Two of my friends recently had surgery, and as I was giving them a lot of unsolicited advice, I realized I should probably write it down so others might be able to learn from my experience too.
***Standard disclaimer: Obviously, I am NOT a doctor and you should do what your doctor says. These are just things I’ve learned from my own experience and the experiences of those close to me***
My first surgery was outpatient, the kind where they put you under, but you get to go home that night, which is likely the kind of surgery most people get. My second was inpatient, where I stayed in the hospital for several days afterward, and had my pain, medication and wounds cared for my hospital staff afterwards. The following advice applies to after you are discharged and are off on your own to fend for yourself with your newly-wounded body.
Prevent issues with anesthesia recovery. After my first surgery, I apparently had a really hard time coming out of anesthesia. Lots of vomiting and other lovely things. Happily, I don’t remember a bit of it, but poor Peter and my mom do. For the next surgery, we told my anesthesiologist about this and they were able to give me some anti-nausea meds with the anesthesia that apparently worked like a charm. In fact, one of the nurses told me that some doctors prescribe those kinds of drugs as a matter of routine to prevent any issues. So you may want to talk to the nurses/doctors in the surgical prep area before your surgery (like, right before) to see what options you might have. And if you’ve ever had any issues with recovery from anesthesia, DEFINITELY tell them!
Stay ahead of the pain. This is something you’ll hear over and over again from nurses. At it’s most basic, this means don’t wait until you hurt a lot to take your painkillers. If you wait that long, the medication will need time to work, and during that time, your pain will just get worse and you’ll need more medication to bring it back under control. The best thing to do is follow the recommendations you get at discharge for what medications to take and how often. Often there will be a time range, like “every 4-6 hours.” Right after surgery, I usually needed to start at the earlier time, but could gradually extend how long I could go between pills.
*Caution* Vicodin is a popular and effective painkiller (it was my best friend), but it contains acetaminophen, which can damage your liver if you take too much, which is easy to do. Read the warnings carefully on your bottle if you get Vicodin, and it should tell you the max number of pills to take in 24 hours. This also means that if you need another painkiller for breakthrough pain, you should NOT choose Tylenol or anything else with acetaminophen because you could easily damage your liver.
I think I accidentally overdid it with the Vicodin the first day because taking it every 4 hours put me over the max number in 24 hours. I was really nervous when I realized that happened because I was pregnant and worried what it might have done to Emmie. But luckily, we caught it in time and I had only taken 1 or 2 too many and was able to switch to other painkillers to help extend that 4 hour window.
Basically, talk to your doctors and nurses ASAP if you are having any problems keeping your pain under control. Not every painkiller works for every person. The worst pain I had the entire time was when they tried to switch me to dilaudid, supposedly a very strong painkiller. It did *nothing* and my pain started to spiral fast. Scary! But Vicodin is magic for me 🙂
Listen to your body/Don’t overdo it. This one is hard, mostly because you don’t know where the wall is until you’ve hit it. Depending on your surgery, body, situation, etc. etc., you should start to feel a bit better every day. There may come a day when you’re like, “Yes! I feel great! We should totally go to the store/take a walk/move some furniture.” And then you do and maybe you last 20 minutes or maybe an hour or maybe just 5 minutes and then you are DONE. You feel like you need to lay down and take a nap wherever you are. At that point, you need to get home and REST. You’ve found your wall.
This was me for a good 3-4 weeks after my parotidectomy/radical neck dissection surgery, but even after my first surgery (outpatient wide local excision (WLE) with skin graft), I didn’t make it back to work until a week later, and even then I was pretty tired. Of course, I have no idea how much being pregnant changed things for me, but I know I would have been tired no matter what.
If you have a friend who has recently had surgery, know that EVERYTHING is exhausting. Even visiting with a dear friend you love. So the best thing to do is be mindful, keep your visit short (especially if the surgery was recent), and excuse yourself, because your friend may not even realize how tiring visits can be until you’ve left.
Of course, these are just guidelines and my suggestions, so take them for what they are worth!
What other suggestions do you have for those recovery from surgery?
Such good advice, Shannon! My anesthesiologist prescribed antinausea meds after a precedure I had and it was FABULOUS! The side effects are not so fabulous but you can treat them easily enough. Being good to yourself during difficult times can be so hard but it's worth it in the end 🙂
Shannon, your note to friends of those recovering is excellent. It's wonderful to have friends who really want to help, but it can be difficult to tell them that sometimes the best way to help is to give space, or to just be patient with lack of contact (e.g., delayed responses to email or phone calls.) Sometimes just good thoughts and love are the best kinds of help, even if that feels dissatisfying to the helpers!