Local Doc: A Surgery Survival Guide

Elizabeth Chabner Thompson, MD, MPH, a Scarsdale-based, Harvard- and Johns Hopkins-trained radiation oncologist, started BFFL Co. in 2011 after her own hospitalization in 2006. “When I underwent prophylactic mastectomies, I realized there was a need for products to help patients recover,” she says. What started as a tip sheet she gave to other women undergoing mastectomies turned into the making of all-in-one bags containing after-care necessities that are not only practical, but improbably cute and comforting to receive. “Even as a physician,” she says, “I never put it in words for my own patients, like, ‘Go home and get these five things. [And] I had access to gauze and tape and things that were very hard for patients to find.” 

In today’s bags, there are indispensables like a sleeve for important cards and papers, a notepad and pen for jotting down info, and surgery-specific products like a recovery bra innovated by Thompson based on her own painful, post-op experience. “I couldn’t stand the way the drains hurt,” she says. “And it could be solved just by cutting a bra and sewing some Velcro on.” 

Now, besides the Breast Bag and bestselling Mommy Bag—a popular gift that Dr. Thompson calls “the ‘go bag’ every 30-week pregnant woman should have by their front door”—BFFL offers kits for traumatic brain injury, transplants, hysterectomy, and prostate-cancer surgery recovery, plus custom versions. (The Transplant Bag was sent to Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts when she underwent surgery.) Find the bags and bras at www.bfflco.com—the website also has free guides, like how to take care of a post-mastectomy JP drain—or at area hospitals, including the Ashikari Breast Center at St. John’s Riverside Hospital and Northern Westchester, White Plains, and Lawrence Hospitals. 

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A dedicated patient advocate—Thompson also has a master’s in Public Health Care Policy and Management—she answers the big questions everyone facing surgery, their own or of someone close to them, has on the brain.    

I’m overwhelmed by questions and protocols. How can I figure out what I need to do now? 

“There is a whole new profession called patient navigation. It’s a dose of prevention, guidance, advice, and where to go. People will say, ‘I don’t even know where to start. What kind of doctor do I need? Who do I call?’ Navigators translate those complicated situations and help guide people from one step to the next so they don’t get lost in the system. Now, [recent legislation] will make it critical for every hospital to have  one.”

I’m the primary caregiver for a loved one in the hospital. What do I need to remember? 

“Designate one person who can be the communicator and disseminate information about the patient’s condition [even if it’s you]. Don’t neglect what’s going on outside the hospital; maintain your health; and take breaks. Write down a lot of information. What kind of doctor were they? Ask for people’s names. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid, because you go home and just can’t remember. You really need something you can read for instructions.”

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I’m having surgery or caring for someone one who is. What do I need to take care of at home? 

“People are going to come home and need wound-care and supplies. We provide in every BFFL bag a sampling of the most basic things; take that to CVS or your pharmacy and say, ‘Show me where I can find these items,’ so you have a supply ready to go.”

Fifteen percent of the Breast BFFLBag’s $100 cost is donated to a charitable breast-cancer organization. 

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