After breast surgery, you most likely will have one or more surgical drains in place near your incisions. Although these can be uncomfortable and inconvenient, they are worth your trouble. Having a surgical drain prevents blood and lymphatic fluid buildup under your skin, and encourages healing and recovery. You will need to measure the fluid daily, and learn to keep the drain clean, to prevent infection. When the fluid is 2 or 3 tablespoons or less in a 24-hour period, the drain can be removed.
Grenades By Any Other Name:
These drains look like hand grenades, and often have fluid measures marked around their outside. They may be called grenade drains, JP drains, or Jackson-Pratt drains. You will have a drainage tube, a drainage bulb, and a measuring cup (unless your bulb has measures marked on it).
A Stitch in Your Side:
Your surgical drain will be attached to a tube that goes under your skin near your incision. This tube may be held in place with a suture, so that it doesn't accidentally slip out and leak. You should use a mixture of peroxide and water on a Q-tip on the skin where the tube comes out of your incision. Keep an eye on this suture area – if this area becomes red and swollen, call your doctor – it may be infected. If it is sore, gently hold a cold compress on the suture area to alleviate the pain. This suture will be removed when your drain comes out, and you will have a tiny scar where the tube was inserted.
As you recover from breast surgery, your incisions will be tender, and that little suture holding the drainage tube in place will be quite painful if tugged on. Use large safety pins to secure the drains to your clothing. Don't stick pins in the drain – just use them to clip the drain's tag or cap loop to the inside of your blouse. If you're going to have a sponge bath with surgical drains, try wearing a long necklace around your neck, and pin the drain to that. This will get the drains out of your way, and ensure that they don't bounce around, get caught, or pulled on. Not a fan of pins? Get a Drain Bulb Holder.
Camisole With a Secret:
If safety pins aren't your style, shop around for a pocket camisole (also called a post-surgical camisole) before your surgery. These camis have pockets that hold your breast prosthesis and drainage bulbs -- great options for while you are recovering from breast surgery. These offer comfort, security (no dangling drain bulbs) and modesty.
The Daily Drain Report:
When you check out of the hospital, you'll be given a small measuring cup and a logsheet so that you can keep track of how much fluid collects in your drain daily. This is important information for your surgeon, as it reflects how well your recovery is going. You will need to bring the logsheet with you to your follow-up appointments.
American Cancer Society. Detailed Guide: Breast Cancer. Surgery for Breast Cancer. Revised: 09/13/2007.
University of Michigan Medical School. Plastic Surgery. Post-Operative Instructions. JP Drain and Insertion Site Care. Updated: January 23 2008.
MedicineNet.com. Definition of JP drain. Updated: 2/15/2004.
University of California San Francisco, Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center. Surgical Oncology. Jackson-Pratt Drains.