A tummy tuck in real life

A few friends who have heard about the tummy tuck have responded with “I’m jealous” or “I want one!”

I can only assume that the cutesy “tummy tuck” wording is confusing people. I thought I might help clarify what this surgery entails because I had a hard time finding honest, relatable information about it. If you don’t want to read about stitches and vomiting and such, this is the point to move along.

A few people have asked how I knew that I needed a tummy tuck. All I can say is that if you had ever seen my belly, you would know that something was wrong. I had a pooch from my diastasis recti (abdominal separation in layman’s terms), a hernia, a lot of extra skin and nothing that came close to resembling a belly button. I had used creams and done exercises and eaten a healthy diet. That belly was immovable. Every doctor who saw it suggested that I get myself to a surgeon. The hernia wasn’t much of a problem — yet. It prevented me from doing ab exercises and also made it difficult to lift heavy objects, such as, you know, my children. Mostly, the hernia suggested future problems. Without any core strength, I was likely to hurt my back eventually.

A few people have also asked me why I ended up with diastasis recti and a hernia. Some doctors say it’s just poor genetic luck, but my mom had no problems. I did carry my babies way out front. I was one of those pregnant women who seemed to defy the laws of physics with each step. I also had a lot of extra amniotic fluid with each pregnancy, and I think it was too much for my small body to take. The “Why?” of everything around my pregnancies still haunts me. Before this tummy tuck, I had already had three C-sections and two D&Cs. I had a very hard time accepting that I would need a sixth(!) surgery related to reproduction.

My OB/GYN referred me to a general surgeon, and he referred me to a plastic surgeon. I met with the surgeon once to decide if I was comfortable with him and then scheduled the surgery. A week before, I went for a pre-op appointment. They gave me prescriptions for pain medication and two types of anti-nausea medication (Anesthesia makes me really sick.). I also had to stand in just my underwear and completely let me belly hang out while a nurse took photos. I was, sadly, not yet on any of the powerful medication they had prescribed. They told me to buy some Spanx that were a size too large and bring those to my first appointment after the surgery.

On the day of the surgery, I wore a button-down shirt and loose pants as instructed. The surgery was done in a small hospital that was in the same building as the doctor’s office. Insurance does not cover tummy tucks because they are cosmetic. I’ll say that again. Insurance does not cover tummy tucks because they are cosmetic. Never mind that I had a hernia and could not safely lift heavy objects. Insurance actually will cover a hernia operation on its own, but two surgeons had already told me that a hernia operation would be almost pointless unless my abs were stitched back together. The hernia would just return. (If you feel a future op-ed piece coming, well, I do too.)

Doctors do the surgery as out-patient to save money, but I was told that I could stay overnight for $1,500. We actually planned to stay overnight because my surgery wasn’t until 12:30, and I was nervous about being able to pee afterward (always a problem after my C-sections). Also, I stayed in the hospital for three days after each C-section, so the prospect of immediately going home after having a far more serious surgery was terrifying.

The surgery took two hours. The doctor made an incision all the way across my body above my belly button and another one low on my abdomen from hip to hip. He stitched the entire length of my abs together, both in back and in front, so two rows. He repaired the hernia. He removed several inches of skin where my belly button had been and then pulled the skin from my upper stomach all the way down to the lower incision, and then stitched those parts together. From the extra skin, he cut out a small piece that had once been my belly button, and he stitched that back onto my stomach where my belly button is supposed to be.

That’s not even the fun part! All of this rearranging left a lot of space in my body where fluid would collect. So the surgeon wound two flexible tubes through my abdomen and then made incisions where those drains came out of my body and connected to two small containers that collected the fluid. Greg, who really signed on for the “worse” part of the marriage vows, got to measure and empty that fluid twice a day. I was groggy and nauseated after the surgery, but I eventually ate some Jello and managed to use the bathroom, so we were released from the hospital at 10:30 p.m. Greg’s parents had come down to help with the kids through all of this.

The doctor had told me I would need to sleep in a “beach-chair” position, so we had moved a bed into our playroom downstairs and bought a system of foam wedges that propped up both my upper body and my knees. I had the surgery Friday, and I was so groggy until Sunday that I don’t remember much. It was similar in many ways to having a C-section, but more intense. My stomach felt very tight, partly because it was swathed in a tube top. I walked hunched over, and I had to roll out of bed.

Ahh, Sunday. Sunday is the day that I took my pain medication on an empty stomach. If you’ve had abdominal surgery, then you know that coughing, laughing, sneezing and throwing up are out of the question. Any of these things will make you feel as though your stomach is on fire. Tears immediately spring up. You lose the ability to even breath because the pain is so intense. In the span of two hours on Sunday, I threw up four times. I finally figured out why I was so sick and managed to get some Jello down.

On Monday, I returned to the doctor. He changed my bandages and told me that I could stop wearing the tube top around my middle. I also almost passed out on the exam table because I was so scared of the pain. The nurse told me to take more muscle relaxers when I got home. I told her that I didn’t have any muscle relaxers at home, that I hadn’t received any. She told me that they had been prescribed, and I assured her again that I didn’t have any. She called the pharmacy, and they told her I had picked them up. Things were getting serious. Muscle relaxers are heavily controlled, so I knew that Greg and I were looking like scam artists. The doctor agreed to give us another prescription but said that we would probably have to try a new pharmacy because we would be flagged if we went to the same one. When we got home, we discovered the pharmacy had put two pill bottles in one prescription bag. I was having a ton of spasms in my abs, so the medication helped a lot and also knocked me out.

By the time I reached day five or six post-surgery, I started to get out of bed and sit on the couch some during the day. One week out, I returned to the doctor, and he removed one of the drains. I also got to wiggle into a pair of Spanx (with a hole cut out for bathroom needs) that I have to keep on round-the-clock to reduce swelling. At that point, I started sleeping in my regular bed again. Eight days after my surgery, I was off of all my medication save a couple of Advil every few hours.

I’m 11 days out and going back to the doctor today. I’m hoping the other drain comes out as it is uncomfortable when I’m sleeping. I still spend most of the day on the couch, but I’m able to get myself food now and walk short distances. I can laugh now, too, which is great. I feel pretty good in the morning and gradually become more swollen and grumpy as the day goes on. I’m reaching that point where I feel bored and useless, but I know that I will wear myself out if I try to do more. I’m supposed to be able to walk quickly at three weeks out and return to normal activities at six weeks, so we’ll see.

Was it worth it? I’m waiting to see. The incision is all the way across my body, so I’m going to have an impressive scar. It’s still bruised and swollen and perfect for Halloween. I wasn’t really doing this for the looks anyway. If I’m able to be more active and not hurt my back, I think it will have been worthwhile. If nothing else, I have had a lot of time to talk to the kids, watch them play and tell myself that having them was worth six surgeries.

3 thoughts on “A tummy tuck in real life

  1. Holy moly. Yeah, that’s not nearly as cute as “tummy tuck!” Sounds. Sorry about the barfing especially. I hope recovery is smooth from here on out. And that you end up pain-free and happy with the results.

  2. Having them was worth six surgeries. But good heavens. This sounds super challenging and uncomfortable and I’m so sorry. I hope that this will improve your quality of life, definitely, but what a recovery.

  3. That sounds very invasive. I once had what was considered a cosmetic procedure for non-aesthetic purposes and had to pay out of pocket –not that I’m even trying to compare to what you’re going through because mine was just moderate discomfort– so I get where you’re coming from. Too bad there isn’t a different nomenclature for “tummy tuck” with a distinct insurance billing code for necessary surgical interventions.

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