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.

 

 

Week in Review: August 12-18, 2018

This week flew by, yet also managed to crawl along. Matt was on call (ugh) and I had a few bad days and a bunch of good days in there, too. Let’s get started.

Life of Lizzie

Poor kid didn’t get to go to the pool until Saturday, as it was too hot or I wasn’t feeling well enough to take her or Matt got paged or…something. We went last night, right after dinner and enjoyed the empty pool and lack of direct sunlight.

She went back to the eye doctor for one of her regular appointments and her eyes are really not working together, markedly so from her last visit. This means it’s back to patching her eye, an hour each weekday. Thankfully, I never tossed out the old box of patches AND she’s finally old enough to realize we’re not torturing her, by trying to help her. Patching her right after school has been the ticket.

All week, she’s brought up things she’s looking forward to, over and over. My birthday trip to Florida. Going to Italy. Halloween. Her birthday party – to which she has said she only wants girls there and it’s going to be My Little Pony themed. Asking when it’s going to snow and if she has to go to school when it snows. Guess she’s tired of summer?

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(Sporting some shades I got her from the Target dollar area…and a ton of dirt from playing outside.)

On the Needles

I started and got a little bit into another Sockhead Hat for my neighbor in Socks That Rock Lightweight in Island in the Sky. This was my at-work project all week, though you can see how busy my week was by how little I got done on it.

I pulled out the progress I had made – little as it was – on the dark purple shawl and started it again as another Riparian Entertainment, one of my favorite lacy cowls. I brought it in to show it to the recipient, a coworker, and she loved it.

Not much progress, overall, as it’s been quite humid and I haven’t felt like knitting other than here and there. And the knitting is all away at the moment, so no pretty yarny photos this week.

Fabric Stabbing

After months away from it, I started back on cross stitch project. It’s great for when it’s too humid to knit. I played around with a few things, but eventually settled on this rainbow mandala I had previously started. If I can get it done in time, this will be part of the goodbye gift to Lizzie’s preschool teacher; Lizzie’s been under her care since she was a year old, so it’s a big deal. (I also got her a pound of excellent coffee because, well, she’s had to deal my kid for 3+ years.)

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Discoveries

Brazilian steakhouses are pretty good, even if you’re like me and don’t eat a ton of meat at a time. I went with friends on Friday night and really enjoyed myself. If it wasn’t the same price for just the salad bar and the salad bar plus all-you-can-eat-meat, I would have been very happy with only the salad bar. (Yay for DC Metropolitan Area Restaurant Week!) Also, need to remember they have free valet at that particular location so there’s no need to pay $5 to park in the garage down the street.

The Cara app for tracking symptoms, sleep, food, medication, and a bunch of other things. It helps you to figure out what may be causing your issues or, at least, what may be related. I came across it on a blog about Crohn’s and it’s been very helpful. It’s free, too.

The Great Interior Design Challenge on Netflix. Competition show out of the UK that’s just what it sounds like. Everyone’s pleasant, the settings are lovely, and the designs are varied and fun.

Oye. Ugh. Sigh.

Humidity. Crazy-high humidity. How did I ever survive, growing up in South Florida?

Inability to sleep on steroids which I fully expected but is not my most favorite thing to deal with.

Finding out the medication my doctor had prescribed was extremely expensive. Lots of fretting lead to my deciding to get it, anyway. I was in so dang much pain that day, my cheapness lost out. (I was saved by his having a stock of samples of an alternative for me to try and an odd lack of traffic – at 4 pm! – to get back over there after having already left the area to get the meds from a pharmacy by my house.)

A Better Me

I had a pretty good week, health-wise. I saw my primary care doctor on Monday for a quick chat. His first words to me: “You got our call about the CT results? Kinda scary, huh? But we’ve got this.” Saw my GI doctor on Tuesday, the day I was the worst pain all week. I’ve stepped down my Prednisone dose and added an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory to the mix. I was also given pain meds, should I need them. Looking at the Cara app – I had 3 bad days, 3 good days, and 1 OK day. And that’s judging them relative to feeling totally normal, so quite a lot better than the week prior, where I went from feeling like death to feeling like maybe I was actually already dead. Or..something.

On Tap

  • Back to GI doc to see how the meds helped and figure out when I’ll start more specific testing to see the severity of what’s going on
  • Finishing that hat? Or maybe a shawl? Or the mandala?