** Warning! Pictures of my incisions below **
I am two and a half weeks out from my second laparoscopic surgery (4th surgery overall) and I figured I’d share my top tips for recovery and healing from surgery.
One of the things I have known from previous surgeries is that I don’t handle anesthesia very well – like at all. I had my deteriorating gallbladder removed two years ago, and ended up having to get admitted because I was unable to keep anything down and was in so much pain they couldn’t get a handle on it. So when I went in to have my right ovary removed two and a half weeks ago, I made sure to explain to the anesthesiologist that I needed all the anti-nausea meds they could give me.
First, let’s talk through what typically happens in the week before and day of surgery. You will typically have a pre-op appointment with your surgeon or doctor, then either the same day or another day, usually at the location of your surgery, you will have blood drawn, and sign a whole bunch of paperwork for surgery. Day of surgery, depending on the time of your surgery, you will be cut off with food at midnight the night before, then roughly 5-4 hours before, you will be told to stop drinking everything. I was allowed to take a few sips of water to take my thyroid medication and my Zoloft, but that was it until after surgery. When I showed up to the hospital, I brought along an overnight bag just in case, even though my surgery was technically outpatient. Think bare minimum. If you do get admitted, you will not be up to doing your normal night time routine (if you have one) and I can guarantee that you won’t be up to wearing many of your own clothes.
You’ll get your weight done (this is an important step for anesthesia), leave a urine sample, and get an IV started. I always prefer an IV in my left hand so it doesn’t get pinched in my elbow, or get in the way of my dominant hand. The IV will start a drip of saline, and you’ll get anti-nausea, pain meds, and antibiotics through your IV as well. Then it’s settle and wait for everyone to come see you. The anesthesiologist will come see you and go over everything with you and any concerns you have, then the head nurse for the OR will come, and once you see your surgeon, that means you’ll be wheeled back within minutes of them leaving. When I had my gallbladder taken out, I remember everything up to being strapped down and getting cozy on the operating table. Then everything goes black. For this surgery, I remember being wheeled out of my pre-op room, and then everything peacefully and happily fades. I’m not entirely sure what they gave me, but my awesome pre-op nurse called it happy juice. It kicked in within minutes of her pushing it into my IV, and boy do I much prefer that way of heading back to surgery than being fully aware.
Now waking up in recovery is always going to feel weird. I can’t remember the moment I actually woke up this time around, but I do remember I was just suddenly awake. SUPER groggy, but not nauseated or in pain at all. Which was so incredibly relieving. I could barely keep my eyes open, but I felt amazing. I credit that solely to my anesthesiologist getting the drugs balanced correctly and giving me pain meds BEFORE surgery.
Alright, on to my suggestions!
If you are nausea prone, then I highly recommend talking with the anesthesiologist about getting those anti-nausea meds. Especially if your procedure is supposed to be outpatient. I got something this time around called a Scopolamine patch. It was this little brown/tan patch that went behind my left ear. I did experience some of the side effects, such as blurry vision and headaches AFTER I took the patch off 48 hours after surgery. These side effects were so minor compared to dealing with nausea. I didn’t have any nausea at all post-surgery this time around and it was glorious! Also ask your anesthesiologist if they can give you the anesthesia through your IV instead of giving your gas. That will greatly reduce the risk of reaction and nausea post-surgery. Another note about nausea – have some instant rice or soups on hand. I wasn’t hungry for several days after surgery, but I managed to easily get down soups/broth/rice.
DO NOT SKIP A DOSE OF PAIN MEDS! Especially in the first 72 hours after surgery. You typically get an IV dose of pain meds while you’re still in the OR (Operating Room), so if you do get to go home after a hours in recovery, it should be time to take a dose of pain meds as soon as you get home. This surgery I took Aleve and Percocet together. Percocet every 6 hours, Aleve every 12 hours. I know from experience I can’t handle prolonged doses of Ibuprofen, and Tylenol does next to nothing for me. Ask your doctor for their best recommendation for pain meds, and then seriously, stick with a schedule. If you fall behind on doses, it will be very hard to catch back up and you will be in a lot of pain.
Okay, so during surgery you will have a breathing tube down your throat. This is a given for any surgery you’re fully under for. The nice thing is that you typically never even know you have a tube down your throat…caveat for those who scarily wake up during surgery. The downside to this is a scratchy throat and cough for a few days to a week after surgery. If you’re having any sort of abdominal surgery, this is going to kill and you’ll feel like any cough or aggressive clearing of your throat is going to rip your stitches out. Have 12 hour cough syrup on hand, and a whole bowl of throat/cough drops next to your bed or wherever you are going to sit yourself when you get home. Also, have a blanket or small pillow you can hold over your incision whenever you do cough or blow your nose or sneeze 6 times in a row like I did. My youngest kindly gave me his cold after surgery so I was sneezing and blowing me nose a lot and man that hurt. Another suggestion I have is get a bottle of 100% pure pineapple juice. I had big glasses of pineapple juice and ginger ale mixed together. Pineapple is very soothing to your throat and it tastes good, win win!
Shoulder Pain/Gas/The big “C”
This mainly is helpful for anyone having an abdominal laparoscopic surgery. For that kind of surgery, anything to do with any of your organs, your abdomen is pumped full of gas. It is very easy for that gas to get stuck in pockets after surgery and this typically manifests itself as major RIGHT shoulder pain and neck pain. After my gallbladder surgery I couldn’t lie on my right side for a whole week because every time I tried to lie down I’d almost black out from how sharp the pain was. So I was prepared after this surgery. Get a bottle prior to surgery of ULTRA or EXTRA strength GasX pills or a store brand. And take those almost like candy. I took them every time I took pain meds and I only had a few twinges of shoulder pain for the first 36ish hours. Stay on top of those, and also ask your surgeon if they get as much of the gas out before closing up. Apparently this is thing as my surgeon said she’s rather anal about making sure to get out as much of the gas as she can before closing incisions. Next, get some Icy/Hot cream or Arnica gel, or Salonpas patches. And make sure to have a heating pad on hand as well!! These things will help shoulder and neck pain if you can’t get on top of the gas pain with the GasX. Okay, now this is VERY important. Make sure to have a bottle of stool softener on hand too. Any time you take heavy duty pain meds, constipation always shows up. Take a stool softener as often as you can, and keep taking it until you’re no longer take the heavy pain meds. Another thing to keep on hand are some probiotics. Because of all of the antibiotics they’ll pump in for surgery, it’s a good idea to combat them and keep your gut healthy by taking an actual probiotic (link for my favorite down below).
This again is probably more helpful for those having abdominal surgery, but make sure to have loose fitting sweats or yoga pants to wear home from surgery. Or even better, a maxi or swing dress (here are links for my two favorites: one and two). After my breast biopsy/lumpectomy ten years ago, I wore sports bras for a few days, but went braless whenever I could. For abdominal surgery, high-waisted leggings that don’t rub on your incisions are helpful; tunics, and comfy nightgowns were all my go to’s as well. Plan to stay in bed for a few days, just to let your body rest. It is easy to overdo it, especially if you feel good. Take. It. Easy. Even being two and a half weeks out from my own surgery, I am still needing to take it easy. Lots of leggings and yoga pants still.
As long as your incision are glued shut/steri-stripped shut, you should be good to take a shower within 24 hours of surgery. I had to wait like 50 hours after my c-section to take a shower, but that was because I had a 48 hour pain pump attached to my incision and I couldn’t take a shower until that came out. Make sure to ask, or have your partner or who ever is with you and takes you home after surgery ask when you get discharged. I waited until the steri-strips came off about 5 days post surgery and then another 4 days after that before I took a bath. If your incision still have scabs, I’d say wait until those have completely fallen off before taking a bath.
Before I wrap this post up, here are pictures of my three incisions. When I had my gallbladder surgery, it was only one incision in my belly button, but I can’t say I minded having three tiny incisions. I did get some geranium oil (I got this one) which is supposed to be good for healing scars and incision. It has a sort of strong floral/greenery scent. But I swear putting a tiny bit on each incision (AFTER every bit of scab had fallen off) has helped especially with the bruising and tenderness of each incision. Vitamin E oil is good for incisions too, but I’ve always been pretty lax about remembering to put some on my incisions.
List of supplies for post-surgery care
GasX or store brand equivalent (extra or ultra strength is the best!)
Throat Drops (I used these)
Salonpas patches (I use these I did get some bigger patches, but didn’t end up using them)
Arnicagel (I use this one)
Probiotics (I use these I did see these at Costco so when I run out, I’m going to get those instead)
Wide waist/loose waist yoga pants
High-waisted leggings (favorite leggings!)
Swing/Maxi dresses (I like this one)
Comfortable loose nightgowns (it’s uncomfortable to have waistbands rubbing against healing incisions)
Small pillow/blanket to hold against your incisions
Instant rice mixes (they were still gentle on my stomach, but tasted good)
Applesauce for if you really don’t feel like eating
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