Despite my best efforts, unfortunately I’m no stranger to injury and injury related surgery. In my *almost* 32 years on this planet, I’ve been told my injury list reads like that of a 75 year old and I’ve had, as of yesterday, 6 surgical procedures. All bar one of those operations have been in the last 12 years. Through my own experiences, I’ve found a few things that have really helped me both before and after surgery. Now remember, I’m not a doctor, these are just my personal experiences and how they’ve worked for me.
Find Your Support Network
Firstly, you will usually be required to have a chaperone take you home from hospital, and that’s non-negotiable if you’ve had a full anaesthetic. Arrange this early on with someone you trust and who you are really comfortable with. You are going to be in the dozy post-anaesthetic phase, possibly feeling nauseous, in pain, and wanting to sleep or cry….or both. I’ve always gone to my Mum’s after each of my surgeries, there’s nothing better than Mum time, but whoever you choose, prepare them for a grumpy, soggy, cloudy version of you, possibly high on morphine as well.
Going back to before the surgery, it’s not required but you might want someone in hospital with you beforehand as well. My arrival time for this week’s surgery is an eye-watering 6am, but I know from experience that I won’t be taken into the operating theatre until at least 8am or 9am. Why so early? You might ask. Well there are potentially lots of people on the surgeon’s list that day, they all need their observations, a chat with the anaesthetist, a final check in with the surgeon, after-care explained (remember the post-anaesthetic brain fog), and to generally get comfortable. It can be a long, anxious wait, and unless you’re in a private hospital, you could be in a ward full of other people waiting too. Having someone with you to chat with will pass the time, and calm your nerves. I’m lucky enough to be having this done privately, meaning I have my own room with a TV, but company before the op will still be a welcome distraction.
After surgery, depending on what it is of course, you might need help at home with cooking, cleaning and maybe even showing and dressing. Grab your support network; friends, partner, colleagues, flatmates, those who you’re comfortable with, and ask them to be around in case you need anything. Don’t be afraid, don’t sit in pain, hungry and embarrassed to ask for their help. This is a time where you cannot do everything for yourself, despite being Miss Independent, especially if doing too much might hinder your recovery.
Most likely you’ll have planned all the technical things with your surgeon beforehand, but there are a few things I’ve found to be really helpful when I’m not so mobile and not so able to do things for myself.
Bulk cook food – Having a hearty chilli, bolognese, chicken stew or soup in the freezer is such a good idea. For the days when you perhaps can’t call on someone to help you, or you simply haven’t got anything to cook, popping a pre-prepared meal in the microwave is going to be a lifesaver. When your body is healing and recovering you need to be well nourished.
Clean the house – If you’re going to be on crutches, then you can’t be tripping over junk in the hallway or that pile of clothes at the end of your bed. If you can have a good tidy up before the day of the operation, and if your injury prevents you from doing that, then maybe treat yourself to a professional clean. Alternately, remember your support network? Pick the most ‘Monica-like’ and ask them to help.
Do your laundry – Bed sheets, clothes, dressing gown, towels. There’s nothing nicer than clean sheets when you’re not quite feeling yourself, so having all that done for when you return home will be so comforting. The same applies for your favourite pyjamas, and your comfy clothes. You’ll likely be living in these for a few days, if not more, so make sure they’re clean and ready.
The thing I’m most worried about is the general anaesthetic. I don’t like being put to sleep, not having control and going into this empty dreamland. I’ve also had bad reactions upon waking before which make me more anxious about the aftermath. On the flip-side of that, having a local anaesthetic isn’t my cup of tea either, so I’m not sure which I’d rather.
I’ve been practising some breathing techniques to help me cope with the nerves before surgery, and at the moment of being put under anaesthetic. Also, my therapist suggest a little mindfulness and visualisation as well, to help calm my head on the morning of.
Take deep breaths – The more anxious we’re feeling, the more shallow our breathing becomes. Taking three deep breaths can help to settle nerves, filling the lungs with oxygen and calming the parasympathetic nervous system. Think of breathing in for 4 counts, and breathing out for 6 or 8.
Visualise your happy place – pick a place where you have always felt calm and happy. That could be your bed, childhood home, a bath, or holiday spot. Mine is my favourite beach near my Dad’s house in Portugal listening to the waves crashing. Just as the anaesthetist starts preparing to send you to sleep, have this image firmly in your head and you’ll be in that happy place for the whole time you’re under.
Don’t Rush Recovery
This is one I really have to pay attention to myself. Listen to the doctors, physiotherapists and specialists when they tell you to rest, and recuperate. Don’t wait until you’re in excruciating pain to take your painkillers, and admit to yourself that you’ll have to rest for a while. The effects of the anaesthetic can be long lasting in some cases, and feeling groggy, emotional and weak comes hand in hand with that. It can feel very frustrating, but know that it’s only temporary.
Now I’m back home with my Mum and enjoying some R&R, I can see how each of the points above helped me through the operation. I’m looking forward to getting back to my flat in a few days because I’ve got lots of food prepped, clean towels and a tidy house all ready and waiting for me. I’ve got lots of friends offering to pop over for company and food, and the cat is always on hand for a hug. My recovery will be slow and steady, but if I am good with my physiotherapy exercises, don’t rush things and look after myself, I’ll be back on my feet in no time!