused to show my chest at all, not in the privacy of my own home and certainly not in a low cut top or dress. In my mind I’d convinced myself that I was disfigured and distorted and sunk into a depression that I masked like a pro in public but which destroyed every last inch of confidence I had. It consumed me for most of the next few years, and there were times when I felt sub-human because like I said, perception is a funny thing….