Monday, 31 October 2011

Breastfeeding: Abscess

The fever died down but the pain did not go away. The nipples healed but the pain did not go away. The ugly red rash got smaller until it was just on my right breast, and no bigger than the palm of my hand, but the pain did not go away. Under that red rash was a solid lump, about the size of a pea. It did not respond to massage. That nasty old lump, well, that lump grew over two days to be about the size of the palm of my hand.

So I did what any rational person would do. I Googled. And when Googling only brought me unpleasant responses, I went and paid my doctor a visit.

Three days after my Mastitis diagnosis my husband would be discharged from the hospital, and I would be readmitted. I was sent to the Emergency Department, and had a scan taken which confirmed what I secretly suspected had happened: my mastitis had not responded to the antibiotics, and had in fact turned into a rabid, drooling, real mean old mother of an abscess. For whatever reason (who knows the ways of cats, Tax Returns and Nurses running double shifts), I was sent home and told to take another type of antibiotic. I thought it would reduce the lump and heal me.  Can you guess what happened next folks?

The lump didn’t reduce. It just stayed there, making itself comfortable. It was the ultimate unwanted party straggler. I was all "I've been thinking... it's time for you to go now", and it was all "But baby, the party's only just getting started".

I tried various methods of healing myself, and while some seemed to help bring the lump closer to the surface of my skin, nothing seemed to make it go away. I couldn't pick my son up and hold him close to me. I couldn’t sleep on my side. Sleeping on my belly, something I had longed for for about seven months, was totally off limits. Sleep positions were futile anyways- the pain kept me awake. I would get up in the night, feed my son what little I could express mixed with water and formula and cry big fat salty tears onto his face. I was so angry I couldn’t breastfeed him.

One night I got up to feed my young son and, being a bit pre-dawn dopey, walked into the door frame- my right boob took the force of the blow and this literally dropped me with pain. I got up, retched a bit, felt my nursing pads fill with a jet of hot boob milk, fed my baby and got back into bed, and cried heaving body wracking sobs until I either passed out or sleep came. The next morning I woke to find I was stuck to my bed sheets and pillow. My hair was matted to my face and my feeding top was soaked through. I thought perhaps my milk supply had miraculously caught up over night, and guess what- I was wrong about that too. What had happened was my abscess had BURST. I had gone to sleep in a ever increasing pool of bloody puss.

But the abscess hadn't emptied overnight, merely overflowed. There was still a whole lotta puss inside, and the only way to get it out was via a small hole about the size of a dressmaking pin head. As charming as that sounds, it honestly took a whole lotta squeezing and squirming. If you like gory details: Essentially I took a hot shower that lasted about 45 minutes, during which I used my hand to 'milk' the abscess. Because it was a milk duct it was milky puss, and because it was fresh puss it didn't smell offensive. It literally poured out of me. Eventually I ran out of hot water and moved myself to the floor of the bathroom, where I continued to 'milk' myself. I went through a roll of toilet paper sopping up the volume of puss that came out of me. By this time the stuff streaming out was bloody as well. The technique I was using basically involved pushing from a good two inches behind the 'exit' hole, so as to ensure that I was getting the very back of the abscess and pushing it all forward. Eventually, I got a cold ass from sitting on the tiles in the bathroom, and moved myself to a more comfortable location. By this time it had been about two hours of solid squeezing. I took a break from the puss-fest, and when I came back it seems the 'sack' that forms around the abscess, the sack which keeps its gory contents all together, and also makes them very difficult to treat with antibiotics, started to peep out the hole. It sort of looked like the skin that forms on acrylic paint, or custard. I used tweezers to drag it out through the hole, and afterwards the puss flowed freely, without half as much pressure as before. After a short time the puss stopped oozing out and only really came out when the breast was squeezed. I got back into the shower, washed myself, using warm water over the site. I dried the site with a clean towel and applied an absorbent, sterile pad, which I wore to bed, and changed throughout the night (at each of Hunter's two feeds). The next day the site oozed less, but still needed about five dressing changes. If I was ever going to be a scab picking mother (did you ever have a friend who's Mum picked their scabs? Gross Out) this definitely cured me.

After squeezing as much puss out as I could the next morning, I went to the doctors surgery, where a nice nurse who had breastfed herself (she also called me a saint for having ever tried to feed with the mastitis, let alone abscess) finished cleaning it and put me on more antibiotics. I thought once it healed the pain I felt when I expressed or breastfed would finally leave me alone. I was wrong.

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