Thoughtful Details for Post-Surgery Recovery
October 13, 2010 10:23 AM   Subscribe

What sorts of things made your surgery recovery period more comfortable? My partner is undergoing laparoscopic surgery to have her gallbladder removed soon. Help me make a list of some things I can do to take better care of her and make her life easier as she recovers.

As far as surgeries go, I'm told this one is pretty minor with a speedy recovery time, around a week or so. I'm taking time off work to help her out. I'm looking for advice with situations that her doctors didn't prepare us for. For example, if she finds it difficult to walk up the stairs to our apartment, what are some ways to make that easier? Or, should I get the bathtub extra clean in case she won't be able to stand long enough to take a shower?

I'd also love advice about thoughtful details, like, "It really helped ease my mind to come home to the smell of cookies baking in the oven after my surgery", or "My girlfriend vacuumed like crazy so that the couch I was to inhabit for a week wasn't covered in cat hair".

Possibly relevant: We're in Chicago. We might be housebound for around 5-7 days, which is tough for us because we like to get out of the house and explore the city. I love cooking and she loves it when I cook or bake for her. We usually go to the gym every other day and she's annoyed we won't be able to do that.

Personal stories from your surgical recovery period are absolutely welcome.
posted by Lieber Frau to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Cleaning the bathtub is a great idea because sometimes in recovery you're just too tired to bother with a shower, but sitting in the bath is nice. Keeping up on the recovering person's housework is always helpful. Other than that, the biggest challenge to recovering from minor surgery is boredom since the recoverer will probably be sitting at home more than usual. Make sure their stereo / tv / computer / books / game system or whatever they like are easy for them to access and maybe surprise them with a new album / podcast / dvd / game / book / stack o magazines etc.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:31 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I had this surgery, one thing we didn't anticipate was how much better I *thought* I felt before I was actually better. I got really stir-crazy being at home and wanted to go out and do stuff, and got pooped really quickly. If you could arrange some short outings with limited physical requirements (even walking through the grocery store was too much), that might help her from feeling too cooped up.
posted by ferociouskitty at 10:40 AM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I has some minor surgery a few years ago and was kind of nauseous from the anesthetic (general). I remember jello and saltines going down pretty well that first day. Bendy straws are good to have too.

I'm trying to remember what else, but what I really remember is the person who was there and the fact they spent the first couple days with me and were available. The fact that you are there for your partner is 95% of it.
posted by marxchivist at 10:41 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had surgery, and here's what was great for me:

A subscription to a cleaning service was a godsend. Having available some light, easy-to-prepare food (I say light because the first day or so after surgery a heavy meal can upset the stomach). A portable DVD player and some DVDs to watch in bed. Easy-to-read paperbacks or books loaded on an Ipad or Kindle. Clean sheets on the bed before the patient gets home, and lots and lots of extra pillows.

If the person has a pet, feed the pet, walk it (if it's a dog) or scoop its litterbox (if a cat).

After both my surgeries, there was the post-anesthetic wooziness PLUS the fact that they gave me enough Fentanyl to knock a horse out, so I did have to be helped up the stairs. I found it so wonderful to have a "nest" all waiting for me, with clean sheets, extra PJ's folded up where I could get them easily, a cup of tea, books, the aforementioned DVD player.

I have to add that I wasn't very fun company post-op, when I got home I just wanted to sleep. I was so grateful, however, that my dear friend helped me out with all the stuff I listed. Expect that when you get your friend home she'll just zonk right out.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:43 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

when I was recovering from laparoscopic surgery, mainly it was about my husband being there to help me get around (to the bathroom etc.) and to fetch and carry for me. And he explicitly said "don't feel like you are being bossy - just tell me what you need and I will do it". Otherwise I wouldn't have asked him to do so much.

Also, I had (tumor removal) surgery on a thursday and was back at work (in a lab) on the following Monday, so recovery times might be shorter than you expect.
posted by gaspode at 10:44 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I could say a lot about my personal experience with surgery, but in response to situations that doctors don't prepare one for I have this to say...
Anesthesia is a chemical process, one that profoundly affects one's existing chemical processes in more ways than simply rendering one unconscious and immune to pain.
As emotions are chemical processes, I found myself a complete wreck for a period of days after anesthesia as these chemicals slowly worked their way out of my body. Any simple stupid thing would trigger me into desperate crying.
As such my advice is to be very attentive for the first two days after to intervene and support
the emotional side of the experience, until the drugs wear off.
posted by No Shmoobles at 10:46 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Advocate for adequate pain control, or make sure that she does. I had the same procedure recently, and was prescribed a truly pathetic dose of hydrocodone/APAP for someone of my weight. I spent the first ten days after my surgery in some form of pain and slept very poorly, in spite of taking the maximum dose I was allowed per the doctor's instructions.
posted by jingzuo at 10:55 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hmm. Specific to gallbladder removal - make sure you have a thorough plan for recovery and ongoing diets. You can't really eat the same way after your gallbladder is removed - I remember my mom didn't really pay attention to that, and was pretty unhappy/uncomfortable as a result until she got it figured out. Maybe make a plan and stock up on yummy things that she *will* be able to eat so she's not as focused on the forbidden cookies and such?
posted by peachfuzz at 10:56 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was given a Furby as a get-well-soon present for my laparoscopic gallbladder removal many years ago. I do not recommend it. MEEEEEEEE POOOON CHAI!

I mostly recall having a hard time getting up from a lying position because my stomach muscles were weakened and in pain from being cut through. The technique I used was rolling over off the couch and onto my knees so I could use my legs and arms to get me standing instead of using my abs.

My mom came to stay with me, and I was glad she did, because I lived alone at the time. She just acted like a mom does when her (30ish) year old kid is sick. Made me food, read on the couch next to me, etc.

Also, expect abdominal pain from the gas they pump into your abdominal cavity. Getting rid of that was painful. I also woke up freezing cold after the surgery with very low blood pressure.

I take it back. I actually liked having a new toy, even if it was the Furby. Maybe an iPod touch loaded up with apps and stuff, if you can afford it.
posted by Stewriffic at 11:05 AM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had surgery on my foot last summer and was laid up for quite a while. Some things my partner did that were awesome:

- keeping track of my pain medication and when I was supposed to take the next dose. I was too out of it to remember more pills or know what time it was, and having it brought to me with a glass of water was fabulous.

- bringing DVDs! I spent a lot of time on the very comfortable living room couch because I found it isolating to be tucked away in the bedroom. This meant the TV was right there. He had other things to do and didn't watch every single minute of TV with me, but kept coming back to put the next disc in or whatever.

- bringing snacks! My pain drugs made me a little nauseated all the time and I had a hard time dealing with an entire meal. But 5-6 smaller snacky meals were great. I couldn't stand up long enough and didn't have the wherewithal to prepare things myself, so my partner did it, and it was the very greatest.
posted by bewilderbeast at 11:05 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I had a laproscopic surgery (for my kidney, not gallbladder) I was just exhausted and sleeping 18 hours a day was fine with me. The aftermath of the anathesia was worse than the pain from the surgery for me.

The nurses also asked me what pain med I wanted. Unfortunately, they asked me as soon as I was waking up from the surgery. How the heck would I know? I told them to surprise me and they gave me one that made me really nauseated and I stopped taking it after a couple days, since I prefer pain to nausea. I don't know if she's in the same boat, but she might want to research pain meds and ask her family what meds work or don't work for them.

This might be TMI, but I discovered that going to the bathroom was easier if I pressed against the incision. Since the muscles were cut, they weren't strong enough to provide the pressure needed on their own.

Also, a clean bathtub is ALWAYS nice, but sitting in the tub is usually verboten while the incision's raw. As squeaky clean as you get it, a tub's still likely to carry infections. Showers were encouraged, however.

As others have said, just having you around is great, even if you're in the next room reading a book. Not having to figure out meals or laundry was great. I wasn't allowed to carry anything, vacuum, or do any other thing that had to do with pushing, even if seemed like light work.

My boyfriend took me on drives, which was awesome. I was too tired to walk around the block (sucks!) but I wanted to be outside.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:06 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

When my mom went in for laparoscopic gall bladder surgery they ended up having to do full on surgery (ha ha, I have no idea what the correct terminology is, but they cut her open basically). This naturally extended her recovery period. I'm not suggesting this is normal or expected, but it's nice to have a heads up that things might not go exactly as anticipated.

When I had my laparoscopic appendectomy the most important part of my recovery was having someone there to help me out with the little things. Sounds like you've got that covered, good job. Oh, her throat might be sore, so have soothing tea and other drinks available. I was given Throat Coat tea, which is a great idea, except it has licorice which makes me ill.
posted by purpletangerine at 11:07 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh yes- the abdominal gas from the anasthesia. Slightly painful but mostly just WEIRD! It's like being your own bubble level- you can see and feel the bulge of air move around your torso as you roll over.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:08 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had minor laproscopic surgery under anesthesia a year ago. I found that 2 days after the surgery I was still feeling out of sorts more than I expected, and figured out that it was the Vicodin. I only needed ibuprofen at that point and the side effects from the Vicodin were worse than the benefits. (I was back at work on day 3.)

If there are young kids in the household and it's possible to send them away for a day or two do that. It's really hard for them to understand that Mom needs a break.

Be around, but don't hover. If she's generally really busy, having some time to watch dumb tv may be what she wants.

Talk in advance about how to handle phone calls, emails, etc. if you expect a lot of relatives/friends to check in to find out how she is. She may not want to be on the phone.
posted by Sukey Says at 11:20 AM on October 13, 2010

I've had that surgery myself, and all I really wanted was for someone to give me a barf bucket (because I had a bad reaction to the anesthesia and spent the next 18 hours dry heaving) and leave me alone so I could sleep. I wasn't hungry or even in that much pain, I just wanted to sleep. A variety of pillows might be nice due to the abdominal soreness. I would say keep up on the pain meds even if she thinks she doesn't need them, at least for a day or two and to take a stool softener, because the pain meds cause constipation and that is the last thing she is going to want with a tender abdomen. I took a week off of work, but on the other hand my mother had it done on a Friday and was back at work on Monday, so mileage varies. Good luck to her!
posted by crankylex at 11:24 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is her bed really high or hard to get into? If so, make the couch really comfortable, because getting up and laying down (an oft repeated procedure) is going to be tough.

Does she have pets? Don't let the kitty or the dog jump up on the bed. Seriously. Kitty cuddles are generally nice, but after surgery it's best to just lock the critters away and make sure they're getting enough attention from other people.

Stairs may indeed be tricky. Will she need to navigate them to go to the bathroom? Basically just make sure you there are cleared and simple routes - bathroom to bed and back. You'll be handling stuff in the kitchen. Maybe she'll want to sit in front of a window and get some sunshine now and again.

Have lots and lots of water and juice on hand. Don't wait for her to ask - just have a glass full beside her, and she'll be more likely to drink it down. It's very important to stay hydrated (and thus not constipated) particularly after this surgery. Grill or bake some chicken breasts before hand - with tasty seasonings - for nice, simple meals that are quickly reheated and prepared. Her appetite is not likely to be really high, and you'll want things that are really low fat and easy on the stomach.

Encourage her to take it as easy as possible - the recovery time is quick, but her stomach muscles will be really sore and even light exertion will tire her out. She'll likely overestimate how much she can do. Provide gentle cuddles and entertainment - go on a DVD watching binge of a favorite show. I loaded up on The Muppets. I love things like sudoku and logic puzzles, but I was honestly too brain dead to concentrate for more than a couple of minutes at a time. So, have engaging things at varying levels around just in case, but be prepared to rely on the most simple alternatives.

After I had my gallbladder out, I actually had to go back into the hospital a couple of days later (they made a mistake and trapped some stones in the common bile duct, which was then blocked and my liver freaked out). These things happen - so if she's having what feel like gallbladder attacks or really wicked stomach aches in the couple of days *after* the surgery, be responsive, and get her in for blood testing with a quickness. The sooner something like that gets caught, the less time you spend in the hospital.
posted by lriG rorriM at 11:26 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

The worst post-surgery problem (for me) is boredom! Get her lots of books, make plenty of movies available (preferably in a way that they can be switched without getting up, like with a Media Center computer), and be willing to hang out with her. Keep some cards or games handy.

BTW, I find it difficult to read when on drugs, so the Media Center was a godsend. I also appreciated that my gf kept me supplied with coffee and food, so I rarely had to get up.

Finally, if applicable, keep the pets away. My cats loved jumping on my newly fixed knee -- very unfortunate.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:28 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had this surgery in March, and my boyfriend was a superstar through it all. Here's some of the stuff he (and some of my other awesome friends) did:

--Listened to me when I talked about my worries and fears and took them all seriously, from "What if something goes really wrong with the anesthesia? I don't want to be kept alive on machines." to "What if I get partial amnesia and don't remember who you are? What if I poop myself?"
--Got me one of those Edible Arrangements fruit bouquets
--Locked the cats out of the bedroom at night so they wouldn't climb all over me
--Walked up and down the hallway with me for a few minutes 4 or 5 times a day. When he was at school, a friend would come over and walked with me. I felt pretty stupid walking back and forth in a hallway, but the doctor said that the more I moved around, the quicker the recovery would be.
--For the first few days, gave me a hand when I was getting up
--Rubbed my shoulders/feet/whatever was handy

My recovery was very quick -- I think I was off the prescription pain meds by day 3 and would have been back at work by day 4 had I not come down with a truly hellacious cold. I hope your partner has a recovery as easy and speedy (and without the cold)!
posted by amarynth at 11:30 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would also recommend having in stock both a laxative and some Immodium. An anaesthetic and pain meds can completely mess up the system and so your girlfriend might need one or the other. Best to have them to hand and not use them than be in dire need.
posted by essexjan at 11:37 AM on October 13, 2010

Have the doctor call in any prescriptions (painkillers, antibiotics, whatever) before the surgery and have them on hand. Sucks to have to stop at a pharmacy and wait for a new order on the way home from surgery. Don't let her wait till she starts feeling pain to take the painkillers - if it says every 4 hours, take them every 4 hours (or at least at the very earliest indication of the slightest bit of pain.)
posted by ferociouskitty at 11:46 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had that same surgery. Here's what helped:

Especially in the beginning, go ahead and take pain meds on schedule BEFORE pain starts. You want to get ahead of it and stay ahead of it. The nurse confirmed that was exactly what we needed to be doing.

Do keep low fat foods in the house-ye olde digestion system will need time to heal and adjust.

Please even when she starts feeling stronger, remind her to REST and not try to do too much for the first couple of weeks. I passed out in the bathroom one night because I ignored that. The doc had me take the first week off work, but even the second week back at work (I was filling in for a receptionist on maternity leave) drained me completely. Hopefully she will be a bit stronger than that but still plan ahead if she isn't.

And if you don't have it already, a Netflix subscription with streaming to your tv and the remote where she can reach it, is golden.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:01 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

ps and keep skateboards away from her. My husband had this same surgery and for some reason the percocet made him feel like he wanted to go skateboarding (obviously he had an abnormal reaction to the med) and let's just say the results were NOT pretty. :D
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:02 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Awesome responses, MeFites. I feel better prepared already. I showed my partner this thread (at the expense of the "surprise, look how thoughtful I am!" factor) and she is getting a lot out of this advice, too. Keep 'em coming!

Oh, and, we do have a cat, and she is obnoxiously kneady/needy, so I will take the advice about keeping her away from the recovery nest to heart.
posted by Lieber Frau at 12:03 PM on October 13, 2010

I just had laparoscopic surgery two weeks ago! It was for my appendix, not the gall bladder, though, so some of this may not apply.

- If she has to have a CAT scan and drink the contrast water, make sure she paces herself. I tried to drink it really fast and horked all over the ER.
- Are they going to put the squeezy leg compression things on her shins? I didn't know they what they were when I came out of anesthesia and thought they had accidentally cut off my legs. Some idea of what it's like to regain consciousness would have been helpful.
- Showering was rough, I couldn't stand up straight for a few days. My sister brought me some Olay "instant facial" cloths, those went a long way toward not making me feel filthy.
- I stayed at my boyfriend's apt while recovering (no stairs) and he made sure I had a stupid huge pile of pillows, a constant supply of water (next to my pile of percocet), a book and access to the computer/tv. I barely used any of it, I slept like a cat (that is, 18 hrs/day) for the first few days, but it was good to have them around.
- I was encouraged to get up and walk around a little bit each day. It helps the gas they pump in there to dissipate and it made me feel less like an invalid. Being able to get my own water was a little triumph.
posted by troika at 12:08 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

4 points:

1. Have the medical people discuss with you BEFORE the surgery what the aftercare instructions and expectations will be. The practice tends to be that they go over this with you at the time of discharge, when you're groggy, nauseous and distracted. Understand it first.

2. If you have a choice, try to avoid the discharge being on a Friday. If you have a question or need help, it can be extra-challenging to get proper attention on a weekend. In any case, be assertive about having a number to call that will get you through to someone if needed. Don't accept, "just go the ER if you have a problem."

3. Ditto on the comments above about having the right foods available. Some kind of tea to soothe queasy stomach, ginger ale, cola, broth, applesauce, jell-o, sherbet, white rice, chicken noodle soup, ....

4. I've been reading that there is a widespread and pretty severe shortage of one of the anesthetics that they usually use for these procedures (propofol). Ask them specifically what drugs they will be using, and if this has any consequences.

Oh, and please clone yourself and come for a visit when I have this surgery in a few months! Good luck.
posted by Corvid at 12:12 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

whoa posted that early

- have food around, she'll likely have no appetite but have to have something in her stomach for the pain pills. Bananas and crackers did it for me - Ritz Main Street crackers, specifically, are super tasty and satisfy the 'I just want a cracker' yearning.
- I live a few states away from my family, my boyfriend coordinated text/phone updates for concerned family and friends. Having my family not worried made me less worried. And now they all think he's just the sweetest, most thoughtful person around (which he is, but having my family think so is awesome).
- The ride home from the hospital was sort of bumpy, so drive carefully!

Best of luck, I hope everything goes smoothly for you both! :)
posted by troika at 12:15 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding the boredom. I was off work for two weeks recovering from (non-laparascopic) surgery, and being cooped up that long makes you go stir crazy. So DVDs, books, be available to chat or commiserate.

But don't hover too much. Sometimes I just wanted to get on with feeling crappy by myself without feeling the weight of people's concern.

Outings in the car were fun for me, once I was able to shuffle down to the car and get in/out of the passenger seat -- if you've been immobile for a week, just a trip to the grocery store is a novelty.

One practical thing: getting in/out of the bath/shower is scary when you're ouchy and/or groggy from Vicodin. Non-slip mats are good for safety and confidence.

Hold off on the cookies, but I would say this: they gave me an applesauce cup and a graham cracker in the recovery room and OH MY GOD BEST FOOD EVER.

Oh, and my surgeon assured me I'd be back to work within a week. Hell no I wasn't. It took several days before I started feeling less crappy, rather than more crappy, than I did the day before. Be prepared for it to be longer or bumpier than expected, but it does get better.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:44 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

They are very lucky to have you around! Do make sure you have something to keep you entertained though - like some books or tv shows, recovering from surgery is harder when you have a helpful person pinging you every 5 minutes to make sure you are still okay. ;-)
posted by meepmeow at 12:47 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seriously -- I've had the gallbladder out, I've had my colon resected, I've had a temporary ileostomy and then the surgery to have it reversed and pudding (chocolate or butterscotch) was absolutely the most wonderful thing when offered to me. It so comforting and delicious and easy to eat.
posted by rhartong at 1:59 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

The stories about showering post-surgery made me think of something I wished I had - a shower chair. It would have been a great help when I was sore and still unsteady on my feet but craved feeling clean.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:43 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just had my gallbladder out in July and the best thing to come home to was clean sheets! and clean pajamas!

The anesthesia made me really ill, if I had come home to the smell of cookies, I probably would have puked (and I love cookies!)

I had to walk up 3 flights of stairs when I got home and it wasn't too bad, just as long as I went slow.
posted by thisisnotkatrina at 3:57 PM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Netflix will allow you to bump up your subscription for one month, so you can have the max number of DVDs checked out. Get seasons of TV shows like Lost or 24 from the library.

Bed jackets are very nice-- keeping neck & shoulders warm without a lot of twisting and tugging. Perhaps something like a shawl with cuffs at the wrist.

You have a big heart! Bless you!
posted by ohshenandoah at 4:16 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

A spare throw pillow to clutch to her belly when she has to sneeze or laugh or cough or burp or anything else that vibrates things around the general vicinity of where her gallbladder was. Oh My God, it makes all the difference, otherwise the aforementioned things are miserably uncomfortable to do (which made me feel even more blue.)
posted by desuetude at 4:27 PM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had laparoscopic surgery, and I tried to go to class the next day! My advisor/dean yelled at me to go back to bed. So, there are varying levels of energy available after surgery. I was pretty good by the weekend (got out on Wednesday night), but who knows, maybe I was too active, because I had to go back to the hospital (for 5 days!) for a pretty bad secondary infection.

The biggest thing that I remember was that I was told not to shower/take a bath for 2 or 3 days after the surgery, to avoid getting water in places where there shouldn't be water, I guess. I felt particularly gross, especially with greasy hair. So . . . if she has the same orders, I would suggest a nice hair wash could feel really good. Set it up like a salon and wash her hair in the sink!
posted by that girl at 5:37 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had mine out last year, but in Japan, it's a weeklong stay in the hospital. I had a Playstation Portable loaded with movies and several games (my iPod had just died), so having something for her to do while she's lying there would be good. Nothing too demanding (brain not work), but something like Katamari Damacy might be good. Make sure she's got a comfortable place to just lie around for a week or so (sofa downstairs, or bed upstairs). If she's upstairs, make sure there's no need for her to come downstairs on her own (igloo cooler next to the bed for drinks and easy to eat food).

Ear plugs were a godsend for me, as I was in the hospital. Even at home, if she's feeling sleepy in the middle of the afternoon (and she will), ear plugs might help her to sleep through day time noises.

Another thing that helped me greatly was an frozen-gel pillow. I was very, very uncomfortable after my surgery, and always too warm, in addition to having neck and back issues that were exacerbated by lying flat on a hospital bed. The gel pack cooled me down, allowing me to sleep, and really soothed my neck issues. If she has any non-gall bladder issues (a wonky knee, or whatever) be ready for it to hurt more, and try to help her deal with it.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:49 PM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Update: my beloved successfully completed surgery and will return home tomorrow. I've prepared the house using many of the suggestions from this thread. Your answers were a great comfort to both of us before (and during!) the procedure. Thank you!
posted by Lieber Frau at 9:10 PM on October 15, 2010

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