Dr. Harness shares what women should know about the recovery from a mastectomy.
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Following mastectomy, women need to realize that they have a raw surface under the skin. The drains are helping to collect fluid there, but the skin flaps, we call them, because we open things up, need to be cemented down basically, and if they get too vigorous post-operatively, they could lift those flaps up. The other real concern, if they’re not working their shoulder and their arm enough is that getting in a frozen shoulder. Patients know that if they raise their arm up it may hurt a little bit. There’s no difficulty with combing the hair and having their arm at a right angle after a mastectomy. We simply don’t want them reaching for the ceiling until the drains are out because, again, it can lift the flaps up. So part of this is common sense. Now, once the drains are out, could fluid form under there again? Yeah, it can. So most of us try and see patients back certainly after the drains are out, usually within a week to make sure that things are stuck down properly. Then obviously it depends on the kind of work that the patient does. If it’s a clerical, I don’t want to say that everyone has a clerical position, but a position of sitting at the desk or working a computer or things that don’t involve heavy-duty manual labor. I have had patients back to week and ten days or two weeks or less following a mastectomy. If, on the other hand, there’s manual labor involved because the patient has a job that requires that, we may be talking about a good four weeks to six weeks to have more healing in the area.