Help me recover from my recovery
July 24, 2012 7:56 AM   Subscribe

Help me recover from my recovery: advice sought on diet, fitness, repatriation, etc. after a long hospitalization.

Let's say you have a friend who has finally returned home after a months-long hospitalization. Still exhausted (so elaborate prep not a real option), no known dietary restrictions (though skin seems to be clearer when gluten is avoided), still living with an autoimmune disease, coming off of a long stretch of very unhealthy (high in sugars and simple carbs, low on fresh vegetables) hospital food. And oh, yeah, too tired and disoriented to think through a grocery list/menu. Was doing salmon steaks, almonds, blueberries, you get the picture, before being admitted; can't remember the full routine. Please just tell me what to buy.

Fitness: muscles are atrophied (I had a nice amount of both muscle tone and practical strength prior). A long walk leaves me sore now. I was using 5 lb weights and walking/jogging/cycling prior. How to rebuild from nothing? I am literally too weak and tired to get aerobic in the way I was accustomed...which was my go-to stress reliever and brain booster before. No heart condition, etc. that is limiting, just fatigue (and losing it by not using it, so to speak).

Everything else: emotionally exhausted as well from the experience. Has anyone else had a similar experience? How did you get your groove back? I was naive enough to think I would immediately pick up where I left off once I got home. This has been the strangest experience of my life so far.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Easy protein is probably a good way to start. There are a bunch of protein shakes out there, and they really do help to boost your intake and are easier to prepare than a full meal. If you don't want to go to that much trouble, you can also drink Ensure, which helps with calories and has a good balance of nutrients.

For "real" food, I would focus on things you like that are easy to prepare. Throwing some tuna on top of a salad bar salad is an easy meal. Frozen vegetables are decent for you, and don't require much more than throwing them into a container and microwaving for a few minutes.
posted by xingcat at 8:01 AM on July 24, 2012

It takes time. A long time. I used to joke about my "get out of bed more often" fitness plan. Just do a little more every day. Park a little farther from the store. Nap in the car in between running errands. Try to not stsy in bed too much. Get up and get out. Find safe ways to do that.

It used to take me all day to get showered and dressed and get to a store. I routinely went grocery shopping at 2:00 am. It was quiet. There was no crowd (thus less exposure to germs and noise and chaos), no line and it worked for me. After being bedridden for months, I was kind of agoraphobic and had trouble dealing with too many people at one time. I took that into account when planning my activities.

I ate lunch daily at an affordable, partly organic place. I went in the afternoon somewhere between 1:00pm and 4:00pm, after the lunch crowd and before the dinner crowd. I would order the same meal for weeks at a time and then it would change when my needs changed and then I would order the new one for weeks at a time. They got to know me and memorized my order. It helped on days when I was a mess and could hardly string two words together or could barely speak at a whisper. That was my main meal for the day. I didn't cook a lot. I kept healthy snacks at home. When I did cook, it was stuff like baked chicken with baked potatoes. Fifteen minutes of prep and then stick it in the oven for an hour or more, then eat.
posted by Michele in California at 8:18 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was hospitalized for several months when I was younger. I was strongly recommend scheduling a few appointments with a chiropractor - since one side effect of spending that much time in a hospital bed is to make you hunch. The worst part was that I couldn't drink water (it had to be administered intravenously), so I remember being perpetually thirsty.

Swimming will also be a good preliminary way to exercise before you focus on rebuilding muscle with weight training, since it exercises almost all of your muscle groups, but the liquid medium buoying your weight help ensure that you don't strain yourself accidentally.

As far as getting my groove back, honestly I did become a little bitter and more cynical about whether people really care about me or not. And there are a few residual effects - for example, I tend to leave glasses of water lying around, like that little girl in the movie "Signs." But it may help to remember that after an experience like this, there's no going to be very much that can fase you - you've gained an inner strength that few people will ever have the opportunity to develop. The little mundane things that normal people complain about become fairly trivial when viewed in the larger perspective that people like us have acquired.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:21 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are in a place with peapod, start there. If not, send a friend (or yourself) to the store with this list:

peanut butter (or other similar butter)
bread - preferably very grainy
fruit or veggie tray
frozen berries
lunchmeats and cheeses if you eat those
frozen meats or entrees if you eat those
granola bars

Get friends to come over and bring you food. Forget going out. They can bring the (small) party to you.

Hire a personal trainer to work with you in a pool. There are specialists in physical therapy/rehab, which is what you need right now.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:22 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

For easy-to-pick-up lunches and dinners that won't drive you crazy with boringness, I eat a lot of Amy's frozen meals. There are a lot of other really tasty options in the health food sections of stores, specifically the frozen sections, that would be easy to examine for nutrition and then just have lying around. My local big supermarket has a ton of gluten-free meal options, too.
posted by Madamina at 8:47 AM on July 24, 2012

I would like to point you toward the game "Superbetter." I played this game with before it became a website (back when Jane McGonigal had only blogged about it once) when I was recovering from surgery, and I think it made a huge difference for me in terms of recovering quickly and avoiding frustration when I didn't recover as fast as I wanted to/thought I should.

If there's no physical reason not to exercise (no stitches you might pull, etc), start weight lifting. There are hundreds of different plans online, but I would just go with something simple and easy to understand: Get someone at your local gym to show you proper form, and do squats, deadlifts, etc. Free weights are the best thing ever for building up strength all over your body. But make absolutely, positively, 100% sure you're using correct form. The last thing you want to do is hurt yourself. Really though, I can't recommend weight lifting enough. It increases strength and energy, strengthens your joints and heart, helps release endorphins, and is super-easy and simple. Once you've gotten some of your strength back, it will be way easier to jump back on the cardio wagon and start building that up as well.

For food, I'd like to add crepes to the items others have mentioned above. They're incredibly easy to make, freeze well, can be stacked/rolled/ripped/dipped/sandwiched/whatever your little heart desires. You can grab one and smear some jam on it or go all out and toss a salad on top. Everything tastes good with crepes, seriously. And you can use a variety of ingredients making the crepes themselves, making them healthier, more filling, and tastier.

One main thing you'll need is protein as your body begins to rebuild itself. Cooking meat is a pain though. Eggs are good for this, but if you don't feel like cooking at all, legumes (which can be added to salads, crepe concoctions, etc) are good sources of protein, as are nuts. The latter can be expensive, but most beans are dirt-cheap, and can be made to hold a huge variety of flavors.
posted by Urban Winter at 9:39 AM on July 24, 2012

Eat a paleo/primal diet: lots of great advice and tons of free recipes here, to give just one example:

Worked wonders for me!

Buy a kettlebell and start swinging it around at home - slowly work up the weight. Of course this depends on what your injury/illness was.

I am the laziest person in the world and when I can't be bothered to cook at all I just buy raw veggies and to go with them slap a steak or a couple of eggs in the pan.

All the best for your recovery!
posted by Heifa78 at 11:15 AM on July 24, 2012

Speaking of easy protein, eggs are your friend. Hard-cooked and saved in the fridge for quick snacks? Yum and so easy. Plus you can chop them up and spread them on bread for egg salad sandwiches, slice them onto a salad or just eat them out of hand - peel first, of course!
posted by Lynsey at 12:33 PM on July 24, 2012

I just got home from a month-long hospitalization myself and have discovered that "Muscle Milk" (that's the brand name) is an easy source of protein. 20 grams! Good stuff. The chocolate flavor is available at my local Costco for a relatively decent price. I'm finding that this stuff goes down a lot easier than Ensure or that other horribly over-sweet stuff whose name I'm forgetting. Good luck!
posted by rhartong at 1:23 PM on July 24, 2012

I was a professional dancer (used to dancing 30 hours a week) and went through what you did. I'm now at the end of a 2 year recovery from a spinal injury that left me debilitated and horribly week.

Be prepared to feel pathetic, and recognise that it's ok. Some days, even having a shower and putting on clothes will leave you tired. Then you may have to rest a while before doing whatever it was you planned. That's OKAY.

Michele in california has it spot on - account for mild agoraphobia not just due to crowds, but also because your mental state probably isn't going to be in the mood for coping with lots of people around you. I know that I had a huge injury that wasn't blatantly obvious, and having people bump into me and aggravating the inflammation just made it worse and I'd often leave crowded places upset and emotional.

Start slow and give yourself limits - I started with 2 hour outings, then up to 3, then 4. It took me a full 6 months to get to 8 hour days. Be prepared to take into account the energy needed to do EVERYTHING, from showering, to preparing breakfast, to making the bed, and prepare yourself accordingly each day.

Swimming is fabulous. Understand that you won't be able to do much, but it'll help - my pool was a 5 minute drive, but getting into the suit, eating something before hand driving over and all related exhaustion meant I would only manage 6 puny laps of 25 metres before being utterly wasted. After the first 2 times I remembered to buy a gatorade and have it easily accessible as soon as I exited the pool.

With walking, I started with walking to the end of the street, sitting on a park bench, then walking back. If you have a smartphone, use imapmyfitness or similar to track your progress - this was indispensable for days when I felt like I wasn't getting any better and needed a concrete method of tracking progress. Like you, my head was too hazy to even remember if I had walked let alone how long for.

Buy prepared meals and don't beat yourself up. Some days you'll manage to do a LOT, but you may spend the next 2 days recovering from that one day's exertion. If you're the kind of person to over-exert yourself in normal life, set timers on your phone, ask friends to gently remind you to go home at the scheduled time, because getting over-tired is just awful.

Have a waterbottle of water all over the house so you can just reach for it.

Ask friends to supermarket shop with you, or order online and have it delivered.

For food, buy:

Eggs. Boil them in one hit for the week. Instant protein.
Frozen veggies. Easily prepped in microwave.
Steak or chicken breasts or salmon steaks.
Cous cous (5 minute prep).

Keep in touch with your friends. I can't stress this enough - this will help you emotionally. Email, Facebook (no matter what your thoughts on it) and SMSes will be a godsend when you can't be bothered talking on the phone but want someone to talk to.

With this, ASK FOR HELP. Learn that this is ok. I can't tell you how surprised I was at how a simple callout to a bunch of people like, "I really need xxxx and cannot get it myself, is someone in my area this weekend and can drop it off?" would get instant responses. People WANT to help but often don't know what you need, so be clear.

Wolfdreams01 is right - you will certainly grow to have an inner strength not many others will have. It will feel weak at the time, but it is OKAY. Just do as little as you want. Explain your limitations to people. And enjoy the vegetation time as much as you can.
posted by shazzam! at 5:54 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh yes, I forgot to say - if you loved aerobic activity, as I did, what I didn't realise I would miss so much is the feeling of SWEATING from a really good workout. The first time you do that maybe a year from now, will be so utterly DELICIOUS.
posted by shazzam! at 5:59 PM on July 24, 2012

Just a minor clarification: I just looked it up and agoraphobia does include anxiety in uncontrollable social settings, like malls, but I really meant those comments about crowds/people as a separate point. By agoraphobic, what I really meant was the anxiety about open spaces. For four months, my world was the size of my king sized bed. So just leaving the house was kind of a head trip for a while there.
posted by Michele in California at 9:14 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with all the practical comments above!

Emotionally, what is still helping me feel better now when I can't do yoga positions I could do before, is to tell myself that it took a long time (relatively) for me to learn how to do a pose well, and it will be a long time to recover that ability, but not as long as starting from scratch.

I feel you on the strangeness of it. Be as kind to yourself as you can be.
posted by mgrrl at 10:48 AM on July 25, 2012

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