Going home after a mastectomy
Aside from providing emotional support, the main things you'll be concerned with when caring for someone who's had a mastectomy are managing pain, monitoring for infection, and dealing with bandages and drains.
- Pain medication. The doctor will send you home with a prescription for pain medication, and it's a good idea to get it filled immediately, as pain medication is most effective if started proactively. If you notice, in the first few days following surgery, that the pain medication isn't working or doesn't seem strong enough, it's important to call the doctor and tell her this. She may be able to prescribe a different drug. Dealing with pain is one area where your role as the caregiver -- and advocate -- is very important.
- Possible infection. In the days following a mastectomy, be sure to watch for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, and fever. Call the doctor immediately if the person you're caring for complains of any of these symptoms, or if you notice them in her.
- Bandages and drains. When you leave the hospital, the wound will have a bandage or dressing over it. Sometimes the instructions are to leave the bandages on until the next doctor visit. In other cases, the doctor may tell you how to check or change it. Dissolving stitches are the norm now, so there's usually no need to go back and have them removed. Occasionally, though, one sticks up like a "whisker" and you'll need to ask the doctor to remove it. If surgical staples were used instead, the doctor will remove them during the first office visit.
Most women have a surgical drain to remove fluid from the breast area. There's usually a detachable bulb that you'll need to empty a few times a day. Make sure the staff gives you careful instruction on how to do this; it can help to practice a couple of times with a nurse watching before you and the person you're caring for leave the hospital.