What Am I Wearing?
By Cinde Dolphin
It was a rude awakening. An uncomfortable, unexpected and rude awakening.
I was roused from my anesthesia cloud gently, thanks to the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)
nurse. But then I looked down and found four odd attachments - like octopus legs with bulbs
dangling at the end.
I’d just had a lumpectomy procedure which included having incisions. So then, what were these
new additions coming out of my body? I really didn’t feel like having these creepy “hitchhikers”
hop in bed with me after everything I had just been through.
It turned out, they were Jackson Pratt® (JP) drains, and having them attached is an awkward
experience for any cancer patient. Just when you feel as though your life is swirling out of
control, you have to find new ways to contend with the day-to-day routines of sleeping, bathing
and regaining mobility with these irritating, but necessary drains hanging from your wound.
I have had four unique cancers and nine surgeries, and after each of my surgeries, my very
kind nurses would hand me safety pins to deal with this issue. When drains were pinned to
my gown, I rolled onto them at night. Or, in some cases a nurse forgot they were attached and
yanked the sutures out while changing my gown. Taking showers meant gravity tugged
uncomfortably on the drain bulbs from the length of the tube.
The medical community had yet to develop a simple, comfortable way to allow individuals to
return to “normal” life while sporting medical drains. I wanted a solution. I wanted a simple way
to support the suspended drains - heavy with mucus and blood clots - that didn’t aggravate my
My plastic surgeon suggested a canvas apron from the local hardware store. I used it during my last
surgery and it received rave reviews from the UC Davis Medical Center nursing team. In fact, the
Intensive Care Unit crew applauded the apron pockets since it meant not spending valuable time
searching for my drains in order to clear fluids. Also, it permitted me to sleep through the night -
even when it was necessary for them to check drain fluid levels hourly.
I agreed the apron helped. But the canvas construction was stiff and didn’t work for bathing. The
dilemma took me to a Dollar Store where I’ve often found undiscovered gems. Right next to the
sewing notions I was looking at “fine lingerie washing bags.” They are soft mesh bags with a
zipper closure. I called my nephew for advice. He is a talented young man and can make
anything with a sewing machine. He’s fabricated car interiors, soft pillows for kids and multiple
other creations. After we talked and I explained my idea, he agreed to produce drain carriers for
patients. We trimmed the lingerie bags to a more convenient size. I purchased double-fold bias
tape at the fabric store. We tested a couple of different models, and arrived at a prototype about
11 inches long and 7 inches high. Bias tape was stitched along the upper edge and left with 18
inch extensions on each side for waist ties. I laundered the bags, and offered to provide them
free to patients of UC Davis Medical Center’s plastic surgery office. Almost immediately, patient
feedback was very positive.
Suzi, from Folsom, California, wrote to me and said: “I did not take it off for the whole time I had the drains.
We showered, lounged, walked, and slept together. It was so easy to wash in the shower, allowing me to also
wash the drains. It was a great gift and blessing at a very difficult time. Thank you so much!”
Over the next couple of months, the carrier was improved. I found a vendor who met my
specifications and individually contained each device using secured cellophane packaging. UC
Davis Medical Center PACU Nurse Manager, Gary Kurtz, ordered 100 carriers and they were
issued after each procedure that included a drain. His medical team said carriers helped them
do their jobs - allowing them to see drains easily and keeping them organized around the
patient’s torso area.
I accepted a volunteer position in Tanzania in the middle of my product development. It was a
true blessing. I worked with women in rural villages who were living with their families in sub-
poverty conditions. They owned one manual sewing machine, but that was enough to get them
started. We created a pattern for simple utilitarian aprons, using their local fabrics. Within two
weeks, these beautiful women were making bold, brightly patterned drain carriers for women in
the United States. Our group named the aprons Kilimanjaro Carriers, to honor the husbands
and sons who portage heavy supplies up the famous mountain for skilled climbers.
The experience of having cancer made a huge impact on my life. The world's best medical
providers, especially the oncology nursing team, cared for me. My respect for the nursing
profession multiplied exponentially with each diagnosis. I hope developing the KILI Medical
Drain Carrier can be considered a token of my deep appreciation for an exceptional community
of health care professionals and the patients they serve.