Cellulitis 2012: Out Goes the Tissue Expander

Hi everyone. I apologize for not writing in a few days. While it’s true that I am insanely bored at the hospital, by the time I actually have a free moment to sit down and type out a blog post, I am usually exhausted and my eyes hurt too much so I nap instead. This one, however, is going to be exceptionally long. Get ready!

The last time I posted was Friday morning. My IV port had to be changed again since the Vancomycin beat up the first one too much. A new IV was put into my right hand.

Around noon I had an ultrasound on my left breast to check for fluid pockets. Images from the ultrasound revealed that there was one big pocket (I think about 5 cms) and possibly two smaller pockets. A few hours later, I was taken back to radiology to have that pocket aspirated. The radiologists inserted Lidocaine into the area to numb it up then used an ultrasound to locate the exact location of the fluid pocket. They then inserted a big ol’ needle into the area to extract it. In reality, the needle wasn’t very big at all, but since the ultrasound video magnified it it seemed like an eight-inch needle was poking around my body.

The fluid from this pocket was sent for a gram stain and a culture. The initial gram stain did not reveal any bacteria; however the culture could still grow into something after a few days.

When I returned from the aspiration, I noticed that the infection seemed to have spread around my breast. It all seemed very red. I was nervous. Friday was a very emotional day for me; I spent a lot of time crying and wallowing in self-pity.

My parents finally found out I was in the hospital on Friday evening. They had been on a road trip to the Grand Canyon since Tuesday April 24. I did NOT want to ruin their vacation by telling them about my hospitalization. I know, I know…I’ve heard from plenty of moms that it wasn’t MY choice if my parents wanted to come back early, and that parents want to know everything no matter the circumstances. But honestly, my family has had really bad luck when it comes to family illnesses and vacations and they deserved to see the Grand Canyon. Plus, I knew that my parents were planning to head up to our house in Yosemite after visiting the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t overly fussed about them not missing the Yosemite portion of the trip, since they can go up north another time. Instead of leaving Barstow to head north on Saturday morning, they stayed south to get into Los Angeles.

By noon on Saturday they were at the hospital. It was nice having them there, because they are medical-savvy and know how to talk to doctors. Having been through her own double mastectomy, my mom is familiar with the terms, processes, and side-effects. My dad, on the other hand (or should I say “foot”…wait for it!) , spent quite a few months in and out of UCSF in 2011 due to an infection on his feet. He had an IV of Vancomycin, too.

My friend Kaitlin stopped by the hospital on Saturday afternoon. It was such a pleasant surprise. She brought with her a book and an adorable little stuffed animal elephant. I immediately latched onto the fluffy gray creature. His name is Kapow and he’s my lucky elephant.

Kapow transfers some of his luck to me, trunk to nose.

On Sunday my infection did look better, and my veins were feeling even worse. The Vancomycin is so harsh that it burns my veins. Every time a drop went through the IV port on my hand, I could feel it sting. We had to take that IV port out. A transport nurse tried to place another IV; he poked me one more time and it still didn’t work. At that point, he made it clear that I couldn’t be poked anymore because the risk of infection was too high. If they wanted to put in any more antibiotics or draw anymore blood, I would need a PICC line, but the staff members who put in PICCs don’t work on the weekends.

Dr. Galanis, the Chief Plastics Resident at UCLA, came by to say that he was putting me on an oral antibiotic for the day and night and that I should be prepared to go into surgery on Monday morning, which meant no eating or drinking after midnight. Nothing was for sure yet, but the fact that my infection was getting worse was an obvious bad sign. If you want to see what the infection looked like before my surgery, please email me. It’s not a pretty pic, but I’m happy to send it to you if you think you have an infection.

It was very relaxing not being connected to an IV at all on Sunday. I could shower and actually use both hands (during the first shower I had a plastic glove over my hand to protect the IV) and I could move around without worrying about accidentally pulling out the IV. I spent a lot of Sunday reading the book Kaitlin brought over, called Bitter Is the New Black by Jen Lancaster. It was a quick and somewhat mindless read about a former sorority girl turned business exec turned unemployed mess. I breezed through the entire book in one day, and was pleased by the happy ending, in which the writer gets a book deal! (Oh please let that be MY happy ending!)

On Sunday at midnight I started my eating and drinking fast. Not eating was easy. The heavy antibiotics have temporarily killed my taste buds and ruined my digestive system; whatever I eat comes out the other end pretty quickly. That doesn’t give me much incentive to eat. Drinking, however, is difficult; since I’m so used to being poked for veins, my natural reaction is to drink as much water as possible in order to plump them up. But I had to avoid the water so I wouldn’t be sick if I needed anesthesia.

On Monday morning my parents came over early, as did members of Dr. Festekjian’s team (Dr. Galanis included). They said it was highly likely that I would have the tissue expander removed, but they would leave the ultimate decision to Dr. Festekjian. He came in about an hour later and told me it would have to go because we were “fighting a losing battle.” At that point, I didn’t care anymore. I had read online about many women who stayed on some awful antibiotics for weeks, suffering the side effects, only to have to remove the tissue expander anyway.

Around 11 am I had a PICC line installed. A PICC line is a central venous catheter, a more permanent form of an IV; it goes through the arm and hooks up with a major blood vein near the heart. It can withstand the beatings from tough drugs like Vancomycin, and it can also be used to draw blood. While I’m here, I’ll never have to be poked again! Whoohoo!

Around 1 pm I was taken down to the OR to have my tissue expander removed. I woke up later in the recovery room and demanded ice. Whatever anesthesia they give me at UCLA is great; I am never nauseous after waking up and can guzzle water like it’s my job.

I was moved back up to my room about half an hour later. Someone from Dr. Festekjian’s team (I was still kind of out of it so I don’t remember who) came by to tell me that they had found some additional spots of infection near the tissue expander. They are culturing those right now.

In order to give me some nourishment, I’ve been hooked up to an IV drip since yesterday. There was also a drip for pain meds.

I felt fine when I woke up today. In the afternoon Dr. Galanis took a peek at my left breast (or total lack thereof at this point!) and said it was still red but it looked better. I have only seen the top of it through the tight bandage; it looks like a wrinkly skin crater. Ewwwww.

My parents visited in the morning, and then I was surprised by two friends from work, Garineh and Mia. They came with a card signed by everyone who sits around my desk and a Jamba Juice…perfect! Jamba Juice is the only food I’ve been eating. About an hour before they arrived, some beautiful yellow flowers were also delivered from my team at Demand Media.

Mia (on the left) and Garineh (right) came to visit me from work! Please note my lovely halter bra and drain. Yep, I have another drain.

And now I am going to tell you all the highlight of today…drumroll please…

I got to see a doggy!!!! After hounding (bahaha) the UCLA People Animal Connection for three days, we were finally successful in getting a real live dog to visit me. His name is Scout and he’s 10 1/2 years old. He’s a German Shepard mix and he is so sweet. He sat on my bed and let me pet him for half an hour. His owner, Beth, told me about the strict requirements for volunteer dogs. It was very impressive–she should be proud that her dog was accepted at UCLA!

Scout was so friendly!

I hope that I can continue to bother the People Animal Connection in order to receive visits from more of my four-legged friends. Animals brighten my day so much. I must figure out a way to sneak Madeline inside. Let me know if you have any ideas! Now off to bed.

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13 thoughts on “Cellulitis 2012: Out Goes the Tissue Expander

  1. Wow. That’s quite a lot you’ve been through! And yes, your happy ending should be at least a book deal (and by the way, I’ve taken a break from my final “production” edits on my book to write this–so that should totally be a sign!). I wish I could sneak Seamus in to visit you. Or better yet, get Dr. Karam to bring Seamus to visit you! All the best and you continue your way through this. It’s got to get easier soon!

  2. Are you doing okay? I hadn’t been keeping up to date on your blog & didn’t realize how extreme things got! Can I come visit, or do anything to help?

  3. So glad you got to see a doggie! Petting them always calms me down!
    Take care and be strong! (you are already the strongest person I know for going through all of this and being so brave)

  4. Rachel! So happy to see this post. I’ve been worried about you and wondered if the TE ended up coming out. I’m so sorry you are going through this. You will get past this but it sue as heck is a setback you didn’t need! I hope you get to see Scout again. I met a miniature pony once who is an animal volunteer. (Her name is Pearl in case you see her!)

    Hope those IV antibiotics kick your infection where it belongs… to the curb! … and hope you get to go home soon.

    Please keep writing. You’re really good at it and it’s good for you too! ;-)

  5. I’ve been thinking about you since your last post, I’m so sad your body had a nasty encounter with the TEs. I hope you feel better and can continue to get visits from some pups!

  6. I understand exactly what your going through except I had two tissue expanders on my head and had to expand both of them once a week for six months by my mom… I’m sorry you have to go through this

  7. Oh! That dog is gorgeous and must have made your entire day! :) I must admit that I don’t know anything about tissue expanders…but I know a lot about hospital stays and surgeries and the like. I’m really glad I found your blog. Since I’m going to be doing the PBM in the future at some point…reading your journey gives me food for thought. I appreciate your strength in sharing your story. As mine began last July I’ve evolved to a point and will continue to document. Have a wonderful day!

  8. I am in hospital for cellulites of right breast expander. Been going through reconstruction since 2007. Just changed plastic surgeons. Hopefully caught it early. Supposed to have lattimus on Thursday-need alot of prayers.

    • Wow, my heart goes out to your wife…that must be awful! I only had cellulitis once.. My doctor thought I might have it again though a few months ago. Thankfully that was NOT the case. My final surgery is in ten days, so fingers crossed that goes off without a hitch and with no trace of cellulitis!

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