Staying Sane During Surgery Recovery

I won’t lie, surgery recovery is hard. You suddenly can’t do the things you used to be able to do, your body feels like it belongs to someone else, you have medication changes to keep track of, and you have lots of time to fill. You will find yourself feeling defeated, annoyed, lonely, and a million other things as you wait to get back to normal (or what now counts as your normal). How do you maintain sanity during this time? Here’s what I’ve learned the last few weeks.

Disclaimers: I had a right colectomy which was laparoscopic and had no complications, so many of these tips are focused  on recovery from that kind of surgery. More importantly, I’m not a medical professional (not even close), just a fellow patient. Your care team can guide you in whether something on this list is appropriate for your recovery.

Before Your Surgery

  • Ask your surgeon and/or GI doc any questions you have: Some are obvious – how long will I be in the hospital? How long until I can go back to work? What are potential complications? You probably have a pre-op appointment shortly before your surgery and this is the time to ask anything that pops into your head. They’ve probably been asked all sorts of questions before, especially if the patient hadn’t had surgery before. Be sure to ask what you do if, on the day of your surgery, you have to cancel for illness or weather.
  • Figure out when you’ll get back to work: You may able to telecommute, work part-time in the office, work fewer hours at first, or make some other special arrangement. Reach our to your boss or HR to find out your company’s policies. Because of the nature of my job, I can’t work from home so this meant I did zero work until my doctor cleared me to go back in person. I also chose not to go back until I could work full time, but that was dictated by it being the holiday season rather than corporate policy or how I was feeling.
  • Plan for who will help you at home: This isn’t just to ensure you have help taking care of yourself, but also help doing the things you normally do. Household chores. Paying bills. Taking care of children and/or pets. Figure out who will do what so you need not worry about it once you’re home. (And, for really critical things, try to find a backup.)
  • Ask for in-person visits or remote ones (audio or video): Friends and family may assume that you just want to be left alone or that you don’t want to be seen in your condition. If you do want to be visited in the hospital, say so. If you want to chat with someone on the phone, call them (or text first, if you’re me). I was lucky that Matt was able to spend one entire day with me plus some shorter visits here and there, but I also reached out to my parents and a good friend/neighbor during the times he had to be home to take care of Lizzie or work or, you know, get an actual decent night of sleep in his own bed.
  • Pack a bag with what you’ll need while there: I did this in a backpack to make it easier for Matt to transport it around until I had a room. I threw in things I needed to entertain myself, a robe, several changes of comfy and stretchy clothes, phone charger, headphones, toothpaste and toothbrush, lotion, and chap stick. I also made sure I had my insurance card and government-issued ID in an easily accessible pocket to make registration easier.
  • Follow all instructions you’re given by your doctor and/or hospital: Whatever the staff tells you to do – or not do – in the days before your surgery, do it. I had to shower using a special soap and go without makeup, lotion, and lip balm and had to only take a sub-set of my usual medication.
  • Find something to amuse yourself in the hospital that’s low-key: You’ll want something that doesn’t require a ton of thought or energy but can keep you amused. Television, audiobooks, crossword puzzles (easy ones), and coloring are great ideas. For me, this was mostly watching hours of HGTV on the hospital television. We don’t get the channel at home, so this was a treat for me. I also did a bit of knitting, though it often wore me out very quickly. I brought a journal and books with me, both of which remained in my backpack for the length of my stay.
  • Bring along a robe and your own undies: You can certainly get another robe to cover your backside and get some of those super-sexy disposable undies, but you’ll feel that much more human if you have your own. You may or may not be able to put on your own clothes during your stay, so be sure to ask before you change into yoga pants and a t-shirt. I was simple too sore to put on normal clothes and, due to the location of my incisions, it would have been very difficult to get through wound checks had I not been in a robe.

In the Hospital

  • If you need something, don’t be afraid to ask for it: Weather you’re in pain, need help going to the bathroom, or need another glass of ice water, don’t be afraid to ask for it from the staff. They’re there to help you and you’re not being a bother. Mind you, don’t abuse this ability by asking for something every hour as you’re not the only patient, but the staff would much rather you ask then try to do something yourself that could lead to a fall or similar.
  • Take those walks: For abdominal surgery, the protocol at my hospital was to get up and walk around (with assistance) as soon as possible post-surgery. This meant stumbling along with a walker and trailing nurse in the PACU then walking with a supportive IV pole and tech…and, eventually, walking by myself for loops around the unit. It will be difficult, but it’s amazing how much better you’ll feel after you do it. Again, ask for help if you need it. I needed help every time I got up from my med – though I did my best to spend most of the day in a chair  – and needed help walking the first few times. I stuck to walking around my unit but you may be able to walk to another part of the hospital.
  • Remember the names of your care team members: Many hospitals ask you to complete a survey or have some sort of an employee recognition program. If you have a particularly great (or poor) experience with a member of your team, make sure you note their name down somewhere to make completing those easier. I was lucky to have a great team which included a nurse who stayed with me for a full hour after I had a panic attack, a tech who sang showtunes to distract me from a 3 am blood draw, and a pair of residents who were extremely understanding of my, er, lack of pleasant demeaner during 5 am rounds.

After You’re Home

  • Keep up with medication schedules and other instructions: If there’s something you were told to do in your discharge instructions, do it. I know, sounds obvious but I feel the need to say it directly. If you have to do multiple things throughout the day, you may want to draft up a little schedule for yourself. I had one pain killer every 6 hours, one every 8, and my normal meds to worry about. A written schedule and alarms on my phone were the only reason I could keep track of it all.
  • Don’t do anything on your no-no list: Don’t take a bath or lift heavy objects or whatever your discharge instructions tell you not to do. It will be hard, as you’ll have to ask for more help than you’re probably used to having. Your hospital will have ensured you have that help at home before they let you go, so take advantage of it. Call or text or holler across the house if you need someone to do something for you.
  • Don’t worry that you’re not getting things done: I am not someone who is good at being non-productive so I had to learn that recovery from surgery is getting something done. The dishes and laundry and paying bills are not your responsibility but whoever is there (or can come over) to help you. Throw away your to do list, if you have to. Focus on relaxing and recovering.
  • Continue to keep yourself amused: I started by watching TV almost all day and doing a bit of journaling from my couch. After a few days, I felt well enough to sit at the dinning room table and browse the internet for a good portion of the day.
  • Reach out to friends: Just like when you were in the hospital, you’ll probably have to reach out to folks to get together or chat on the phone. I’ll be honest, I got sick of only being around and talking to family  after awhile. I made a lunch date with a friend, went and hung out at my local yarn store, and chatted online with a friend I hadn’t talked to in years.
  • Slowly get back to normal: As you feel better, don’t rush to get back into your normal routine. Add back in chores one at a time, starting with things like putting away clean silver wear or getting the mail. Yes, that’s the level of energy I had when I first got home. I didn’t empty the dishwasher until a full week after I was home, it took too much energy (and bending over wasn’t much fun, either). If you start to do something and it’s too much, STOP.

Anyone else have any tips for surviving surgery recovery with you sanity intact? Share them in the comments.

 

 

2018: Year in Review

What a year it’s been. I’m sure I say that every year, but this one has been particularly full of ups and downs.

January: Made lots of small cross stitch samplers for friends and coworkers. Went back into therapy for a few months. Matt helped out with robotics, I did not. Made several trips to the local trampoline park with Lizzie. Started winter ballet class. Took one of our cats, Willie, to the vet to figure out what made him lose lots of weight – turns out he had liver damage which didn’t really have a treatment. (He’s less skinny now but whines all. the. time.)

February: Spent a weekend in Florida to see my parents, brother, and sister-in-law. Visited Johnathan Dickinson State Park for the first time since I was a kid. (Finally!) Learned how Instagram Stories works. Spent an entire Sunday by myself in DC.

March: Went on our annual ski trip with friends, probably the last one we’ll ever take to Davis, West Virginia. Threw a St. Patrick’s Day party with decorations Lizzie helped me make. Got a light snow.

April: Lots of letters written – over 50 in total by month’s end. (Note to self: Don’t do this again.)Ate our first dinner of the year out in the porch. Weekend in Shenandoah. Attended the Unicorn Festival.

May: Trip without Lizzie to Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Ran out of craft projects while on vacation for the first time ever. Slimmed down my yarn stash quite a bit. Got a horrible eye infection.

June: Weekend at Great Wolf Lodge with family. Lots of trips to the community pool. Saw Sound of Music sing-along. Homemade super hero cape for Lizzie. Switched up anxiety / depression medication – so, so happy I did so. Got new coffee table and side tables for the living room off Reddit, of all places. Found out my dad had a new cancer recurrence and needed to start chemo, after all.

July: Family reunion in Edisto Beach, South Carolina. 13 people in one house for 4 days – whew! Went off dairy, soy, and gluten in attempt for solution to tummy and skin issues.

August: Stopped elimination diet due to horrible abdominal pain. After several tests, found out I have Crohn’s Disease. Spent a weekend in Shenandoah with friends. Start of birthday party season for Lizzie’s friends.

September: Lizzie started Pre-K (and loves it). Spent weekend in Florida for my birthday. Old friend from LA came to visit – went to Harper’s Ferry, National Museum of African-American History and Culture, and National History Museum during his visit. Lizzie took her first ballet class at school. Off to Italy with Lizzie.

October: Italy trip! Shenandoah weekend soon after. Had first colonoscopy and learned of colonic stricture. Found out my mom has breast cancer. Made our own Halloween decorations for the living room. Lizzie dressed up as Ariel (in a store-bought costume she decided she wanted at the last minute), Matt as Prince Charming, and me as a bee. Handed out candy with neighbors on our driveway, taking advantage of unseasonably warm temperatures.

November: Saw a surgeon to talk about stricture repair options; confirm with second surgeon that surgery was only valid course of action. Spent a weekend in NYC for a friend’s 35th birthday. Several cycles of feeling fine for a few days then miserable for a few. Had family and friends to our house for Thanksgiving.

December (so far): Lizzie turned 5! Had a right colectomy and am home, recovering and trying to use it as an excuse to fully relax.

 

How was your year?

Week in Review: August 5-11, 2018

Before we get into the normal topics, I want to share a few special things that happened this week.

New Blog Name, New Site Location

After lots of thought the last few months, I decided to change the name of the blog and it’s address. The WordPress link remains the same, but the domain has moved to thatangelaleese.com. I wanted to stop pretending I’m a brand. I’m just me. I’m Angela Leese. That Angela Leese. That one who sat next to you in engineering classes or who you saw spill an entire iced coffee down her top or who gets bit by spiders anytime it’s possible. I may not be the only one with my name, but I am a pretty awesome Angela Leese.

Health Update

It’s been a horrible week, I’m not going to lie. I was basically useless most of the week when I was at home and maybe got two-thirds of my hours in at work. Everyone has had to cover for me and did so before I could even ask. Matt. Bob and AJ at work. I also got some amazing support my countless medical office staff members who squeezed me in and let me move things when needed. Answered my many stupid questions. Don’t know what I would have done without all of them.

I may have mentioned last week that I hadn’t been feeling well, maybe about a weird cramp in my abdomen. It got worse, so I went and saw my primary care doctor as soon as I could get in on Monday. His thought was gallbladder issues, as I nearly punched him when we pressed where my gallbladder is. Ultrasound and blood tests came back normal. Saw a GI specialist who guessed stomach ulcers but wanted me to get the CT scan my doctor had already ordered. And, after what seemed like an eternity of intense pain, a diagnosis: Crohn’s Disease. I’m on steroids and start working on figuring out long-term treatment tomorrow.

Okay…back to our normally scheduled programming…

Life of Lizzie

Lizzie was, of course, impacted by my health issues. I was too sore for hugs or snuggles and often couldn’t help her do things. Matt also had to do work at home each evening, unfortunately about the time my pain was at its height for the day. She got ignored a lot. But, she was a trooper.

She very excitedly helped Matt make cupcakes on Thursday night. I got zero photos, but they were yellow cake with chocolate ganache covered in as many large sprinkles as she could fit on each one.

Our neighbors got a new trampoline so she had a blast jumping on it a couple evenings.

We went out to Shenandoah National Park for the weekend with some old friends. She had a blast blowing bubbles, getting her face painted, hiking, and having a dance party with one of our friends.

On the Needles

I finished the hats for Lizzie and her BFF, at least the knitting part. She insisted that they have pom poms which I need to make and attach. Hats are using the Barley Light in the child’s size, knit in a yarn I cannot recall right now. Ha!

I also started and completed a hat for her BFF’s sister. Pattern is the Sockhead Hat and yarn is Miss Babs 2-Ply Toes in a colorway I can’t remember at all. I made the adult size, despite her only being 8, per her mom’s recommendation. No FO photo, so here’s one of me with the hat 80% of the way done.

I also started, just yesterday, on a shawl in Kelborne Wollens Mojave, a lovely cotton and linen blend. I was going to make a hat with it but it’s got too much drape to it, even at a fairly tight gauge. I’ll offer the FO to the person I was going to make the hat for, with the option to decline in exchange for a hat in the same color but a different yarn. Pattern is Dotted Rays.

I made zero progress on the two shawls I started last week, as I got on this hat kick. Really should have grabbed one of those for the Shenandoah trip but it didn’t cross my mind. I’ll probably work on the purple one next, for a break from this pattern.

Adventures

Our big adventure was to Shenandoah. I’m all out of words to describe one of my favorite places on the planet.

Discoveries

    My diagnosis, obviously
    Iced slightly-sweet tea
    Cotton and linen yarn doesn’t make a good hat but is heavenly as a shawl

Oye. Ugh. Sigh.

Enough of my whining for one week.

A Better Me

Zero progress on this, as I’m just trying to get back to normal. May have lost weight, but I don’t really care. I stopped keeping away from gluten, dairy, and soy after my doctor told me forget about it. I may start it again but, again, I need to get back to normal.

On Tap

  • Treatment plan development
  • Finishing the three-color shawl and picking up the purple shawl
  • Mailing off a few things that have been sitting for weeks
  • Weekend with no plans! (I think.)

Week in Review: 22-28 July 2018

Yes, I’m back. I’ve taken an assessment of all that I have going on in my life and decided that blogging can fit in. A few things got taken off my plate to accommodate it (regular letter-writing, most notably) and I’m pretty confident I’ll be sticking with this for awhile. So, let’s get going, shall we?

Life of Lizzie

This week, she picked up a habit of saying, “Get it?” Except she’s not using the typical application of saying it after a joke that didn’t land well, but for just about any declarative statement. “I had a Popsicle today. Get it?” “I want to wear this dress today. Get it?” Once I figured out it didn’t mean she had tried to make a joke, it made everything make much more sense.

The non-allowance allowance experiment continues. This last week, we owed her two week’s worth, $8, and she decided to spend it on the fish-catching came that I remember from when I was a kid. Turns out, it’s pretty hard for her so she quickly forbid Matt and I from playing and chose to play it by herself for quite awhile the day she got it. I need to encourage her to try again so she doesn’t forget about it entirely. Maybe we’ll even be allowed to play with her again.

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On Thursday night, I took her out for a special “date” so she could have extra time with me before I was gone for the weekend. (More on that later.) The original plan was to wander around the toy section at Target then go to Chick-fil-a. We did wander Target very, very slowly. After she got her game, she insisted we get 1) Cheerios – “they’re for the weekend” and 2) crazy-shaped Annie’s boxed mac and cheese. I will admit I pushed her to the mac and cheese rather than going out as I’d had Chick-fil-a for lunch and it was going to start pouring soon.

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(Yeah, that’s her feet under a toilet stall door. She does this anytime I need to do my thing, to make sure she stays close. Very literal interpretation of “I need to be able to see your feet.” I try not to think about the fact she’s got her face pressed up against the door.)

On the Needles

Most of my week was spent knitting – then pulling out and re-knitting the Campside shawl from Alicia Plummer in Berroco Ultra Wool DK in the Heather colorway. More about what happened with the first attempt in a bit. The second attempt is going really well and I’ve only got the final pattern of eyelets then the ribbed border to go. This will be given to a coworker who enjoys a muted color palette – and is opening her house to our team to watch Spaceballs next Friday.

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I’ve also made a tiny bit of progress on the Vestigial socks in Neighborhood Fiber Company Studio Sock in the Parkland colorway. I like the pattern plenty but haven’t been in much of a sock mood. These will be my on-the-go project next week so I can make some real progress towards completion. The recipient lives here so obvious doesn’t need them for quite awhile but I hate having something hanging over me like this. (I’ll post a pic next week.)

Adventures and Discoveries

Yesterday, we went to DC for the first time in months to see a special exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. Lizzie was very impatient on the walk from Archives to the museum but happily walked through the exhibit with Matt on Dutch paintings of watercraft. (I stayed in the courtyard and knit on the socks in peace.) We were all very hungry at that point, so we went to b DC, a burger place. Lizzie didn’t eat almost any of her mac and cheese, but Matt and I really enjoyed our burgers and sides (tater tots for me, truffle fries for him). She really wanted to see the butterfly exhibit at the National History Museum but the line to get in was, no kidding, two blocks long. Guess everyone else was happy to finally be out of the house, too. Amd, you know, tourists. We promised her we’d get back to see them in the fall. I, of course, was too busy sweating and avoiding people to take any photos.

 

Oye. Ugh. Sigh.

Several things didn’t go so great this week.

My trip to Cleveland for a friend’s baby shower got cancelled due to a traffic control issue and no available flights that would get me there in time. I got a refund and immediately spent the money on a new watch and sock yarn from Miss Babs. Thankfully, I found out hours before I went to the airport and the United folks were great in trying to help me fix things.

It rained almost all week. Lots and lots and lots of rain. The immediate issues of cabin fever, getting soaked, and needing to carry an umbrella everywhere were easily dealt with. Harder was the water that came into our basement and wet our carpet when the outside drain was clogged with dirt. Thankfully, our cleaning lady discovered it after a few hours so we were able to unclog the drain, get the water up with a shop vac, and finish drying it out with a fan pretty quickly.

And I pulled a very Angela move at one point and left my badge inside my work area when I went out of it to use the restroom. Thankfully, someone was coming out very soon after who went and got my badge from my desk for me. I almost never take the thing off, too.

 

A Better Me

This was week two of my combination Weight Watchers restart and gluten, dairy, and soy elimination diet. Almost no headaches, at last! No real signs of improvement, health-wise but it’s only two weeks in. Lost 3.6 pounds since last Sunday. Had some issues actually eating enough points; turns out most of my points before were eating all the cheese and bread. This whole thing resulted in a few great culinary discoveries: almond-milk lattes, spicy eggplant dip, rediscovery of yumminess of Mojo chicken on the grill, Wegmans chicken tortilla soup.

 

On Tap

  • Kid’s birthday party at the community pool
  • DC Pen Show,
  • Likely shawl FO and Vestigial socks FO

 

Have a great week!

Saga of the Dry Eye

Last June, I woke up one morning with my left eye so swollen I could barely open it. Because I don’t think straight sometimes, I went into work after taking some Advil and applying a cool compress until it didn’t hurt quite so bad. (Don’t worry – my boss sent me straight home after a pretty serious lecture about not coming into work when sick, particularly with pink eye.)

Like a good girl, I went to my primary care doctor as soon as I could get an appointment. He checked out my eyes, deemed it likely to be pink eye, gave me a sample of an antibiotic eye drop, and told me to come back the next week if it was still bugging me.

Well, it still was, so I went back. While I could open both of my eyes all the way by then, there were now both red, itchy, and irritated. His nurse practitioner gave me a different antibiotic and an Rx for a steroid eye drop. I picked it up and it made my eyes feel much better, so I stopped after a week, as I was told to do.

And they got bad again. Much worse, even. You know that feeling when you keep your contacts in then go to sleep or pull an all-nighter? Burny, super dry.

My doctor sent me to an eye doctor, who I literally chose at random based on taking my health insurance and being able to see my ASAP. (My one eye doctor is only a specialist in Strabismus and my former, general eye doctor had retired.)

After doing some odd tests – like putting in drops, putting a test strip covered in yellow dye on my eye, then using a super bright blue light to look reallyyyyy close, I had a diagnosis: Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (or MGD, which is far easier to spit out). Basically, the oil glands in my eye don’t like to clear themselves out, so my eyes just dry up. Yeah, you have oil glands in your eyelids – one on top and one on the bottom.

The treatment was easy: lay off the steroid drops, use preservative-free eye drops as often as I could throughout the day, use preservative-free eye gel before bed, and use a heated mask at least every few days.

Sounds easy, but, ugh, I’m not so great with remembering, even when doing the treatments really helps.

I went back, this time to a different doctor in the same office, six months later and the verdict was that my eyes were still pretty jacked up. They were so dry I was actually about to get leisons on my eye itself. Yeap, not good.

A new treatment was given, and it wasn’t so easy: keep up with the drops/gel and mask, but add in a low-dose of antibiotic, fish oil pills, a steroid eye drop, and an antibiotic eye drop. Eventually, the list got reduced to pull the two special drops by add in the really special – and super pricey – Restasis.

All this and my doctor has no idea what causes my eye issues, just that I can sort of make them OK when I’m really good at keeping up with my treatment. A bunch of blood tests were ordered to see if I had any of the things which can cause dry eye – of which there are MANY – and two tests came back out of range. Two tests I’m now waiting to meet with a specialist about. Two tests which are often out of range for otherwise healthy people, or which could be a sign of something major.

I’ll be over here, with my hoard of eye drops and blood-shot eyes, trying to remain calm.