Sunday, July 19, 2015

Traveling Long Distances for Breast Reconstruction

For five years now, I've been a travel writer, offering tips and recounting adventures for families.  My family and I have been lucky enough to travel to some of the most amazing parts of the world, each trip educating myself and my readers on how to do it well...or at least with fewer headaches.  I've learned how to pack a family of five into two suitcases for a twelve-day winter trip to Germany and France, as well as how to pack that same family into one bag for a week-long beach vacation in Bali.  I've learned how to choose family-friendly hotels and how to use family-friendly houses through Airbnb.  I've taken note of what really gets used on a trip and what ends up staying in the suitcase.  What I wasn't prepared for was the amount of information regarding packing for a surgery overseas.

Overseas Medical Travel

When I scheduled my surgery date with PRMA and Dr. Chrysopoulo, I was five months out from leaving Singapore and arriving in Texas.  This gave me plenty of time to research other lists created by previous surgery goers, and there are a lot.  My mind was getting overwhelmed as I tried cross-referencing based on distances traveled, items packed and types of surgeries.  What I began to notice was how fortunate many of these women were to have surgery in their home towns or within driving distance, affording them the benefit of staying at home and not displacing their entire family for the two or more weeks of recovery needed.  I know there were women out there who traveled great distances to get surgery, but I couldn't find anything that told me what I needed to know for a 9K mile journey.  My initial stages of inquiry lead me to writing this piece in May, The Challenges of Traveling Long Distance for Medical Care, for World Ovarian Cancer Day.  I could at least get people going in the right direction with the initial planning and logistics of traveling overseas.  I discussed insurance, flights and overall preparation for the long flight.

My next quest was in narrowing down the expansive packing lists.  Taking a family of five overseas, for any amount of time, isn't exactly easy.  When you include medical necessities, you begin to worry about abusing your baggage allowance.  If there's one thing I've learned, sometimes its worth buying some things upon arrival instead of lugging them with you.  Keeping this in mind, along with the fact that I wouldn't be allowed to lift any of it after surgery, we kept things realistic.  You'll of course pack your normal items such as shoes, toiletries, underwear, etc.  Everything else is just extras.  Here's what I really, truly needed during the recovery, whether I packed it or not.

Packing List

  • Tank tops (cotton, larger than normal size) and men's cotton Hane's t-shirts, cut up the front to wear under the surgical bra.  This keeps the bra from rubbing against your incisions and skin overall. I wore these for as long as I was in the surgical bra, which was just about two and a half weeks.
  • Throat lozenges...after five hours with a breathing tube, your throat hurts for the first couple of days.  However, my nurses quickly learned I'd eat the heck out of Jello, so that would have sufficed.  I did NOT need to pack them on arrival.
  • Button front shirts, dresses, etc for the ease of getting dressed after surgery (at least until you're approved to begin lifting your arms above your head.)  I was thankful for the latest fashion trend, the long button up shirt dresses.  They were baggy enough to hide my drains inside and still looked good.
  • Button-front pjs during recovery.
  • Face wipes.  I was tired that first week after surgery.  I did not want to wash my face at night, nor did it feel good leaning over the sink and making the continual scrubbing motion.  I did NOT need to buy these, but I had the brand I liked and didn't want to fuss about trying to find them on arrival.
  • Sleeping mask.  A NICE one.  I'm not one to have ever owned one, but this was the time I was going to get one and use it.  I was so thankful too.  I was dealing with jet lag, medications, and crazy hours with nurses in the hospital.  Being able to block out any light and keep my eyes closed was a beautiful thing.
  • Shower pockets.  These are neoprene and I wore them 24/7 until I got my drains out.  I had two pair so that one was always dry for after the shower.  You can find other ways of dealing with your drains, but this was just so easy and didn't involve poking holes in my clothes with safety pins.

  • Cell phone, computer and converters.  I have a slight addiction to social media, in case you didn't notice.  I also wanted to keep my loved ones updated post-surgery.  Having a cell phone allowed me to do quick chats in the hospital and the computer allowed me to begin blogging as soon as I left the hospital, as well as to watch TV shows and movies.  Just don't forget your chargers and converters if you're traveling overseas!
  • Pillows.  No, I didn't bring pillows nor buy pillows, but I made sure I had plenty of pillows for reclining and elevating my arms.  I went as far as to ask the Airbnb we stayed in if they had lots of pillows, and then requested extra pillows from hotels.  You'll want them.  Even up to this day, I still have extra pillows on my bed as I'm still required to lie on my back.
  • Pill cutter.  If you're like me, taking a whole dose of medication didn't fly.  The pill cutter and I were friends.  You can find one at any pharmacy, just make sure you have one.
  • Blanket.  You might have another comfort item in mind, but for me, it was a blanket my mother-in-law surprised me with.  It was so lovely to have that with me in the hospital and up to now.  Pack that something that is going to make you smile and feel warm and cozy inside when you see it.
  • Support!  No, you can't technically pack them, but if you are traveling for the surgery with family, make sure you have someone to help 24/7 that first week.  My mother in law was instrumental in watching the kids and allowing my husband to stay with me in the hospital, then helping take pressure off my husband once home so that he could take care of me.
Everything else that were on lists I saw were "nice to haves" but not necessary.  I brought magazines for the first few days that I couldn't even get through as I'd fall asleep and I brought seasons of Modern Family and Big Bang Theory to watch in the hospital, but I slept through those too.  All in all, think comfortable and easy access.  Keep those in mind, and you'll be good to go.  You don't need to pack the kitchen sink.  

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