How to ease recovery from hysterectomy?
May 20, 2020 12:00 PM   Subscribe

My wife is having a total hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. For the women who've had this surgery, what helped ease your pain during recovery? Anything in particular that your loved ones did to help? Other general advice and suggestions beyond the medical advice we'll obviously be getting is welcome.
posted by Brandon Blatcher to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
One very narrow piece of advice from when I cared for a family member: this surgery can really disrupt all of your abdominal muscles, so when you're helping someone sit up or stand up, the normal way of helping someone up by taking their arm can be very painful b/c it requires them to brace their abdominal muscles. Instead, if she can wear a nightgown or shirt (especially a sturdy woven one) you can help her sit up by getting a handful of fabric on each side of her chest, so the shirt supports her for sitting up like a sling. Broadly, when helping people in these sort of recovery situations, firmer support where there isn't sag that stresses muscles can be helpful. LMK if that's clear.
posted by mercredi at 12:10 PM on May 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

Other people will need to be doing the chores for at least a month. Meaning nothing against you personally, a lot of men seem to have trouble getting their minds around that one, so I emphasize it. She can't cook, she can't clean, she can't do child-care. Someone else will have to do all of it.

Lay in a stock of elastic-waist sweatpants or shorts that won't press on the incision. A nice robe to put over everything can help with morale. A couple of firmish pillows to press against her abdomen when she has to cough or sneeze.

Dried fruit can be very helpful in alleviating opioid-induced constipation, if there's something she likes.

If she doesn't already have a tablet (and headphones), it's good to have one, to liberate her from the necessity of managing a laptop and letting her entertain herself with disturbing anyone if her sleep schedule isn't synced up with the rest of the household's. I bought myself a full-size iPad; I had hesitated about doing it, because I do have an older Mini that still works and would be fine for just reading, but there was a sale and so I went ahead, and I was really glad to have it.
posted by praemunire at 12:13 PM on May 20, 2020 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: So a sturdy (but comfortable shirt), so you can pull on the shirt instead of the person, when pulling them up, is that correct?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:13 PM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Make sure she has a small pillow she can use to brace against her stomach if she needs to sneeze, cough, laugh, or otherwise make a noise that requires more-forceful-exhalations-than-usual.

Slip-on shoes are another good thing to have on hand - not because this will affect her feet, but because she will not be able to bend over and tie her shoes from a seated position. Not because her abs will hurt - but because they just plain won't work. (Also - because no one told me this would happen - make sure it's clear that this will be a temporary thing and will go away.)

She won't be able to lift anything all that heavy; even a gallon of milk may be too much at first.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:23 PM on May 20, 2020 [8 favorites]

If she can have this done as a laparoscopic procedure as opposed to open surgery, recovery may be easier.
posted by Gino on the Meta at 12:38 PM on May 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Like any major abdominal surgery, it will cause general weakness and wooziness. Look into a bath setup (shower chair / bath bench, handholds). Get the Comfiest Blanket, and entertainment options that don't require much focus, because anaesthesia brain can get you in strange ways; this is not the time to start Ulysses or Proust.

Plan around the weight restrictions, 5kg is the typical limit for a month or two. Make sure there's something that can function as a cane. If she's not a dresses / nightgowns person, make sure there are day and night bottom clothing options that are either very low-cut, or cover the entire waist up to the ribs - maternity leggings are a good choice - because for a good few months any pressure on the abdomen might cause pain, cramps, bloating and other fun things.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:40 PM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Her experience will be very different if she's having open surgery versus laparoscopic.

I strongly, strongly recommend getting a bed rail, toilet rail, tub rail, and shower stool, as well as an extra-long shower hose and hand-held showerhead. These will make her recovery radically more pleasant.

Lay in a supply of dried fruit, soluble fiber powder, and Metamucil fiber thins (I recommend the chocolate and the cinnamon spice flavors). Prune juice is gross but effective. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Opioids are super constipating and she's not going to be able to push.

If she can get into PT as soon as the doctor says it's safe, it will significantly improve her functionality later. Push for it, even if the doctor thinks it's not necessary. It will help.

A doctor's idea of when she's fully recovered is often very different from a patient's idea of fully recovered. She probably won't feel like going back to all her normal activities even after the doctor gives her the ok to do so. It just takes time for things to feel ok again.
posted by athenasbanquet at 12:46 PM on May 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I found after my hysterectomy that when I was strong enough to stand, wrapping plastic film around my middle (from the roll, winding it round several times) meant I could have a shower but still keep the wound dry. Put a piece of cloth such as a handkerchief over the wound to stop the plastic from sticking to it first. Using a detachable shower head was essential. Maybe invest in a bathtub stool so your wife can sit down while you help her shower.

Also, anaesthesia + painkillers are not a good combination, so laxatives. The first BM will be excruciating. I also found that I would need to go RIGHT NOW and this lasted a few months. I suspect that's from all the disruption to the colon during the surgery.
posted by essexjan at 12:46 PM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Tummy pillow FOR SURE. I had open surgery so it was even more essential.

And make sure you have enough pads and panty liners. I bled like a normal period for a few days, then had weird watery discharge for a couple weeks, then another few days of bleeding when a clot released (and I kept my cervix so that was from the surgery and cauterization.)

I’ve had 3 surgeries so...Other things:
Everything within reach like meds, water, a trash can, phone and charger, remote, etc. Lots of pillows to prop up You may want a stool to help in and out of bed. Keep up on meds. Someone will need to handle cleaning and cooking for a while. Get easy to make and easy to digest meals.

With surgery it’s not uncommon for it to feel worse before it gets better and a lot of people are not prepared for that. There’s a time after anestesia and initial meds wear off and shock settles where the nerves begin to wake up. And then it gets rough until you really start to heal.

I also liked having a small cross body bag so I could easily take my phone with me when trying to walk or use the restroom so I had hands for my pillow.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:00 PM on May 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

the combination of painful internal surgical goings-on and opiates will seal her ass shut like the bomb blast doors at cheyenne mountain, so my advice is this: huge fucking fistfuls of laxatives. just. massive. like load up a wheelbarrow of them. eat them like an unsupervised toddler in the candy aisle. some deluded fool told me that colace stool softener alone would do the trick and it was a LIE, a vile lie; i ripped open a dozen internal stitches trying to poop and i will not stand by and let that happen to someone else.

i found tight high waisted leggings to be the most comfortable afterwards - it does press on the incision but it presses on EVERYTHING and gives a feeling of support in general, but obviously as with all things ymmv.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:09 PM on May 20, 2020 [9 favorites]

NB everyone's advice is going to differ depending on whether the surgery is trans abdominal or trans vaginal; the recovery time and aftercare for each can be pretty different.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:11 PM on May 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

In addition to the excellent advice above: If the surgery isn't laparoscopic, using stairs might be pretty challenging for the first few days in particular; if your dwelling is multilevel, plan out how to minimize trips up and down. She's not likely to get out of bed often at first but best to be on the same floor as the bathroom and to have someone else bring you things.

Also, stay on top of pain management! It's better to take pain meds on a schedule than to forget and be in horrible stabby pain.

I agree 100% with the recommendations above for using a laxative/stool softener - they will probably give her some at the hospital. You don't want to end up in the ER with a bowel impaction (trust me, super not fun). (On Preview - what poffin boffin said. Fistfuls!)

(haven't had a hysterectomy but have had two C-sections and two laparoscopic abdominal surgeries)
posted by sencha at 1:15 PM on May 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

(To be clear, I ate like whole BAGS of dried cherries in a day. Fortunately, I like dried cherries very much. The constipation is not to be taken lightly.)
posted by praemunire at 1:20 PM on May 20, 2020

I had a transvaginal hysterectomy, and I felt much worse than I expected, for much longer than I expected. Usually, I take a day, then I get back up and at 'em for previous surgeries (tubal ligation, septum repair, wisdom teeth removal,) so I was surprised that this really knocked me on my ass.

I'd say around 6 weeks in, I felt okay to get up, walk around, maybe do a small, non-lifting chore or cook something simple. But it took me about 3 months to really feel normal again. Yes definitely to the coughing pillow and the accessibility tools that people have already mentioned. Also, the pressure pad felt SO good, so you might buy an extra so there's always one clean.

Bed-width pads let me rest with less anxiety about possibly bleeding all over everything. I was so worried that I would make a mess that it made it hard to relax at home at first. I felt so bad asking for help to do anything/everything that sometimes I overdid it. Try to check in before she needs anything.

Also, nobody told me that there would be some weird days with all of the swelling that it would leave me feeling uncomfortably aroused. Apparently, the clitoris doesn't care where the pressure comes from. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ As the swelling went down, that receded, but it was really unexpected.

Sex after healing is going to be different. At first, I was really, really afraid that PIV would somehow explode the "sleeve" they sewed after they removed my uterus and cervix. Also, orgasms changed, because the uterus wasn't there to contract anymore. The anxiety about the first just eased over time. I'm still sometimes really disappointed in the way orgasms feel now; no one warned me about that change, so it was an unpleasant discovery.

Overall, be patient. It's a radical change in hormones literally overnight, and there's so much adjusting to get used to a new normal. It's really hard to be that helpless, on top of becoming a chemically new person, at the same time.
posted by headspace at 1:37 PM on May 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

yes, Brandon, that's right! So that you're supporting their whole back with the fabric of the shirt and their muscles aren't doing the work.
posted by mercredi at 1:55 PM on May 20, 2020

I had this done 18 months ago for cancer. They cut me from sternum to pubic bone. This is what I found useful and necessary, and what I was capable of.
  • Stairs - by the time I left hospital (three days after surgery) I was able to walk up the 67 stairs to my apartment. I knew that because I practised in the hospital stairwell with a nurse.
  • Rails/bathing - didn't need rails for showering or toilet, BUT I did have to be careful when stepping over the rim of the bath into my shower. If you have one of those shower-over-baths, you might want to be there to help her in and out.
  • I couldn't and didn't lift anything heavier than 1kg (2.2lb) for six weeks. DO NOT SKIP THIS. Lifting something heavier than that can fuck up the whole wound. That includes hanging washing, reaching for things on upper shelves, etc.
  • A small/med pillow to hug was absolutely necessary. Or a body pillow.
  • A wheat pack or other warming pack with a soft cover was also very comforting.
  • A skin oil to rub on the wound to help it heal.
  • I didn't need anyone to lift me using a shirt or anything else. She may not need lifting either.
  • Front-opening nightie so she doesn't have to pull it over her head.
  • Very wide band high waisted pants that are loose.
  • Plan the routine for constipation. Take a water-adding laxative rather than a nerve-stimulating one. The bowel movements will be much more comfortable.
  • CBD oil helped me a lot with pain and sleeping.
  • She may have to inject blood-thinners for a few weeks. Learn with her how to do this.
  • Encourage walking, even around the block. It makes it heal more quickly.

posted by Thella at 2:27 PM on May 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Miralax has been the absolute best for me in these situations -- it doesn't taste like anything and has no texture, you can add it to any drink, it's really gentle and it's hard to overdo it. I would use that plus a stool softener. Seriously, pooping after an abdominal surgery is the worst part. Other laxatives have just increased the pain.

Other things I haven't really seen -- one of those boyfriend pillows with the arms like this became my new best friend.

I actually liked ice packs more than heat packs this time around, so I had a few that I could rotate into the freezer.

Things that are super easy to eat. Pudding cups, string cheese, meals all in one bowl.

I agree that the doctor may be a lot more optimistic about the recovery time. It was easily 6 weeks before I could do more than just make it through the day at home.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:55 PM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Take the non-opiod pain meds on a strict schedule. Don't miss a dose, even if she's not in pain. Think of them as a preventative. Helps with the swelling, too.
posted by schroedinger at 3:35 PM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

They may add a lot of gas to her abdomen to help them be able to see and maneuver. If this is the case, the shoulder pain may be sharp and persistent. She may also develop diffuse subcutaneous emphysema, which is usually not dangerous, but can make your skin sound "crunch" when you poke it. I was very startled by this the first time I had abdominal surgery.

Comfort foods. Whatever she likes to eat when she's not feeling great, as well as foods that are substantial and/or portable. Absolutely foods to keep the gut moving. Dried fruit, coconut (macaroons are very good for this, and they have egg white, so protein!), whole grains, sweet potatoes. Definitely lots of hydration, tea, water, ginger ale, pedialyte.

Boredom. Possibly a jigsaw puzzle, or crosswords, or word searches, or mindless tv and movies, maybe music or calls with friends and family. Have an array of stuff on hand.

Super comfy elastic waist pants with a low low low waistband. Pressure on the wound is not fun. Full coverage underpants. Robes and/or soft cardigans. It's easy to go from being cold to hot and having to lift a shirt over the head is...hard. But shrugging a cardigan off and on is a little easier.

Heating pad.

If the doc tells her to take a walk the next day, ask how far. I accidentally walked 3 miles the day after an abdominal surgery and the surgeon was like "I meant around the block," so get specifics about any instructions.

Husband pillow can make sitting up easier. It's a pillow with arms for the uninitiated. Also consider a good pillow for back sleeping.
posted by bilabial at 3:47 PM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

One thing that helped me a lot was a large wedge pillow to raise my upper body when I was lying down. It was very painful to sit up from a fully reclined position. The wedge made it much easier. The one I used was 12" high, like this one. Another great help was a support panty, also called support brief or control brief. It's made of firm stretchy material that keeps the swollen area from jiggling when you walk.

She might want to look at the HysterSisters website. I found some very helpful information in the forums.
posted by wryly at 3:54 PM on May 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Baby wipes. After my surgery, I did not have the energy to shower.

I used a Pillow Pet under my seat belt for the car ride home after both my hysterectomy and appendectomy. I also slept with it on my abdomen.

I eventually got an abdominal brace and wish I had bought it sooner because it really helped. I had a post-op hernia, but the brace is inexpensive so it might be worth having one on hand.

If your wife is not in menopause already, she will be immediately after the surgery. Let her control the temperature in the house. I had my surgery during a record heat wave. Do not recommend. Ugh.

Lube. Not just for sex, but for daily comfort. There are both internal and external solutions. I was warned about vaginal dryness but I didn’t know until I knew. It was itchy and uncomfortable.
posted by Ruki at 4:24 PM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

All good advice above. I would only add that it helped me to stay on a schedule for pain medication instead of waiting until it actually started hurting. I was basically in a drugged haze for a few weeks and by the time I was completely clear-headed again I was OK.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:54 PM on May 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

When I had my hysterectomy (I kept my ovaries and cervix) I had a very frank talk with my surgeon regarding my sexual response after surgery. She assured me that she would be extra careful to not damage nerves , and that there were things she could do to preserve my physical feelings. She also noted that my request was out of the ordinary. I was glad I talked to her about this, it helped immensely.

And yes to laxatives, good fiber and lots of water!!
posted by LaBellaStella at 5:07 PM on May 20, 2020

When my wife had this surgery, she found it extremely painful to lie flat in bed the first 4-5 nights home from the hospital. We had borrowed a recliner from a friend and she slept in that until she could tolerate lying flat.

If you have a cat (and even if you don’t) a little lap desk/tray is very handy. We had one that had legs that went on either side of her hips, and the tray/desk part sat above her belly. When the cat jumped up to cuddle, she was protected from being jumped on. Having a flat surface for a cup and the TV remote was also handy.

My wife wasn’t confident in her balance/strength for the first week or so, so I sat in the room with her when she showered. In general, if she’s having an open/non-laparoscopic surgery, expect to need to be her full-time caregiver for at least the first week, possibly two.

The hospital may send her home with an abdominal binder. If not, ask about one. My wife found that hers really helped her feel better — apparently when they slice through all your abs, it feels for a while afterward like all your guts are just going to tumble out of your body, and the binder helped lessen that feeling.

Be proactive with requesting PT and any non-surgical medical follow up that may be indicated. My wife’s surgeon basically dropped her after the 2-week follow up appointment, and because the biopsy came back benign, there was no follow up care with any other doctor. It wasn’t until she switched PCPs a year or so later that we learned that she should have been getting extra blood tests and breast exams.

Nthing all the constipation prevention advice.

Consider rationing any opioid pain medication. If my wife had taken her pain meds as prescribed, she would have been out of them in a week. As it was, she started halving the doses/alternating with an NSAID. She needed the meds for much longer than they would have lasted, and her doctor would not authorize a refill.
posted by coppermoss at 5:45 PM on May 20, 2020

I lost my appetite completely and it took weeks to want to eat anything other than popsicles. Just thinking about food was a chore and they didn’t want to release me till I ate solid food. So it might help to be creative in what you can offer food wise—like, somehow my friend magically knew to buy watermelon chunks and that was the only thing that didn’t make me want to barf. She might not know what she’ll want so just be patient and try to brainstorm things that might work.

Can you get a cane? I didn’t think I’d need it because I was tooling around the floor like Mario Andretti in the hospital, but my god I was exhausted when I started actually going for walks or to the store or whatever. I’d start out all peppy and sag pretty quickly and that cane became a lifeline. It also really helped me get up and down from sitting once I could do that.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 6:00 PM on May 20, 2020

Response by poster: Just a note, the wife is reading all of this and we're talking about all the suggestions, seeing what she thinks would work best for her. Thank you all!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:32 PM on May 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh! I bought one of those hospital bed tables right before my surgery. That was so handy!
posted by Ruki at 7:35 PM on May 20, 2020

Couldn’t figure out why I didn’t have any of the constipation problems everyone’s describing, then remembered the raging diarrhea from the massive doses of IV antibiotics I had to have. I guess a lot of stuff is dependent on the circumstances around the surgery.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:33 PM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had a laparoscopic hysterectomy just under a year ago, and the recovery was actually much easier than I expected it to be. The things I remember most:

The small pillow to hold against my belly when I coughed or sneezed or laughed was essential. It was also helpful to hug the pillow against my belly when I slept -- I can't really sleep on my back, so the pillow made it possible for me to sleep on my side without any discomfort.

I had to really remind myself not to lift anything. There were so many times that I'd reach for something heavy without thinking of it, and catch myself just in time.

Riding in the car SUCKED, for weeks afterward, because wow, potholes HURT. Especially any side-to-side jostling. Ouch city.

My energy was vanish very, very quickly. I'd feel great, and be all "let's go wander around Target!!" (remember when we could wander around Target?? Sob) and halfway through the store I would want to just lie down on the floor and sleep.

Stool softeners will be her friend. I cannot emphasize enough how much she should take the stool softeners.

I bought one of those breakfast-in-bed tray table thingies, the ones that have short legs so they can go over your lap in ned, and it was a godsend for keeping my cats from jumping onto my belly while I was in bed. If you have pets or small children, I highly recommend it. We got ours for free off Freecycle.
posted by sarcasticah at 8:34 PM on May 20, 2020

When I had this exact surgery laparoscopically with what they call vaginal assist (?) I was flattened by pain in the hospital. I had a pain IV drip where I could push a button and it and dispensed pain medicine - morphine - yet it wasn't set at a generous enough rate or dose to control my pain. I'd sort of drift off immediately after I pushed the button, ten minutes later I'd wake in pain, but another dose wasn't permitted for 10 more minutes. This was really frustrating - I have no history of opiate or addiction issues, but they were very hesitant to preescribe larger doses, and I suffered because of it. It might be worth a frank conversation with your surgeon or anesthesiologist if you know you are not "good with pain". On the other hand, I do know two people who found recovery "not too bad". and were fine with ibuprofen and Tylenol #3. i'm allergic to NSAIDS, so had to rely on tylenol and opiates.

I was bedridden for the day after the surgery and probably two days after that, though I managed to get out of bed with assistance to use the bathroom., I don't know how I would have been able to accomplish this without someone to support my back and help get me to a sitting position. Standing from a sitting position was not quite as bad as sitting from a lying posistion, but I was both weak and in pain. Someone will probably need to be constantly available for a day or two.

The grab-a-shirt advice above is spot-on. I was absolutely not capable of getting myself out of bed in the earliest post-op period. Either a nurse in the immediate recovery period, or my husband the next day would have to assist with repositioning and getting up for the bathroom. I may have had a bowl or two of soup on a tray, but I was not interested in or able to sit up to eat for a few days.

Worse the my pain, actually, in the hospital I unluckily had a roommate who was a teeenage patient who had frequent hospitalizations from a chronic ilness - all she wanted to do was watch TV all night long and talk all night with her friends on the phone, I needed to sleep. She reacted indignantly and aggressively to my quiet suggestion that the noise and flashing TV pictuire was keeping me awake. That only inspired her to get back on the phone with a friend at 1:00 in the morning to indignantly complain about me. Miserable, painful night at a crowded hospital ithout a single room available. If there's any way you can arrange for a private room it would undoubtedly help your wife recover
posted by citygirl at 9:56 PM on May 20, 2020

Ugh, I had one of those dispense-your-own-morphine kerjiggers, but if I pressed the button often enough to actually control the pain it made me itch so badly it felt like there were fire ants under my skin. They finally had to spread ice packs on the bed under my back. So I guess that’s another piece of advice - ask for ice packs if you need that much morphine.

And I guess this is probably standard with any surgery, but once the staples were out the doctor had me massage the scar and surrounding skin with cocoa butter to prevent stiff scar tissue and adhesions. Fifteen years on it looks like a faint vertical c-section scar, from just under the navel down to the pubic bone.

I remember lots of TV and lots of napping.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:19 PM on May 20, 2020

It was very painful to sit up from a fully reclined position.
Yes. I forgot about that. I'd roll onto my side on the edge of the bed, go a bit fetal, then raise my whole body sideways while swinging my paired legs over the edge of the bed. It uses muscles in the hips, legs and sides rather than just the abdomen.
posted by Thella at 12:29 AM on May 21, 2020

Best answer: I don't have any experience I know of with hysterectomy but lots of experience working with people recovering from hip replacements and abdominal surgeries (I am not a clinician! Just a care partner educator). Some general tips that may be helpful:

- If there is a physical therapist or occupational therapist you know she will be working with, talk to them about modifications to her environment, positioning, and especially transfers. They'll have the most detailed knowledge and the best training in sharing it with you.

-The transfer-by-shirt idea a lot of people have shared sounds like a homespun transfer sling, which is a great assistance device. They come in different designs. You may also consider a positioning sheet. No matter what you choose, make sure it is sturdy and doesn't slip easily! I strongly recommend handles; slips and (losing) grips are a great way to get one or both of you hurt.

-Make sure you watch videos, or even better, work with a PT/OT/Nurse/someone professional on transfer techniques. This is a big deal: many home care partners get injured trying to move their loved ones, and it happens to younger care partners too. Trust me that you do not want to suddenly be supporting 150+ pounds entirely on your own while bent over. That way lies back injury and falls.

-Following from above (transfers are a big deal to me; we see a whole lot of outcome improvement from working with this), you're going to want to have a plan for moving to, from, and between at least one of each: 1) Bed, 2) Chair, 3) Toilet, 4) Shower. If she hasn't had surgery yet, I would actually start practicing now, at least a couple times, so she can give feedback on what her sensations are before they will be highly painful or injurious. Pay attention to whether she is experiencing abdominal or pelvic effort or strain and try to minimize or eliminate that. Also pay close attention to your body: hips, back, shoulders, abdomen. What may be a little tweak in your lower back right now is going to be a whole lot worse after a month.

-Take care of yourself. This is super important: you owe her your health. She's relying on you. Eat right, sleep enough, get some exercise, and schedule time for yourself to relax, read, do yoga, whatever, just be focused on you. We are pushing a move away from the term 'caregiver' (which we pushed from 'caretaker') to 'care partner' because our experiences and research shows that this is a two-way street. You will still do all the chores and all the assistance, but you need you time and emotional support as well.

-Finally, and this is it, I promise: in the interest of balance, I'd suggest that you both make a plan ahead of time about what chores and standards will look like during this time. If you've been making home-cooked, scratch meals every night, that is probably not going to work right now. You can cook in bulk a couple times a week or say that every other night we eat tv dinners or whatever works well for you, but make sure that you two negotiate and agree on the standards. You can make it into a chore plan and post it up somewhere. What this will help with is your mental health: one of the biggest concerns I hear from care partners is how difficult it can be to go to sleep because there is always something else that needs to get done. Lay some parameters down now, check in on them as you go along, and you'll both sleep much better.

Good luck to both of you and be patient. This is a difficult thing for a couple to go through but as a care partner myself, I can say that it doesn't have to be bad; my wife and I have never been closer than we have been when I've had to help her in and out of the bathroom. It's vulnerable and scary but if you both approach it with love and humility and kindness and gratitude, it can be rewarding and strengthening.
posted by skookumsaurus rex at 4:57 AM on May 21, 2020

Make sure she is in the room next to a bathroom and has quick and free access to that bathroom. My sister didn't always make even with the bathroom just one door down the hall. Definitely don't have the bathroom on another level. It takes some time to learn to use stairs without engaging your belly muscles and this is not best learned while hurrying to get there.

Take it real slow on food post surgery. Even if she seems to be eating and digesting just fine after discharge keep it down to very small meals and not too often for the first week home. Post surgical vomiting is no fun.

Make sure you know how to do everything before she goes in for surgery. You don't want to be asking her where the forks or the Phillips screwdrivers are, so that you can do her accustomed chores during her convalescence, or she will be up and down trying to show you, or taking over.

Make sure your wife has the kind of skin that stays put before the surgeon rips the bandages off. If she doesn't, make sure the surgeon knows. My sister again had more problems where the bandages came off than she did from the incisions, even though the surgeon only tore one and a quarter pieces of tape off and left the other five and three quarters when she realised the damage she was doing. My sister either got fully skinned in those areas or they turned into gigantic blisters. Test with heavy duty water proof bandages from the pharmacy, as this is close to the kind the surgeon will want to use. If your wife has never had anything more adhesive than a kid's band-aid stuck to her, nor anything larger than an inch square that she left an extra week she may not know if her skin is this delicate or not.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:27 AM on May 21, 2020

This might be a small thing, but make the bed with clean sheets for when she returns from the hospital. Ask how regularly she wants them washed and do that for her.
posted by lioness at 12:40 AM on May 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Depending where your partner is in her menstrual life ie menstruating, peri-menopausal, menopausal, the removal of her ovaries is a big deal.

The hardest thing for me with the BSO was the surgical menopause it causes, even though I was peri-menopausal already. Surgical menopause is brutal, and the effects on one’s mood, the hot flashes, the aches are often debilitating. I was teary, hot, faint, miserable, aching, physically very sensitive, and until I was able to get HRT I was almost suicidally depressed.

My libido changed significantly and even after given clearance for sex at my six week check up, I was unable to get into the mood at all. Surgical menopause (and menopause in general) thins the vaginal walls, slows lubrication production which makes penetrative sex painful without more lovemaking time to get aroused, or lubrication gels etc. Having an understanding and supportive partner about the sexual implications of this surgery would be really great - do some reading about how to sexually adjust to, and romantically support, a menopausal partner.

Maybe this will not be an issue for your partner, but be ready and understanding of this painful aspect of the surgery’s impact on one’s feelings of femininity, sexuality and value. I would have loved to receive some empathy about this aspect of my surgical experience from my partner, because it was awful to have to deal with his lack of sympathy and his pouting about sex. I honestly can’t imagine a man being subject to such a lack of understanding and constant pressure to perform if he’d undergone castration.
posted by honey-barbara at 6:04 AM on May 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Brandon, buy her one of these little fans. It's the best practical solution I've come up with so far to hot flashes. If I can catch it in time, I can actually keep a hot flash at bay and not sweat, which is kind of awesome.
posted by heyho at 12:57 PM on May 23, 2020

Response by poster: Just a heads up that surgery happened, went well, and she's recovering well, thanks for all the useful tips and suggestions, especially about the tub, bed, and toilet rails, they've been super helpful!

Highly recommend anyone else helping a loved recover from something use an erasable med chart with checkboxes, so it's easy to track what should be given and when, particularly if multiple people are helping.

Thanks again!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:57 PM on May 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

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