Search This Blog

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I'd make a lousy drug addict

So I'm a little less monstrous right now. On Wednesday I had 3 of my 4 drains removed (woo hoo!) but one on my right is still attached to me (perhaps I should come up with a name for it, my constant companion...drain-o?). Most of Wednesday was spent waiting--here's me on the 2nd floor of the UNC Lineberger Center, photo taken and sent courtesy of one Rebecca Walsh and her trusty iPhone:

[This is me trying to be patient, not something I do well--to repeat a chiasmus I've used before, I'm neither a patient woman nor do I want to be a woman patient.]

Once we were in the room, I got to don one of these designer gowns (which makes my ass look huge, but of course it makes everyone's ass look huge), and to while away the time I started to do my physical therapy exercises--the one below is called "climbing the wall":

Of course it also looks like I'm being held up or surrendering (but never to cancer damn it!)

Anyway, why I've titled this post "I'd make a lousy drug addict" is yet another funny anecdote in my cancer saga--this one involving percocette. So what I'm about to relate is not for the squeamish--I'll try not to be too graphic, but if saying the word "drain" leaves you a bit queasy, just stop right now.

So part of my feeling so "othered" and monstrous has to do with these drains that were put in me. They are called "Jackson-Pratt" or "JP" drains for the guy who invented them back in the day. Essentially because of the surgery there is a lot of excess fluids, and the drains are necessary to remove said fluids from my body and thus preventing fluids to collect and cause all sorts of problems for me. I had four of these drains, 2 on either side of me, with about a foot of tubing coming out right below my armpit--and it turns out there was about an equivalent amount of tubing INSIDE each armpit, so I had 2 feet of tubing underneath each arm. The foot of tubing that was outside my body ends in a bulb or ball approximately the size of a tennis ball--except imagine that it is made of a clear plastic and that you could squeeze out all the air so that it was flat rather than round--except now imagine that this flattened bulb inflated itself with fluid that comes from the drains. Got that? OK, moving on.

You can well imagine that this is NOT comfortable. Let me repeat: NOT COMFORTABLE. Of course, just inhabiting a post-surgical body is not comfortable, let alone a post-surgical, post-mastectomy body. But the drains definitely made things more difficult to negotiate (I'll let you imagine what life is like when you have to pin 2 tennis balls to both sides of your body). And I LITERALLY HAD HOLES IN MY SIDES WHERE THE TUBES CAME OUT. Seeing that in the shower was enough to make my little head spin, and visions of The Matrix danced in my head. And Frankenstein (or to be more precise, Frankenstein's monster).

But lets get back to the drugs.

So I was a bit worried about how much pain might be involved in removing the drains--and in expressing my concern to my nurse Delma, I told her that I had thought that taking a prophylactic percocette might help with the soreness or pain that removing the drains might cause, if drain removal was, indeed, going to be painful. So Delma, being ever helpful and seeing my anxiety and frustration at the long wait I had, ordered some percocette for me--and lo and behold, I had 2 tabs in front of me -- which I took.

Those of you who know me well and have seen me drink half a glass of wine (or beer or an amaretto sour) know that I HAVE NO TOLERANCE FOR SUBSTANCES. I am a light weight. I am lighter than a light weight. So you may wonder WHY I took 2 tabs. I myself asked the nurse who brought me the tabs, why 2? To which he told me that there were folks who took 2 15-mg tabs and that since these were only 5mg, I should be fine. And since I figured I shouldn't turn down free drugs (and since I could only imagine that removing the drains would not be fun) I took them.

Removing the drains turned out not to be that bad. There was some discomfort and a few moments of sharp pain, but for the most part, in the words of my surgeon, the drains slipped out "like wet noodles." I will say that it was one of the strangest feelings I've ever experienced--I have no words to describe the feeling of having a foot of tubing that had been coiled under my armpit pulled out of me. Except maybe, ultimately, the feeling of relief.

Of course, the percocette tabs didn't hit me until I got home (since it takes about 30-45 min. for the drugs to kick in). Since my appointment was originally at 11:30am I didn't have lunch--and I didn't get home until 4pm and percocette really isn't something you should take on an empty stomach, so I tried to eat a late lunch, but I couldn't even sit up straight at the dining room table. Instead, my Mom got me a piece of toast while I lay, catatonic on the sofa, muttering to her over and over again,

"I feel weird! I feel weird! How do people get addicted to this stuff???!!! I feel so weird!"

This feeling (and my endless chanting of "HOW DO PEOPLE GET ADDICTED TO THIS STUFF!!!" lasted all afternoon and evening. I went in and out of a state of addled wakefulness until I finally passed out upstairs at 9pm and didn't wake up again until 9am. Of course the answer (that Matthew provided) as to why people get addicted to painkillers like percocette is that most folks do NOT have my reaction--they do not experience taking 2 tabs of percocette as an exercise in being paranoid and delusional and nauseous and looped out of my head (not in a fun "stoney" kind of way but in a "I'm-having-a-bad-trip" kind of way).

Luckily when I woke up Thursday morning it all seemed to be out of my system. And so in case anyone was worried that I'd developed a taste for either pot (from my attempts at self-medicating during the nasty nausea I had for 2 months on the AC chemo) or from the percocette--rest assured: I would make the world's worst drug addict.


  1. I don't mean to imply that I have had a similar experience to yours but if I could share one similar anecdote... I have a full bottle of vicodin in my medicine cabinet for the very reason you describe. Now, I can drink a beer or a full glass of wine (ok, three), but I don't seem to be able to take opiates. When I had surgery in January, the morphine and vicodin gave me intense nausea and the worst headache I've ever had. I took the vicodin for the first day and then went for the ibuprofin the rest of the time. I think I have to have the same biopsy again that I had last year and it hurt so much I'm considering taking a vicodin beforehand but fear the headache. I'm with you, Jen!

  2. Hi Jennifer,
    We have been thinking about you! I am actually cheered by reading your blog, because you obviously have the same great sense of humor as always and -- to cop a phrase that my Dad always used, citation unknown -- a "healthy sense of the ridiculous." Bravo. Best wishes for a speedy recovery, etc. P.S. When will we see you in Greenlaw? Cheers, P et al.

  3. I ran across your blog and wanted to let you know that I had the same surgery (with one breast) 2 years ago. Yes yes yes do the exercises and do them daily even if you don't have pain...I developed tendonitis under the arm pit where the nodes were removed, and it hurts. I wish they had told me to do the exercises way back then...they only led me to believe I needed to do them if pain develeoped but that was wrong, but then of course I was drugged so who knows what I heard!