Cinde Dolphin

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

wound area.

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.

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