So this post is about a year old, maybe more, but seeing as my old blog is officially dead and buried, I thought it warranted sharing again. The point of it is to help others going in for surgery based on my experience.
December 2014 marks the month I went in for a laparoscopic cystectomy. It was a out-patient procedure (aka no overnight stay) to remove cysts from my ovaries (one had actually disappeared on its own, finally, by the time the surgeon got in there, but he was still thorough).
At the time, I was told it was a fairly basic procedure (and it is, in a way), and some medical websites/articles said I’d be back on my feet in a few days.
LIES. FALSE. Please don’t believe any of that. Everyone recovers at their own pace. I took two weeks off from work and I wish I’d taken three. The first week my Man still needed to help me on and off the toilet because I couldn’t lift myself. So. Keep that in mind.
So, here’s the post I wrote a month after my surgery. Hope it’s helpful for anyone facing a similar situation in the near future!
One Month After Surgery: Tips and Tricks
Today is the first day in almost a month that I can say I’m not in pain, and I’m ecstatic.
December 9th marks the date I had my first surgery as a fully functioning adult. When I was young, I had two surgeries to get tubes put in my ears due to chronic ear infections, so while I went into the OR having some vague sense of understanding about how everything worked, I can’t say I was a seasoned pro at it.
I was initially going to write this post two weeks after surgery. I wanted it to be something that other women can read when they go in for an exploratory laparoscopy, or ovarian cystectomy (which is what I had done), because I found solace in reading about other women’s experiences while I was recovering. At the time, it was nice to know I wasn’t going crazy or being a big baby.
However, two weeks after surgery, I was still heavily in the “recovery” stage, even though my surgery went swimmingly and I am totally endometriosis free. I read so many horror stories during recovery too, about complications and post-op infections and agonizing pain, so I consider myself fairly lucky that, over all, things went as good as they did.
But let’s not kid ourselves: recovering from this “minor surgery” isn’t fun. Here’s some of the tips and tricks that I walked away with, and some suggestions for anyone heading in to this kind of surgery in the near future.
Make a lot of meals beforehand. I spent two days making and freezing soups, and it was worth it. While I was recovering, I didn’t want to eat anything too heavy, and soups hit the spot. Plus they were easy for my man to take out of the freezer and heat up, which took some of the stress off him.
Get your house spick and span. We sort of accomplished that over here, minus the full bathroom, which was in its usual not so great shape. The first time I showered post-surgery was awful, and I was so upset stepping out into a messy bathroom with all my incisions and whatnot. You’ll feel much better in a clean house, I promise.
Book one week extra off from work/school/whatever. If your doctor tells you that you’ll need a week to recover, take two. Doctors, while well-meaning and obviously educated, seem to think this was just a casual procedure that needed a few days of downtime. Not in my experience—at all. Take as much time off as you need to feel good again. If you book off more time than necessary, that’s fine, because then you can head back in early and everyone will think you’re a champ.
Stock up on the necessities. Pads, heat packs, water bottles, blankets, loose underwear, gas-relief meds, the works. Get it all ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about it while you’re weeping and loopy on painkillers.
On the Day of Surgery:
If you have long hair, braid it. I left mine in a bun, which was fine, but I also didn’t shower or want to deal with my hair for a few days after surgery. My hair then turned into the biggest, knottiest mess I have ever dealt with, and it was just… awful. So, long-haired friends: braid. that. shit.
Make sure someone is there with you. You’ll be really nervous, even if you act calm, cool, and collected. It’s nice to just have someone to talk to while you get prepped and are waiting to be wheeled into the off-limits area of the hospital. Plus they can ask any questions you might forget. It’s also good to know someone will be waiting for you when you get out.
Wear the comfiest of comfy clothes. I wore a bando instead of a bra. Just do it. You’ll thank yourself when you have to awkwardly dress yourself post-surgery. Also, slip-on shoes, even if it’s winter. My surgery was in December, and you can bet your ass I was wearing flats. There’s no way you are bending down to force your foot in a shoe.
Relax. I know it’s tough, but all the medical personnel know what they are doing. Even if they are abrupt and seem like they don’t care, they do. You’re in good hands at any hospital you go to—theoretically, anyway.
Immediately after Surgery:
Don’t lie about the pain. Or do. But don’t downplay it. The first time you wake up, they will ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1-10. I was basically crying and couldn’t speak, so I immediately said a 5. You will get pain meds ASAP if you rate it anything higher than a 4, so don’t be “tough” and rate lower than you actually feel. Take the meds.
Don’t stress if you can’t pee. Some places won’t let you leave until you go to the bathroom, but you know what, sometimes it just isn’t happening. Don’t panic. You’ll be fine, and things will go a lot smoother when you get home.
Sleep as soon as you get home. Your body heals best when you sleep, and this will be the only time that you’re so doped up on pain meds that snuggling under the covers won’t feel horrible. I couldn’t fall asleep, and I regret every second of it.
Recovery Periods (1-3 weeks post-op):
Make your appointment with your surgeon for a check-up. They say between 2 and 6 weeks after your surgery you’ll need to see your surgeon, so if you’re feeling up to it, make the call the next day. It’s easy to forget that stuff while you’re beached on a couch.
Little walks help. But don’t beat yourself up if a little walk is just between two couches. It’ll help move the leftover gasses in your system around.
Sleep with something hot. I have a little bean-bag thing that you can microwave, and I desperately needed that the first four days to fall asleep because the gas pains were so bad. They use gas to bloat your abdomen during the operation, and after the remainders will try to leave your system—and that causes horrible shoulder pain. Don’t tough it out. Take your meds. Sleep with something hot. It’ll pass in a few days, but in the meantime, know that it sucks.
Waking, bending, and standing up are basically not going to happen. Don’t feel bad. I had to be helped out of bed, off the couch, and onto the toilet for probably the first five days post-op, and I hated it. The person in your life who helps with that is a fucking hero, because their backs are going to be sore hauling you around. Every day will get easier, but if you’re a big wuss like me, you’ll probably just lay around a lot. It’ll be a slow recovery, and don’t expect to be walking at your normal, brisk pace for about two weeks.
Be in touch with your boss. Mine was really happy to hear how I was doing, even if it was just so he knew when I might be coming back to work. They like to be kept in the loop about these things, and it shows that you’re making an effort to include them. Most of the time. I mean, your boss may be a total asshole, so this may not apply.
Research the side effects of your pain medication. Tylenol 3s make me vomit, so I was given tramadol instead. It did the job, but when I was sort of ready to try to get back online, I went through horrible dizzy spells. I thought something was wrong with me, and then discovered that, yes, this is a shitty side effect. It helps to know in advance what you can expect from the drugs you’re taking.
Read other people’s stories. While I was couch-ridden and marathoning episodes of Chopped, I found reading accounts from other women to be immensely helpful. Even if they were stories about pain and complications, it made me feel a little better, in a weird way, to know that I wasn’t alone. When I was still struggling to get off the couch at almost two weeks post-op, it was comforting to know other women were too.
Prepare activities to keep your busy. I had a full mental breakdown, ugly tears and all, about six days after surgery because I was so bored. We’d basically just been marathoning TV shows all the time. I didn’t feel like reading. I couldn’t put my laptop on me because I couldn’t sit up very well. And I was so incredibly bored. Prepare yourself for that. Make a list of things that you can do that don’t involve a lot of physical or mental stamina on your part. Maybe break up the day with half TV shows and half card games or reading or being read to. It’ll make a difference.
Pets need to know their boundaries. My kitten is such a snuggle bug, but she was way too up in my grill some days. Even now, she always manages to press her little foot down on my incisions when she walks across my abdomen—every single time. If you live with someone, make sure they keep the pets at bay. They know you’re feeling crappy and they’ll want to snuggle, but you need some time to not have little critters walking on you. If you live alone, consider sending your babies to a friend’s house for a week. It’ll be tough not having them there, but then you don’t have to worry about cleaning up after them or feeding them—because I guarantee you won’t feel like it.
Take it slow. Don’t plan a full day of things to do the first time you’re feeling better. I promise you’ll make it halfway through the first activity and want to crawl back into bed. Your body has gone through a lot, and it needs a chance to recuperate from all that stress. Try one errand, one chore, one outing, then take a day or so to recover.
Don’t vacuum. It’s a core-intensive chore, and it’ll hurt. I promise.
Now, everyone will recover at different rates. I remember reading about one woman who went grocery shopping the day after surgery, which blew my mind, while others took six weeks off from work. Everyone handles recovery at their own pace, and don’t feel bad or guilty about how long or how little time you need to start feeling better again. Like I said, today is the first day, January 7th, that I feel almost no pain at all. Nearly a month later. Not a few days like the doctors said. A month. And I had no complications.
I hope this is helpful to anyone going into a laparoscopy (for endometriosis or otherwise) or a cystectomy at some point in their life. I know for me, reading other experiences helped tremendously while I was feeling blue, so hopefully me sharing my experience can do the same for someone else.
So that was me probably a year ago. A year on, I’m relatively pain free aside from the occasional twinge here and there. My lower abdomen never quite got back to pre-surgery size, aka it ballooned and didn’t go back down, but I blame that on myself for not doing anything about it.
All I can say now is that I know it’s terrifying, but you will absolutely get through the procedure. There are a lot, a lot, of horror stories online of people getting infections and other nasty things, or losing an ovary, or whatever tragic event occurred. Don’t get swept up into those. Be empathetic, but don’t let the fear get you.
You’re going to kick this surgery’s ass.
Have a story to share? Let me know in the comments!