Cellulitis 2012: Back in the hospital!

Yesterday I went to my 3 pm tissue expander fill at Dr. Festekjian’s office, which I was pretty sure would not actually be a fill since my left breast looked so swollen and red. Maria looked at it and agreed that Dr. Festekjian should definitely check it out. He came in, asked me about the time frame of what happened (I slept on my tissue expanders on Saturday night, felt pain on Sunday morning, etc.), and then examined the area. He then looked at me and said, “You have to go to the hospital.”

For a second there I wasn’t sure if he was trying to like, joke with me or something. I just kind of stared at him. He didn’t ask any questions or do any tests, just–“hospital!”

Then I started to get pretty upset. He mentioned the word “cellulitis” and said that I needed to get an IV with some heavy antibiotics. I asked him how often he sees this; he said each year, typically three or four patients will have cellulitis after a mastectomy…which is out of about 140 mastectomy patients. SWEET. Of course it would happen to me, the “young and healthy” patient.

Here’s a picture of my cellulitis…I’m not posting it directly in the blog because I know some people can get a little queasy from medical stuff!

He said he would take care of the arrangements to get me admitted next door at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center (the hospital portion). After about 15 minutes, Maria came into the room and told me they were ready for me at admissions.

Now it’s lucky, I guess, that I am constantly driving from home to home (my apartment, my parents’ place, Bryce’s house) and half of my life is in my car. We walked down there and I was able to grab my laptop and charger as well as some clean clothes. The car itself presented a new problem: what was I supposed to do with it? UCLA is not very flexible with their patients when it comes to parking. Maria said I could leave my car there overnight, but unless someone took it out of the parking garage, went back in to get a new ticket, and parked in a new spot, I would get a parking ticket. Luckily my friend Kate said she’d help figure out the parking situation.

As we walked over to the hospital, I asked Maria what the next few days would be like. She said I should expect to be at the hospital for the entire weekend since Dr. Festekjian would be the one to make the ultimate decision to discharge me. She explained that over the course of the next few days, I would be given an IV drip of antibiotics in order to try to fight a broad range of bacteria (cellulitis, I’ve since learned, is just the name for a general bacterial skin infection.) If the antibiotics work successfully, the area will be monitored and given a few weeks to rest before my tissue expander fills continue.

If the antibiotics don’t work…well, this is the fun part of which I am really terrified: the tissue expander will be removed for at least two or three months.

I think we can all agree that the latter option sounds awful. Given those two choices, I definitely support the IV antibiotics route! (Though it’s not like I have an actual say in this…what Festekjian wants, Festekjian gets.)

Around 4:15 pm I completed admissions papers at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. I was finally assigned a room on the sixth floor (6347 West) around 5:00 pm. There’s a view of UCLA’s football field, and I can see the helipad–pretty cool.

To the left is the UCLA football field; to the top right is the helipad.

For the next few hours, I sat around…doing nothing. My lovely roomie Danielle showed up around 6 pm with salads and GIANT chocolate chip cookies. I was ravenous, and that meal hit the spot!

Someone came in to draw blood around 6:30 pm. FAIL. My veins are awful, I know. Everyone tells me how nonexistent they are. In the past, however, I’ve never actually had a problem getting blood drawn. He stabbed my left arm and a few minutes later dumped the vials into the toxic waste bin, saying “I’ll have to call in someone else.” He hadn’t gotten any blood!

I started chugging water. This was my first “surprise” blood test; usually I know it’s coming so I drink a lot of water the day before and morning of in order to plump up my veins.

Another woman came in about twenty minutes later. She continued to poke and prod me, looking for a good vein. Nope.

Bryce and his mom showed up later in the evening, which was a pleasant surprise. I had told Bryce not to worry about visiting me the first night since he was planning on spending the night at the hospital on Friday. My friend Kate, who goes to UCLA, also dropped by…with snacks and tampons! AND she was able to find a parking spot for my car–what a lifesaver!

Another phlebotomy specialist came in. He looked much more serious than the first two…he meant business! I explained that I really hated needles and would appreciate if he could apply some numbing cream before poking me. He spent a good deal of time lifting up my arms and using a tourniquet to try to find a vein. Finally he settled on a vein on the side of my left wrist. He applied the cream, and about fifteen minutes later, stuck in the needle. And…there was nothing. He poked around with the needle, trying to strike gold with a vein. NOPE.

He had to call in the big guns: an ICU nurse. Together, they poked and prodded even more. Finally, the ICU nurse (who was hilarious, by the way; a Londoner who my dad would have loved) zeroed in on a vein in the elbow crevice of my right arm. He slapped at it for a good three minutes, and as soon as it popped up again, he went for it…and there was success! We all clapped. At least not all of the efforts were in vain! (…pun…hahaha)

They took two vials of blood and also used that area for my IV port. Around 10 pm my nurse hooked up the antibiotics to the IV. Finally, treatment!

I know one of the antibiotics was Vancomycin, and boy, did it make my head itch!!! I learned online that an itching scalp is a common reaction from Vancomycin and that Benadryl should help it. My nurse injected some Benadryl into my IV, the itching stopped, and I finally got to sleep.

Members of the plastic surgery team (Maria included) woke me up bright and early at 7 am today. I don’t know when they arrived at work, but I’m still amazed at how happy and put-together they all were. Give me a break! I’m lying in bed with hair like Einstein’s from all of the itching, and  then these beautiful, smiling people suddenly surround me. It was a sneak attack!

Maria checked on my left breast and said that it already looked to be improving. YES!

Cellulitis, you are EVIL. I need to do more research on the topic, but I’ve gathered the following from WebMD:

“Cellulitis is a skin infection caused by bacteria. Normally, your skin helps protect you from infection. But if you have a cut, sore, or insect bite, bacteria can get into the skin and spread to deeper tissues. If it is not treated with antibiotics, the infection can spread to the blood or lymph nodes. This can be deadly.”

“At first, the infected area will be warm, red, swollen, and tender. As the infection spreads, you may have a fever, chills, and swollen glands.”

Well, that all sounds accurate to me: I had a major surgery involving a cut, the area is definitely red and swollen, and I really started to feel sick when I developed a fever.

Today I will have an ultrasound of my left breast to make sure there isn’t any fluid buildup. If there is, it will need to be drained. Fingers crossed there’s no fluid!

Well, that’s it for now. My nurse just started another IV drip. Check back for more updates on Cellulitis 2012!


13 thoughts on “Cellulitis 2012: Back in the hospital!

  1. Glad to see you still have your sense of humor even with this latest setback — Einstein hair…! Is the Kate you mentioned Kate Rheile, Lindsey’s friend from Carondelet? If so, it makes sense cuz she’s such a sweetheart.

  2. Ugh, I am so sorry this happened to you. Once you have willingly made this decision to save your life by going through major surgery, complications just seem like a slap in the face. I had a minor complication, not something that caused hospitalization, but it was annoying that I had convinced myself of the mastectomy, and didn’t bargain for the things that could come with it that I didn’t sign up for. Hopefully the antibiotics work and you’re right back on schedule!

  3. Hang in there! It’s always annoying to go back to the hospital, but from the look of the picture, you caught it early, so I’m sure antibiotics will be all you need! I don’t know why doctors don’t think we know our own bodies better than they do!!

    Of course I might be joining you soon on the cellulitis train…. I have a stitch poking out of my right breast that neither my PS nor my BS could get out, and the area around it is starting to get very red. Their solution? Steri strip over it and hope for the best… sigh. I think doctors are more like weather people – they “sort of” know what’s going on, but until it’s actually happening, they have no clue!

    Hope you feel better soon!! xx Emily

  4. I am so sorry this has happened! I am sending positive thoughts your way. The office has been lonely all week without you =( If you need anything please let me know! Obviously, don’t worry about work. ❤

  5. Oh man! I have had that same experience with my veins during my hospital stays last summer. I remember it well and it kills like a mo-fo! I love reading your posts because your sense of humor and writing style is AWESOME. I’ve had cellulitis too…..but not for my dairy queens (obvi). I’m sorry you are going through this! 😦 Get better ASAP!

  6. I feel for you! The complications that can occur with TE’s really suck. It sounds like you caught this early — you got in to see your doc quickly, which is important. I am a member of the “TE Trouble Club” due to delayed healing in my right incision. Had to have the TE removed and eventually put back in, so I understand your frustration at being in the minority for whom complications arise. Hang in there. May the powerhouse IV antibiotics work their magic quickly! Sending you lots of healing and anti-itchy thoughts!!!

  7. We’re thinking of you and we love you! Sending love to you from AXΩ…you will be missed at Golden Lyre Ball tonight!

  8. Oof. What a pain in the butt. Er, boob. Crossing my fingers that the antibiotics knock that infection right out!
    Vein hunts are no fun. They were poking around for a while to put me under for wisdom teeth stuff, finally just stuck it in at the base/back of my thumb/wrist. Weird spot. Keep a hold on that ICU nurse, he sounds great 😛

  9. Thank you for your blog. I know it has been a while since you wrote it and do hope that you are doing well now! My sister had a double mast about 7 weeks ago and still has a drain in (3 others removed) she was just (30 minutes ago) asked to go to the hospital due to an infection. Obviously, we are all freaking out. I googled “infection after mastectomy” and your blog post came up. Great read, thank you very much for posting, I just forwarded it to my sis! Sending good vibes to you.

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