March 27th marked the end of my month-long wrapping treatment, and I’m SO happy! I wasn’t sure if it would be completed on time—it was all contingent on whether or not my new garments would arrive that final Friday, and the treatment itself had some moments where I felt a little discouraged—but it all worked out in the end. The garments came in and the wrappings came off, right on schedule!
I’ve done wrapping treatments a couple times before but it’s been a loo-o-ong time since the last one (3 years?)… needless to say, this past month was a long-overdue refresher course in lymphedema care. Since there is no “cure-all” for lymphedema, knowledge truly is power; a lot of our health and well-being rests in our own hands through consistent and proactive self-care. The therapists and I went over a ton of important stuff about skin care, wrapping techniques, manual lymphatic drainage, and breathing exercises, which was pretty empowering from a patient standpoint. I’ve got all the tools to manage my lymphedema, and now it’s up to me to use them.
The treatment did have some ups and downs for me, mostly due to my own unrealistic expectations at the start. I went into it thinking my leg would magically shrink and look “normal,” but that’s not what happened; the progress was not linear. There were days where the measurements were unchanged or had even increased (!) since the previous appointment, which made me feel frustrated: I wanted the numbers to go down, my swelling to shrink! Ugh—why wasn’t it doing what it was supposed to!?
On one such day, one of my LE therapists reminded me that it’s not necessarily the size of the swelling that denotes health, but rather how the tissue feels. Like, sure, my swelling may have shrunk, but is the tissue still hard and fibrotic? Or does it feel softer and “doughy”? Having it explained in that way really put things into perspective for me, and I stopped placing so much emphasis on the measurements themselves and instead focused on the way my leg physically felt. It allowed me to approach my treatment from a much different mindset, one of kindness and health rather than self-criticism and aesthetic motivations.
Which reminds me—I need to take a second to say that my lymphedema therapists are incredible. I looked forward to every appointment because working with them was like having a hang out session with some friends, if those friends are super knowledgeable about lymphatic care (the best kind of friends!). They are so dedicated to what they do… I could not have asked for a better or more supportive team. When my measurements were plateauing or my fibrosis wasn’t seeming to respond to the current treatment, they were on it, figuring out what we could do differently. Whether it was deeper, more concentrated MLD massages or experimenting with denser foam pieces in my wrapping, they did it. And it helped! Working together through trial and error, we were able to figure out what worked best for me and my leg and ensure a successful month of treatment. I’m so, so grateful to them.
At around the halfway point of my treatment, we decided to try a compression pump. Now, I’ve heard mixed things about them in the past, so I was a little wary about trying it. I voiced these concerns to my LE therapists and they assuaged any doubts: compression pumps have come a long way, and can be beneficial for many cases of lymphedema. Where they can be harmful, they said, is when you use a pump that has only four chambers; the more effective pumps have eight or more. This ensures the fluid is properly pumped using sequential, gradient pressure. When I posted on the Lymphie Life Facebook page asking what you all thought about pumping, the response was positive: most of you love your pumps! So… I decided to give it a try. (Note: Before using or obtaining a compression pump, be sure to talk to your lymphedema therapist or doctor about it first!)
I gotta say: I loved it. I did the recommended hour and the undulating, wavelike motion was so relaxing that I actually fell asleep! When we compared the measurements taken pre- and post-pump, they were slightly improved after just the one session. My leg felt lighter, and the tissue a little softer… I could see how using a pump along with daily MLD and compression garments could help maintain my swelling.
I started coming in an hour early to my appointments so I could get a pumping session in, and each time I felt like it was really helping. I spoke with my therapists about getting a pump of my own, and they arranged for a compression therapy specialist from a medical supply company to come in and talk to me about my options. (We settled on a CircuFlow 5208 from Devon Medical Products.) In a few weeks, once all the logistics and paperwork are taken care of with the insurance company, the specialist will come to my house to set up the pump and give me an in-depth demonstration on how to use it. The pump treatments will last an hour a day—more if I’ve had a particularly “heavy” swelling day. It’s something I’ll need to work into my daily routine for sure, but I’m looking forward to it because it feels so good and it also forces me to sit still for an hour a day. Some of you mentioned how it’s almost meditative, and I found that to be true, too!
In the weeks since The Unwrappening, I’ve been getting used to my new garments—or rather, getting used to wearing garments at all. I’ve mentioned before how I haven’t been wearing any for a little over a year—the ones I had were worn out, and there were no lymphedema centers where I was living at the time to get fitted for a custom new one—so it’s been an adjustment wearing them again. I forgot how it can bunch up behind my knee, for example, or how it can get a little tight around my toes. But I also forgot how good it feels to have that extra support, or how much relief it gives me to not have such heaviness in my leg anymore.
So, my month of treatment has come to a close, and I’m really happy with how it went. There were some moments where I was struggling, but there were a lot of high points, too, and overall I feel empowered and confident moving forward from this. You’ll all be pleased to know that (so far!) I’ve been consistent in wearing my garments daily despite my initial feelings of discomfort and self-consciousness, because I’m realizing that a little discomfort, a little self-consciousness, is worth it when it means I am helping to support my body and my health.