Optimize Your Post-Op Recovery (by PRIORITIZING Your Pre-Op Preparation)!
As you read this, I am undergoing surgery (oh, the wonders of technology and being able to schedule a blog post DAYS in advance!). My THIRD and FOURTH surgeries in a mere four months, to be exact (third AND fourth because I'm actually undergoing two separate surgeries, but they are doing them at the same time so I don't have to go under anesthesia twice). I explain more about why I'm having to have two more surgeries here, so I won't go into the gory details (and it is a bit gory...) in this post. However, I felt that, in light of the pain (literally) of having to have more surgeries, I would try to make lemonade out of these lemons and take it as an opportunity to share some of my tips, tricks, and to-do recommendations before surgery, to ensure you get back to life ASAP after surgery. Hope this is helpful for those of you who are either prepping to have surgery soon, or for those who've just had surgery recently, because, YES: the tips and tricks can help even after surgery, too! Curious? Keep reading...
Surgery is traumatic--both for the body and the mind. And although sometimes it's avoidable, other times it's not. This post (and these tips) are for those of you who are finding yourself fin the latter position, like yours truly. These tips are ones that I've learned from experience, and some that I wish I had known prior to my first two surgeries...but lucky me, I get the chance to incorporate them NOW (sarcasm is a given here...), and also to share them with you!
Preparing for surgery
Prepare your body
Protein. Surgery is a pretty common thing, so we oftentimes don't really think of it as an extreme trauma...but it is. Surgery, whether laparoscopic or open, ALWAYS involves cutting into and invading the body--two things that bodies don't exactly appreciate all that much. Tissue healing is the top priority after surgery, and although we can't control how long it takes our body to heal, we can do things that assist in more efficient healing. One of the main things we can do is increase the amount of protein we are consuming, both pre-op and post-op. Now, if you're having abdominal surgery like I am, be prepared for some major appetite loss, nausea, and food repulsion after surgery...sometimes up to a few weeks (mine lasted close to a month). In these cases, packing in protein post-op may not be possible, so getting extra protein pre-surgery is all the more important. Protein will speed tissue healing, help with muscle mass (you'll lose muscle during your recovery, but extra protein, especially the amino acid glutamine, will reduce the magnitude of muscle you lose post-op, as proven in this study), and provide a calorically-dense source of nutrition, which is essential after surgery. Paying extra attention to protein intake BEFORE surgery will make a big impact on post-op outcome and healing time, even if you can't get that much protein after surgery. And even if you can't stomach "whole food" protein sources after surgery, opt for protein shakes, bone broth, and other easier-to-digest liquid protein sources, or even a supplemental glutamine powder or BCAA supplement. Anything and everything helps.
Vitamin D. As I've noted before, vitamin D (along with vitamin A, vitamin E, and zinc) have actually been shown to be much more effective at supporting the immune system than vitamin C! Being mindful of our immune system function is very important before surgery, as the combination of anesthesia, pain medicine, and the physical trauma of an operation can all be very stressful, which thereby causes the immune system to take a pretty hefty hit. We can support our immune systems by getting plenty of vitamin D, both from food (animal protein is the best source) and from the sun.
Antioxidants. You will obviously have quite a bit of inflammation after surgery, which is normal. However, getting plenty of antioxidants (both pre- and post-surgery), which help control inflammation in the body, will help regulate the inflammation you do have. Antioxidants are abundant in all fruits and vegetables (choose the "bright colors": all bel peppers, especially red, yellow and orange; all berries, especially wild blueberries; broccoli; carrots; tomatoes, etc.), green tea (add lemon for extra antioxidant powder!), and dark chocolate (opt for at least 70% cacao).
Move your body. You don't have to start running 5 miles a day before surgery (if you're not used to running, you might need a different kind of surgery if you do...), but staying active is essential for a few reasons. First, exercise and activity of all kinds is excellent for the immune system, especially the lungs (which can struggle during surgery due to the anesthesia). Second, it prevents you from having to be inactive for longer than necessary, since inactivity to some degree post-surgery is necessary to heal. Third, it keeps your mood up, and your mind off of surgery...which leads me into some things you can do to prepare your mind for surgery.
Prepare your mind
Prayer and Meditation. This time around, I am definitely more prepared for my surgeries than I was in April. I have a pretty good idea of the level of pain I'll feel, as well as the process leading up to and out of the OR. However, anxieties can still creep up and I recall the trauma from my last two operations. I have been combating this anxiety by spending extra time in prayer and meditation. This past week leading up to my surgery this time, I made my time with Jesus the top priority in my life, putting other thing aside so I could have an extra 30 minutes (or some days, even an hour) to spend in mindful and meditative awarenesses of His constant presence with me. Prayer and meditation doesn't have to look the same for everyone: it doesn't have to look like lying on your back on a yoga mat or kneeling at your bedside (although I do both of thee things daily, too). Oftentimes I feel most at home in The Lord when I am outside in His creation, and have been doing much of my meditation and prayer outdoors. Whatever you're especially drawn to, do that. He is present all around.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. After my first surgery, I had numerous complications that left me pretty traumatized from the pain and uncertainty of everything. Ever since surgery, I've been dealing with pretty severe anxiety and panic attacks, which I've been working through slowly but surely. In addition to the redemptive grace and goodness of The Lord, I have found great benefit through cognitive behavioral therapy, or, as I like to call it, "worst case scenario rehearsals." It's not really worst case scenario rehearsal, but it is in some ways. In CBT, you quite literally pinpoint your greatest fear, the thing that is the source of your anxiety, and you envision that thing happening. What would happen if that happened? Through a series f reflective questions, you realize that, hey, that "worst case scenario" isn't really that bad after all. If this explanation seems a bit vague, I have some worksheets on this page that can help you with CBT.
Scripture memorization, recitation, and declaration (or "mantras"). Chances are, you'll not feel up to reading your bible immediately after surgery...or sometimes even a few days after surgery. For me, I missed about 2 weeks of my daily devotionals because I couldn't even sit up for 12 days. This is where Scripture verse memorization is so, so important. Memorizing Scripture will help us recall those "lifeline verses" that we so desperately need to hear after surgery, in the time where we need them most, but may not be able to physically access. Memorizing some of your favorite encouraging, comforting, and peace-bringing verses before surgery may just be the thing that keeps you afloat. Additionally, repeating declarations daily leading up to surgery can truly impact your emotional ability to handle trauma...trust me on this one. Whether reciting and declaring Scripture verses, or simply "Jesus is within you, you are not alone," you will feel empowered, and be powerfully reminded of the truth: "You are one in whom Christ dwells and delights. You live in the unshakable Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is not in trouble, and neither are you." (Quote by James Bryan Smith)
Prepare your spirit
Ponder Christ's Sufferings. This is a big one. It's difficult, and you. may not be able to do this until AFTER the fact, but it is truly revolutionizing in how you feel about and think of your experience, pain, and suffering. Though I wouldn't ravish enduring what I endured in April all over again, I can truly and totally honestly say that suffering in such a profound way that I did made Christ's crucifixion very real to me. It helped me understand in a very life-like, relatable way maybe what my Jesus endured and felt. Like I said, this is difficult and very deep, so don't try to force yourself to be ready to reflect on this immediately. It takes time...but The Lord is working even now.
Take it Easy. Do something spontaneous, a little lighthearted, or extra fun. Do something you enjoy, but don't usually have time to do. Relax, take a day trip, sleep in, go to a movie...whatever makes your spirit smile, do it before surgery. The joy and lightheartedness it enables you to feel will truly make a difference going in to surgery.
Talk to Someone. Whether you feel comfortable confiding in your pastor or your best friend, talk to someone about what you're feeling. You don't have to justify why you're feeling the way you're feeling, you just need to let yourself feel it, and confide in someone so they can walk with you through what you're feeling. This seems like a small thing, and one that isn't very important going into surgery, but it's crucial. I view this in the same way that I view regular "confession" for Christians: only through it can we find true healing, even if we don't know we need it, or don't even need it quite yet.
Surgery is never fun, but it doesn't have to be as horrible as we think. By incorporating these tips and suggestions, I pray that your surgical experience (whether first or 21st) is less-traumatic than you were expecting.
Until next time...
Stay healthy, happy, and hopeful,
Dr. Anna Johnson, ND
P.S. Any and all prayers for my own personal surgery, going on NOW, are so deeply appreciated. Thank you all! Xo