5 Crucial Elements of Surgery Recovery
There is a number of times I’ve been in surgical case that went terribly wrong.
When things go wrong, the operating room turns into absolute, controlled, chaos. Pumps, drips, blood products, equipment and doctors, nurses, and techs, scrambling around each other to work as fast and efficiently as possible to keep patients safe.
I am an anesthesiologist, and a good part of my practice involves care of complex patients undergoing complex procedures, where chances of a complication are high. It’s my job to keep them safe.
With that experience, I have good news for you, vast majority of surgery is not high risk, but complications can and still do happen. I’ve worked the whole spectrum of the hospital, from outpatient surgical centers, to the emergency room, to the operating room, and intensive care units.
I’ve seen all kinds of complications, and I want to let you know, some of it, you have control over.
If you are going for surgery, here are the 5 critical elements you have to understand that will help you recover well:
Healing Takes Time: For example, a surgical wound will regain approximately 20% of its tensile strength after 3 weeks which increases to 80% strength only by the 12th week. The recovery can be longer depending on the surgery, for example for rhinoplasty (nose surgery), the full cosmetic effects don’t manifest fully until up to year later. What the point here? You have to expect that things take time. Have patience and prioritize self-care over other obligations. Get ample sleep!
Nutrition: No matter what surgery you have, minor or major, the stress of surgery is at the very least equivalent to running a marathon. Whether you’re able to run a marathon or not, even minor surgery incurs an in incredible stress on your body. Would you train or run a marathon without proper nutrition? Of course not. On your path to recovery, it’s important to optimize your nutrition for healing.
Managing pain: You’ve heard the adage “no pain - no gain”. It’s possible to take enough pain medication after surgery to feel little to no pain. In context, you’ve just had surgery, which means an incredible amount of pain was masked by someone like me, your anesthesiologist. Now if you continue to take high doses of strong medication to the point where you feel no pain after surgery, you will get it’s side effects, such as nausea, drowsiness, constipation, respiratory issues, delirium, and etc. All of those can lead to complications and prolonged hospital stays, even readmissions to the hospital. So, take enough so your pain is bearable and controlled, but don’t take enough to make it go away completely.
Mobility: Some procedures require bed rest for some time after surgery, but this is certainly a minority. Surgical patients, because they’ve had surgery, have a lot of inflammation, fluid shifts, and other changes after surgery. Moving around after surgery, as long as safe, is the number one non-medication intervention we are aggressive about to prevent complications and improve outcomes. Even in the surgical intensive care unit, we get sick patients out of bed, sitting, and walking as soon as it’s safe for them to do so. There are too many reasons for this to go into here, but trust me, it’s important.
Where You Have Surgery Matters: The biggest point to make here is that different hospitals/surgical centers cater to a specific types of surgery. You want to go to a place (and a surgeon) that very routinely takes care of a certain kind of patient, like you. The systems in place (and personnel training) varies widely between different hospitals and locations. You want to be at a place that essentially feels like a “factory”, where the same surgery is done multiple times by a team that knows exactly how to deal with specific complications of that surgery and can intervene fast when things don’t go well. If you have, say, a hip replacement in place where most of the surgery is gynecologic, chances are the system of dealing with your specific needs may not be as worked out.
I am always surprised to see how many patients aren’t explained these basic premises. Collectively as physicians we unfortunately haven’t been able to properly educate all of our patients. There is just never enough time.
The medical team at HealFast actually put together a whole Ebook that goes over a lot of the things you need to know, and goes into more details on the topics above.
I’ve rallied to make it available for free. There is just too much important information that you need to know. The ebook has been put together by a team of doctors, and I think you will find it useful.
Get it here:
I want to empower you. The patients that know more and are motivated to take recovery into their own hands are the ones that end up doing well. Be invested in your recovery.
Until next time, and good luck in your recovery!
Myro Figura, M.D.