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Hi Melody. I recently went through this surgery and, like you, chose it because I did not want any foreign material in me and because it did not involve rearrangement of any muscle tissue. I had it done in Oct 2011 in Toronto, Ontario.
I am so pleased I chose DIEP and so pleased with the outcome. It was a very long surgery (>13 hours because it was bilateral) but the recovery was remarkably easy, much easier than they led me to expect. I had a bit of back pain in the first week because the abdominal incision prevented me from standing up straight at first, but after that I can honestly say that it felt like I had a moderate sunburn from breasts to abdominal scar. That's it. The only other painful part was when they took out the last drain 2.5 weeks later.
I felt and still feel great and I'm told I look great, so as far as I'm concerned, I'm great. I do not have sensation in my breasts (of course), nor do I have it around my bellybutton or along my abdominal scar, but I do have sensation everywhere else. I have much more sensate areas than I expected to. I credit this mostly to my plastic surgeon who specializes in this surgery and, in my opinion, is a real artist - my incisions are like pencil lines.
I did not wear a binder or any kind of compression garment. My surgeon does not agree with their use because she has found that in a number of cases, because the breast tissue is insensate, the garment rubs against the breast, rubs the skin raw and destroys the new flaps or creates an open wound that introduces infection.
I did get quite a bit of fluid buildup in my abdomen afterwards, but that is not painful and it is eventually reabsorbed. I'm told it may take up to a year, but 3 months later, it is mostly all gone - certainly nothing noticeable in clothes. (It is VERY painful to have it drained.)
While I was in the hospital and then at home I kept thinking, "What would I tell someone who was going to have this surgery?" I would say, bring very loose fitting pants or better yet a skirt to wear when you go home and for the first week or so afterwards. You will be very swollen and it will be difficult to bend over and put on pants. Plus a skirt makes it easy to hide the drains when the in-laws come to visit. Rest, rest and rest, drink lots of fluids. Be prepared for back pain in the first 1-2 weeks, again, because it's hard to stand up but not stand up straight. Try to have someone around who can pick things up for you.
Also, when I was sent home from the hospital I was only wearing a medical bra - not bandages. If I had known that that would be all that I wear, 24/7, for a number of weeks, I would have gone to the local discount store beforehand and bought a few extra ones - cheapo sports bras, but very, very large. Because I didn't, my husband had to run out and go bra shopping for me the first day I was home. (I had been wearing the hospital one for 6 days at that point). Kind of a funny story to hear him tell it, but I would have preferred to be prepared with one beforehand.
Washing myself was tricky, especially at home. My husband washed my hair in the shower, but I thought I wasn't supposed to get my body wet. I couldn't bend over to wash it in the sink. It's hard not to get your body wet and wash your hair standing up, so that was tricky. Evenutally, I found out from my PS that I could have had a shower with my drains in. Apparently, you can't if you have implants because that significantly increases the risk of infection, but if there are no implants then you can. So I could have wet my body after all.
I began some rudimentary physiotherapy 2 weeks after surgery - very limited and nothing that involved putting my arms above my head. I was very anxious about losing range of motion and I am normally a very active person, so this was very important to me. Since then I have kept up with physio and massage (visceral therapy for my abdomen, lymphatic drainage massage for my arm and myofascial release massages for all over). It is all very helpful.
I was able to participate in a 5 kilometer walk on New Year's Eve, about 10 weeks after my surgery. I am now preparing to start either yoga or tai chi, both recommended excercise regimens because they are gentle and relaxing, yet strengthening.
I hope this information helps. Again, I am very pleased with the execution of this surgery, the recovery, the outcome and my ability to merge back into regular life in all ways.