Tell me - what will surgery be like?
February 14, 2012 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Help me quell my fears about upcoming surgery and understand what recovery will be like.

Regarding this earlier question of mine, I do indeed have an inguinal hernia. Surgery is slated for this coming Thursday morning.

My only other experience with surgery has been a vasectomy - local, not a big deal, though recovery was a bit more uncomfortable than I thought. So, I am freaking out.

My surgeon isn't doing lapro on this, but the traditional slash and patch, since he feels it has a lower recurrence rate.

I hate the thought of having an IV in my hand. I shiver to think about someone cutting my body open and mucking about in there. Seriously has me sceeved out. What can I do to deal with this a bit more rationally?

And I think, even more so than the surgery proper, I'm very apprehensive about recovery. I'm fairly active, and want to get back to the gym as soon as possible. We also have a 3 1/2 year old, and I don't want my wife to carry too much of the burden. How long until I can do normal stuff again safely? Will recovery be a horrid painful process?

I know these procedures are done all the time. But not to me! So help me get some sleep the next few nights, but be honest.

Thanks hive mind!
posted by tr33hggr to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also, I have been told my "junk" will be black and blue from drainage. Seriously?? AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!
posted by tr33hggr at 7:59 AM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: My hubby had this done yesterday......he's hurting today.. days 2 & 3 are always bad as far as pain goes....but it was fine....just tell them about your nerves.....and stay on TOP of your pain meds for a few days. He (and you) will have to take it easy for a week or so but you'll be fine....Good some good movies, books etc....drink LOTS of water.... you'll be fine soon.
posted by pearlybob at 8:18 AM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: I think everybody feels this anxiety prior to surgery. For me the most helpful anti-anxiety technique was to investigate my surgeon and my anaesthesia team, and the hospital infection rates. Once I was satisfied with what I found, I could just relax into the fact that it was necessary and everyone would do their best to make sure I had a successful outcome. Knowledge is key for me.

You may want to investigate PRP and see if your surgeon uses it. I have found it very helpful with my c-section recoveries. (my hubs & I own a medical business and provide PRP, BMAC and auto transfusion services to hospitals)

Interms of recovery, it's very important that you don't push too hard to fast. If you do, you'll end up mad at yourself for prolonging your recovery. If you can afford it/insurance will pay, maybe look into a PT session to get your recovery moving as fast as safely possible.

Good Luck!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 8:26 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had the same thing done and at a fairly advanced age. My first surgery...Actually, got me right out (under0 and in no time, done and up and about...the thought is much morte annoying and upsetting than the actual thing itself...and once done and up and about a whole new and better world!
posted by Postroad at 8:26 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have no experience with your particular surgery. However, some general surgical advice:

- Day of, if you are feeling freaked out, tell people. Tell the admitting nurse, tell your surgeon, tell the anesthesiologist. I told my anesthesiologist I was losing my shit and she gave me a shot of what she called her "liquid margarita." I didn't have time to point out that all margaritas were liquid because within about 4 seconds I felt fiiiiiiiiine. Worries gone.

- If you are the kind of person who will be helped by this, get as many details about the whole process of the surgery as you can. When I was in the pre-surgery freak out stage (panic attack level freak outs) a couple weeks before my surgery, my GP told me some of her experiences with (her own) surgery at the same hospital I was going to. She mentioned something about having her arms strapped down and that flipped me out. But I was glad to know in advance that was a possibility, because when I got to the OR, I asked about straps, found out there were going to be some, and told them I preferred to not be strapped down until I was knocked out. They were happy to comply.

- Post-surgical, TAKE YOUR TIME. Whatever time period they are suggesting for recovery, assume the longer end of the range. You only get one chance to heal and you really don't want to screw it up. I cannot overstate this: do not skimp on healing time. If you have a parent or in-law who can help out, ask them to. If you can afford to pay someone to clean your house or fix some meals or babysit your kid, hire them to lighten the load on your wife while you are out of commission.

- Some people have terrible itching after general anaesthesia. Not just around the incision but all over, drive you nutso, wake you up in the night itching. Have some Benedryl on hand to end it.

- Don't be a hero. Take the pain meds.

- Keep an eye out of post-surgical depression. No one warned me, and apparently it's a fairly common thing.
posted by looli at 8:29 AM on February 14, 2012 [12 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds a little corny and new agey, but guided imagery tapes helped when I was preparing for a major surgery. I listened to these while I was in pre-op, and they helped me to relax and separate myself from the ongoing business of the surgical suite.
posted by pickypicky at 8:50 AM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: on the subject of pain meds, you need a particular dosage period before you're getting maximum impact from them, even something as simple as a combo of ibuprofen & paracetamol needs about 36 hours of regular dosages to have maximum impact, so take your pain meds as regularly as your doctor directs and don't skip any.
posted by Wilder at 9:15 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm fairly active, and want to get back to the gym as soon as possible.

Just want to chime in on this specifically. I understand your desire to get back to the gym, but DO NOT PUSH IT ONE IOTA beyond what your doctors explicitly tell you regarding your limitations and time frame on this. If they say (I am totally just making this up off the top of my head) no strenuous activity for four weeks and not to lift anything heavier than 15 lbs. during that time, FOLLOW IT. The body's many systems affected by surgery require time to heal fully, and if you start working out earlier or harder than you are supposed to, you run the very real risk of re-injuring yourself in such a way that can lead to weeks if not months of setbacks.

Do not let your impatience get in the way of your recovery.
posted by scody at 9:33 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Not your surgery, not your doctor, this is advice on "coping with surgery in general" and the recovery.

I had a 4-inch incision on the lower abdomen, just above the groin (sounds like it may be somewhat similar to what you're facing). The first week it was uncomfortable to lie on my stomach, but not painful, and I took it reeeeeeeeeally easy (although, some of that may have been me wanting to let someone baby me - I'd just acquired a new boyfriend who insisted on taking care of me, so I let him.) Pain was pretty manageable, as long as I didn't push it; I had to have a pillow on hand to hug it when I needed to cough or laugh, because the ab muscles HURT when I did.

The following week, things got better, but I still was taking it easy - didn't need to do the hug-the-pillow-when-you-cough thing, but I still was walking slightly hunched over because it felt like my skin wasn't stretching at the incision site. Also, picking up very heavy things felt like I was going to pop my stitches; that feeling took about three more weeks to go away. I know this is going to suck because you've got a 3-year-old, but do indeed try to avoid lifting heavy things for a few weeks (you may be able to get up to low-key playing and tending to him after a couple weeks, though).

Two or three observations for the "I wish someone had told me that in advance because it was kind of weird" file:

* During that first week, I was unable to bend over and tie my shoes from a sitting position. And I don't mean "I tried to bend over but it hurt and I backed off," I mean that my body simply....didn't do it. I'd go to bend down, but my body simply wasn't responding to what I wanted. It was like whatever neural impulse that controlled that action was simply not there. It freaked me out and I called my doctor, and they said "oh, yeah, that goes away after about a week," and sure enough, it did.

* If you work out: alas, your ab muscles will never be quite as toned any more, at least not without some extra work.

* I will not elaborate on how I know this, but: having an orgasm three days after surgery makes it feel like you're gonna pop open the stitches, so don't try that.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:34 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would like you to have really talked it out with your surgeon about the kind of surgery you're willing to have, the possible repercussions of different methods, and expected outcomes. (I personally would choose lapro; but we all have different considerations.) In addition, talking through the process can help. (And yeah: saying "I'M FREAKED OUT!" is totally legit.)

In answer to your question: it was described to me, as I held someone's hand in recovery, like being punched quite a bit in the abdomen. Coming to in recovery can feel terrible or great, depending on the drug balance. It can also be very emotional. The good news is that it's a pretty quick process to get back to "generally active." I mean, people *do* go to work the next day. That being said... lifting, heaving, twisting and the like will probably seem right out to you for a week or even a month as you assess your body.

And there are likely going to be some nights in the first two weeks where you will be laying in bed thinking "AH JESUS WHAT THE HELL." That improves! It doesn't seem to ever get terrible, and it responds to the likes of Advil.

Your spouse is going to have to "carry the burden." (Um, that's what marriage is for, pal! Hello?) You are not going to be chucking a 3-and-a-half-year-old around for a bit.

For up to a year and a half, or much less than that, you can sometimes "feel" the repair. Sometimes this manifests as mild pain; sometimes as itching; sometimes just as awareness. Sometimes there's seepage--even surprisingly far along in the recovery process.

It's really hard to give up control and go in for surgery. It's amazing that people can do that! So you're a champ to be up for this.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:37 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and about mental coping mechanisms: after my first of two surgeries for cancer a year or so ago, I was the lucky recipient of a temporary ileostomy for six weeks, to allow my whole lower digestive tract to heal. This was, as you can imagine, not a lot of fun to throw into the recovery mix. So whenever things got bad mentally, I kept telling myself: "It's only six weeks. I can put up with anything for six weeks." (Turned out to be seven, but close enough.) This was pretty much the mindset I wound up adopting for treatment as a whole: "the bad news is it's going to take about a year before it's all over. The good news is, it's just going to last a year and then it will be all over!"

You might want to think of recovery in a similar way. It's not a lot of fun, but the time will pass, at pretty much the same rate as time always passes. And one day you'll realize you're a lot further down the road then you could have imagined.
posted by scody at 9:41 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Marked all as best, because I can't tell you how much each of you have helped me mentally prepare for this. I will take the pain meds. I will allow my body to heal. I will lean on my wife and not feel guilty about it.
posted by tr33hggr at 10:28 AM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: If you end up taking opioids -- e.g. percocet, demerol, vicodin, etc. -- as part of your post-op pain management, be ABSOLUTELY SURE to drink lots of water, and ask your doctor about whether you should increase your fiber intake (not sure about whether this is contraindicated due to your surgery). You really don't want to have to deal with opioid-induced constipation on top of everything else.
posted by tractorfeed at 10:38 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: tractorfeed - I've been told to up my fiber intake regardless, but as a (usually) healthy vegan it should be a problem! Now, does beer count as water? :)
posted by tr33hggr at 10:43 AM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: I had a lot of surgeries as a child and developed a few mental tricks. Most of them involved concentrating on something else, keeping my mind busy. It started with remembering some pleasant experience - at age 8, that was a trip to an amusement park. I also counted ceiling tiles, and when I was older, did mathematical equations in my head. I'd make up stories that didn't make any sense - just stream of consciousness stuff. The point is just to keep your mind busy until the anesthesia kicks in.

Also, I bet your child would let you borrow a stuffed animal as a "protector." The nurse won't let you take it into the OR, but they'll give it back to you in recovery. It might be surprisingly comforting to have a reminder of your family with you, and there's a reason many cultures use totems.
posted by desjardins at 12:30 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Also, I bet your child would let you borrow a stuffed animal as a "protector."

That is a lovely idea; thanks desjardins.
posted by tr33hggr at 12:31 PM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: I'm sure you've already been told this, but avoid any alcohol at this point. It can increase bleeding and the blood thinning effects can stay in your body for up to 3-4 days after alcohol consumption. You don't want unnecessary bleeding.

And after surgery - again, I'm sure the nurse will give you these instructions - still avoid alcohol not only for bleeding reasons, but because of painkillers - for example, the most common form of vicodin contains acetaminophen, which can be deadly in combination with alcohol.
posted by VikingSword at 1:35 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're going to be in the hospital overnight, and the kid isn't going to visit*, have someone take a picture of you and Teddy Bear giving a thumbs up so he/she knows that you are taking care of Teddy and vice versa.

*might be too traumatic for youngsters to see their parents in pain
posted by desjardins at 2:06 PM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: The IV: Before I ever had one, I was deeply terrified of IVs, and the idea of moving around with a needle taped in my vein was just too creepy to even think about. I was certain that I would have a short life, because, when the time would come that I needed to have an IV for some life-saving procedure, I would refuse. But I didn't.

Hah! What a silly fool I was. I wasted so much mental energy worrying about THAT? It was utterly trivial. Right now, take your thumb and finger and pinch yourself with your fingernails, not too hard. That's what it feels like when they put it in. Sometimes it also aches a little bit, but only for a couple of minutes. Then take something like a cocktail straw or a coffee stirrer and tape it to your skin and leave it there. Having an IV in is a little more annoying than that, but not much. Really, you've already been through the worst part of it, which is the anticipatory dread. You've already given it more worry than it deserves.
posted by Corvid at 4:44 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: i listened to this guided imagery CD before my most recent surgery and it helped a lot. you imagine being in a comforting, safe place of your choosing, and from there you imagine going through a portal into the OR, and then some other stuff, i forget exactly -- but when i DID go into the OR, it was simultaneously a hospital room and one of my favorite places on earth, and that was a really magical experience.
posted by nevers at 5:19 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For me I knew what not to do after I had surgery. I had fractured my skull riding a bike while training for a biathlon. A week after I had gotten out of the hospital I went to see the doctor for a check-up. He told me what I wanted to hear (You can go back to doing what you did before.) The little voice inside said "No" I was dealing with trauma that really could not be felt and was, in a sense, ineffable. Running, riding, lifting weights did not seem to fit. Doing something physical was important to whatever healing process was going on along with relieving any stress that I had of me being "damaged" Yoga was the first thing I thought. Both needs were attended to.

That said, wait til after surgery before deciding on next steps. And do put some trust in your intuition.
posted by goalyeehah at 5:33 PM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: In regards to the IV: there should be a topical anesthetic spray they can use prior to inserting the needle. Ask for it. I think it helps, albeit mostly on a psychological level. The magic spray goes on, you think, "Meh, this won't be so bad!", needle goes in - done.

Also, in regards to what Corvid shared, I want to point out that when you have an IV in, you don't actually have a needle sitting in your vein. The needle is only used for insertion. A small, flexible, plastic catheter is threaded over the needle during insertion, then the needle is removed. The plastic piece is all that remains in the vein. Just sharing because I, too, used to cringe at the thought of having a needle sitting inside me. What a relief to discover that wasn't how it worked!
posted by pecanpies at 7:17 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all. T minus 24 hours, and I know I'll be alright. Appreciate it all; I think more than anything else I needed to hear from people who have been through it before.
posted by tr33hggr at 7:18 AM on February 15, 2012

Good luck! If you take me up on my teddy bear suggestion, I expect a follow-up picture.
posted by desjardins at 1:20 PM on February 15, 2012

Good luck tomorrow! You'll see, the dread is the worst part.
posted by looli at 7:06 PM on February 15, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all! Sorry desjardins, no picture, but she did let me take her pink bunny. :)

All went smoothly, and I am resting at home. I appreciate everyone's advice and reassurance.
posted by tr33hggr at 8:22 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

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