Is That a Surgical Drain in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Even though medical technology and techniques have made huge strides in minimizing bleeding and fluid production after surgery, there are still some procedures in which a surgical drain is needed. In the cosmetic surgery world, surgical drains are most often used after a tummy tuck.

“So,” you say, “What are these things, how do they work, and what am I supposed to do with a drain tube hanging out of my tummy for a week or two?”

I’m so glad you asked….

What are Surgical Drains and Why Do I Need Them After a Tummy Tuck?

A surgical drain is a nifty little system that allows fluid to escape after surgery so that you don’t blow up like Violet from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Seroma is a fancy medical term for fluid formation. When tissues rub against each other, fluid forms. In a tummy tuck, the soft tissue that I pull down from the rib cage will normally rub over the top layer of tummy muscles. When this occurs, you will develop more seroma fluid.

The seroma fluid will eventually be absorbed by the human body. But without a drain, you’ll be waiting around for this to happen while your tummy feels like a waterbed. Also, if this seroma fluid gets infected, the bugs that attack it will spread very quickly, since I’ve just created a big opening on your body that has all of this fluid collecting. To prevent any possible infection, most surgeons put in drains.

I generally just place 1 drain in the tummy tuck area, underneath the skin. The tiny tube comes out of a portion of the tummy tuck incision, so there is no additional scar. The tubes are connected to clear, plastic bulbs that I buy at exclusive Tupperware parties for MDs. Okay, not really.

How Do Surgical Drains Work After a Tummy Tuck?

In reality, the bulbs look like hand grenades (and in fact, throwing one will indeed cause your enemies to scatter), and they are marked on the outside so that you can measure and chart the amount of fluid that is collected. This seroma fluid is clear and yellow, and is odorless. Plus, it tastes like lemonade.

The drain grenade has a flip cap on top that allows you to empty the fluid, which you should do several times per day. Once you’ve emptied it into the toilet, sink, flower bed, etc., squeeze the bulb tightly and then snap the cap back in place to create a vacuum. This will assist in drawing fluid out more efficiently.

Be sure to keep accurate measurements for me, your doctor. This is the only way I will know if your fluid production has slowed enough for the drains to be removed. You’ll come back into the office for removal, usually about 1 week after your surgery.

How Do I Wear My Surgical Drains and Still Look Cute?

Well, most people don’t look forward to dragging drains around for a few days while they attempt to sleep, shower, shop and socialize. I doubt you’ll feel up to doing much socializing, buy hey, if that’s your thing….

I usually just recommend wearing incredibly baggy workout/sweat pants and an enormous hoodie/sweatshirt. Put on a fanny pack under your clothes, pop those drains bulbs in there, and voila – the general public is none the wiser about your surgical accessories. They’ll just think you enjoy being really comfortable.

But sometimes it’s too hot outside, and then sometimes, my patients are slaves to fashion. Here are some other ideas from actual tummy tuck patients for hiding your drain system:

– Buy “granny panties” and either put the bulb inside them or wear two pairs and put the bulb between them.

– Clip the bulbs to a makeshift necklace made of gauze or string and hide them near your cleavage.

– Put the bulb inside a pretty drawstring jewelry satchel and clip it to the waistband of your favorite fashionista jeans/pants.

– Wear a flowy dress or skirt and tell everyone you’ve just returned from a tropical vacation.

– Hire a personal assistant to walk behind you and carry them (preferably a well-toned shirtless cabana boy named Felipe).

As you can see, wearing a surgical drain is not as draining as it initially seems. Look at your drain as one, last hurdle to overcome before realizing the flat tummy of your dreams.


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