Lately, many people I know—including readers of this blog—have had surgeries. My last surgery was six years ago and recovery was intense. I had a transcervical thymectomy for Myasthenia Gravis, MG, a neuromuscular autoimmune disease. My neck was cut open, my thymus (which is by my heart was removed), and my neck was glued back together again. I asked readers of this blog on Twitter and Facebook what advice they have for people recuperating from surgery. Indeed, recovering from a medical procedure can be both physically and mentally demanding. For example, studies have shown that up to 33% of heart attack patients develop some sort of depression. Pain, fatigue, and the monotony of being bedridden daily are intense. I also have bipolar disorder. After operations, I was proactive about my mental health.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer, I went out and bought an iPad (they had just come out) and loaded it up with games. Not only did it keep me occupied (and kept my mind off the pain), it was also entertaining for visitors and a big hit during chemo (I taught other patients how to play Sudoko). Everyone loved it. And a welcome diversion in the middle of the night when no one was around and the pain was scary. Best investment!” –Michele
“I watched DVD comedy movies everyday lots of rest and sleep. Most of all, Prayers sustained me.” –Loowee
“I got my new knee 6 days ago. I was sitting on my couch with my husband hashing over all the things people we hired to help me have screwed up in the 3 days I have been home. Then I started doing some exercises (yay I can do them & am off narcotic pain meds.” –Carol
“Listen to your favourite music. You can lose yourself in a good song, which can steer your mind away from negative thoughts.” —@rasheedclarke
“Read a lot, get outside when possible, sleep whenever you want. Think of it as a lengthy mandatory vacation!” —@KitSpy
“My one tip would be do not rush it. After gallbladder removal last year I was amazed how much it wiped me out, it takes time.” —@DeniseNolson
10 Ways to Cope Post-Surgery
1. A patient attitude–Being patient is hard. I know when I was bedridden for over a year there were times when I forced myself to do exercises I could not do. When I forced myself, I would experience a setback. I was in denial. At one point, I even dug up my Paul Abdul Shut Up and Dance tape (yes, it was actually on VHS!) that I hadn’t done in ages because I wanted to feel “normal” again. Part of my actions were motivated by fear (fear of being paralyzed for life) and partly vanity (I gained a lot of weight from being bedridden and Prednisone–a type of steroids). Eventually, I learned to see the big picture and not sabotage myself by focusing on the moment.
2. Physical therapy–As Carol alluded to with her knee surgery, physical therapy can be helpful. It is safer than exercising on your own; always consult your doctor before you start exercising again.
3. Talk therapy–As I blogged about in 5 Ways to Maintain Mental Health Despite Chronic Pain & Fatigue, mental health and physical health are connected. If you can’t leave the house because of mobility issues and/or a compromised immune system, consider web therapy.
4. A Reacher–@anetto tweeted this idea. You can find the Nova Reacher Dragon 32″ here at Walgreen’s ($19.99). A reacher means having to bend and reach less. The general idea is to have coping tools by your bedside like a sturdy a cup of water and a phone.
5. Laughter–As I blogged about previously, laughter can be a powerful tool in surviving pain. Laughter releases endorphins, AKA “the feel good hormones,” which help us manage stress and fight depression. Post-op, I watched a lot of Chris Rock, Katt Williams, and I Love Lucy.
6. Music–I have a theme song for most of my illnesses. As I blogged about, Jessica Sanchez’ rendition of I’m Telling You I’m Not Going Nowhere became my song of defiance–my message to Myasthenia Gravis. MG can take everything but my heart.
7. Entertainment--Favorite movies, TV shows, and games can be a good distraction.
8. Books--This year, I’ve been practicing mindfulness. I just started reading poetry; I’ve memorized three Emily Dickinson poems and I’m going to start studying Robert Frost soon. When I’m in pain or too tired to do anything, I recite a poem. As @KitSpy discussed, reading and sleeping helped her.
9. Faith–In my life, faith has been powerful for keeping my sanity. When I was alone in bed, I often called out to God for strength and recited Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength,” comforted me.
10. Visitors–Unfortunately, this one is partly beyond our control. My first year with myasthenia, I had a lot of visitors. I loved it when people brought over Red Robin burgers or balloons or flowers. As time marches on, chronically ill patients receiver fewer visitors. There is a noticeable drop off. Additionally, with each procedure, some of us have fewer visitors and phone calls. Society expects stories to have a neat beginning-middle-and end. It’s ingrained in us at a young age by fairy tales and Hollywood but chronic illness has no end. Living with chronic illness is like running a race with no finish line. The one thing I would say to someone who wants to help a sick friend is to not stop visiting or calling.
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno