Explant! Breast Implant Removal Operation [part one]

I did it! I got my breast implants taken out… but it was a horrendous experience and I ended up in A&E twice. Here’s what happened.

Part One

I chose my surgeon for two main reasons – he was £4,000 cheaper than the others I looked at, and he operates out of a clinic in London, just an hour’s drive from my house. He is also experienced and has done this particular operation many times before. He showed me ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of his pervious patients, and there were a great many all apparently done well.

Initially I’d wanted to go to Guy Sterne or David Floyd, two of the top UK surgeons for breast explant in the UK, but their prices were too high and would have meant a three hour drive. So I’d the found perfect solution – a cheaper price and a more convenient location.

However something very important that I didn’t properly appreciate or understand was that this surgeon operates out of a clinic, not a hospital. There is a difference. They don’t cater for overnight stays. But at the consultation I was repeatedly reassured that I wouldn’t need to stay over night.

I knew from my Facebook support group that most people having this operation have to get up at 4 or 5 in the morning to be in hospital for 6 or 7 for an operation at about 8 so I would have all day to recover, and would probably feel well enough to be driven home by late afternoon.

Forty-eight hours before my operation I had a phone call telling me to be at the hospital for 2:30pm for an operation start time of 3:30pm. I was really surprised. I’d have very little time to recover after the three hour op before going home. I wasn’t happy about but didn’t have any choice in the matter. That was the time of my operation.

On the day of my op I arrived slightly early and was ushered into the waiting room to fill out the reams of paperwork to do with Covid, the anaesthetic, and my general health. My friend who had driven me there wasn’t allowed to come in which was disappointing, but again, there was nothing to be done. He just had to leave and go and amuse himself in John Lewis for the next (what turned out to be) eight hours.

I was also presented with a menu to choose my after op meal and selected asparagus soup, green tea, and a banana. Then I was taken into a room upstairs where I had to change into the operating gown, put my compression stockings on… and do a pregnancy test (!). The nurse said that some people come for their op and find out they’re pregnant! I explained I was 52 and probably post menopausal; but I still had to do one. I mean, can you imagine?!? I’m single so it would have to have been an immaculate conception as well. But I suppose they cover themselves if they play extra safe and make sure. After that I sat back, alone in my small room, and waited.

I took this selfie. I can see the terror in my eyes.

Pre-op breast explant

After about half an hour and a visit from the anaesthetist I was moved downstairs into a room next to the operating threatre. A nurse introduced herself and told me she would be looking after me from now on. Then the surgeon came in… and this is when I started to feel worried. He said hello and slumped down in a chair leaning heavily on the table in front of him as if he was utterly exhausted. He didn’t smile, he seemed far too tired to even look me in the eye. He mumbled something which I deciphered as, “do you have any questions?” and then immediately began reading some papers. I started to ask my questions but when I could see he was reading, and then writing, I stopped. I don’t like it when someone shows absolutely no interest whatsoever in what I’m saying to them. The poor man seemed shattered. He rested his head in his hands and sighed and mumbled. Then he picked his ear with his little finger. I was horrified. I thought, “this guy needs to go to bed, not to start a risky, three hour long operation.” I didn’t get to ask any questions – he was simply not interested. He gave me the impression of being clinically depressed, utterly disinterested, and completely exhausted.

But what could I do? I was all gowned up and prepped and ready to go. Everything was ready. I was in the hands of fate. He asked me to stand against the door and take the top half of my gown down so he could draw on me. This took a while and he seemed to need to re-draw some lines a few times, as if he’d made a mistake at first. The pen was scratchy and hurt a little. The surgeon sighed a few more times and that was that. He went off and soon after the nurse came to take me into theatre.

There was a bed in the middle of the room and as we approached she took my outer gown off, but trailed it around my ankles and I almost tripped up. I stumbled against the bed, attempting to disentangle it from my feet and didn’t actually fall over thank goodness. It made me wonder just how good the nurse was. The anaesthetist was nice. He was the only person in the room who made me feel reassured, that he knew what he was doing! He got me pillows for my under my knees to protect my back whilst I lay on the operating table and told me what was going on, which was nice. The nurse put a mask lightly over my face and said, “this is just oxygen,” but I didn’t believe her. I’m afraid my trust in everyone (apart from the competent anaesthetist) had been eroded.

The anaesthetist tapped the back of my hand and inserted a cannula then injected something into me. “This is just anti-sickness.” I was lying there not feeling sleepy at all with my heart racing, watching everyone busy themselves around me wondering why I needed anti-sickness medication now for when I woke up three hours later. Then finally, the anaesthetist said, “I’m going to give you the anaesthetic. You’ll feel it slowly creep up on you, nice and slowly.” I thought that sounded great. I’d rather that than a roaring rush into unconsciousness which I had once and was pretty unpleasant. I continued breathing my “oxygen” which the nurse now pressed more firmly around my face and waited. Nothing happened for a few seconds. I felt just as alert and awake as ever, then there was a sudden complete body relaxation, a total letting go of all tension, which was glorious, then a few seconds more and I went into blackness.

The next thing I knew I heard a voice pulling me out of sleep, “Wake up, hello, wake up now. Time to wake up…”

I opened my eyes and saw I was back in the room next to the operating theatre where the surgeon has drawn on me, and the nurse was busying herself around my bed. No-one else was there. I was wrapped in dressings and felt pain in my chest area. I lay and suffered and tried to doze but the nurse didn’t allow me to sleep. Soon the surgeon popped in to say that everything went well. I asked him how the operation went and he said my capsules were very thick. That made me feel pleased because I know that makes the operation easier.

“Ah good. That means the capsules come out easier,” I said, but he replied with a shake of the head and a slight eye roll, “not necessarily.”

My heart sank. I asked, “what percentage of the capsules did you leave inside? but he only shrugged and grunted, then walked out of the room. I felt disappointed and upset, and the pain was increasing.

“How much pain are you in if 10 is the maximum and 0 is no pain at all?” The nurse was bending over my bed. I thought about it a few seconds then said “eight.” It was pretty painful. I think this was the start of my problems.

The nurse then gave me a spoon of oramorph but a few seconds later she stuck fentanyl into my veins through the cannula. She said, “this is the BEST, the top, top drug.” I didn’t know what she was talking about. I generally try and have as few drugs as possible in my life and I’m good with pain. I can tolerate a lot before I need drugs.

I fleetingly wondered why she didn’t leave more of a gap between giving me morphine and fentanyl. Why give both at the same time? But soon I was falling, falling into semi-consciousness, although for some reason I could still feel the pain. The drugs made it impossible for me to articulate the pain, to speak about it, but it didn’t take it away, which was extremely annoying.

I don’t know how long I lay there, hours maybe. They kept trying to convince me to eat but I had absolutely no appetite at all, and no saliva. The nurse was encouraging me to have some of the asparagus soup but I just couldn’t take it. My throat wouldn’t swallow. There was no desire to eat. She tried with the banana, but it was the same. I absolutely did not want to eat, so much so that I really couldn’t eat, despite trying. The nurse kept saying idiotic things like, “if you eat you will feel so much better. All you need to do is eat and you will feel fine.” I tried as hard as I could, but it wasn’t going to happen. She suggested toast and had someone make me two slices, but when I put a little bit into my mouth it was like trying to spread butter over a desert. Physically, it couldn’t be done. It rolled up into a dry ball and stayed in my mouth. There was no saliva to digest it. I turned my head away miserably. I was weak and in pain and unable to eat. I couldn’t settle. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or be awake. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

By now it was 10:00pm. The surgeon came to my bedside and told me I needed to go home now. He said, “we could get staff to come in, but who are we going to call at this time of night? Who’s going to come in now?” He pointed to the nurse, “she’s been here since 7:00am and it’s now 10:00pm. She needs to get home. Her sister is waiting to open the door she can’t get in unless her sister opens the door and she needs to go to bed too.”

I just did not know how to respond. I was wondering why they were telling me off. What had this to do with me? Why was this my fault? I was unwell and so weak and nauseous. I would have loved to have gone home but I couldn’t sit up let alone walk.

At some point I managed to use a bedpan to have a wee, and was supported to the toilet, but it was all so difficult. I was still dizzy and woozy and shaking.

Back in bed I rested for a while, but the nurse was agitating for me to go home. Then the surgeon came in again and and told me how expensive it would be to get someone to come in and look after me over night, and anyway, they didn’t have anyone to call… He said he had to be in Bristol for ten o’clock the next morning and really needed to go home now. He told me how my friend was waiting for me outside bored, tired, and hungry, that he’d been waiting for hours and also wanted to go home.

I had no choice but to give in. It was awful.

And yet their website boasts, “We always ensure that patient care is at the forefront of everything we do and that’s why we are proud to offer industry leading fully inclusive lifetime aftercare and support to all our patients. Our aftercare is designed to give you reassurance with no hidden extras.”

What a load of rubbish!

After they kicked me out I shuffled slowly, slowly with great difficult to the car and my friend began the drive home. But during the drive I started to feel worse and worse and asked him to take me straight to A&E. I knew I couldn’t be left alone to care for myself. I could barely walk. I couldn’t get a drink. At home, everyone would be asleep already and there were my two young children who would be disturbed. I was far too ill to be settling the children back into bed etc. At least at A&E there would be people to help look after me through the night, which is what I urgently needed.

As it happened my instincts were correct. It would have been horrendous if I’d gone home. At A&E I vomited so violently over and over that I lost control of my bladder and made a large puddle on my wheelchair and the floor. I was groaning and weak and so ill, “help me, help me,” was all I could cry into my sick bowl. A nurse wheeled me into a side room and gave me an anti-sickness injection and then sent me back out into the waiting room. I apologised to the twenty people who had had to sit through this with me, listening to my moaning and crying and vomiting. But imagine if I’d done this on my bed at home? There would have been no-one to help me, no-one to give me antisickness, no-one to clear up my urine and change my sheets and mattress. Single mothers don’t have that luxury. I would have lain there in vomit and urine. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Later on I was given IV fluids through a new cannula they put into my right elbow crease, and then IV paracetamol. By 6:00am I felt ready to go home, and my friend drove me slowly back to my house and put me to bed. I sat upright and dozed until 7:00am when my elder daughter woke up. The kids came in at 7:30am but I couldn’t speak with them. I was too fretful and unwell – still feeling a lot of pain and still trembling and woozy.

[…to be continued in part 2 next blog post]

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