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Thursday, March 17, 2016


Steve Cole ponders thoughts on surgical recovery after he had a kidney removed and Jean had her female operation:

1. When you are told that you are going to have surgery, you need to start planning for your recovery. I don't mean just mentally thinking about the day you go back to work, but the logistics of the time period during which you are stuck at home, hurting, resting, and trying to get better. The most important thing you can do is to start years before you need surgery to create a healthy body that exercises, is not overweight, and eats healthy food. The stronger you go into surgery, the faster you come out of it.

2. Unlike television where someone walks into a hospital with vague symptoms and has major surgery between the second and third commercials, in the real world your surgery may well be scheduled as much as a month away. If you have to travel (I had to go 400 miles from home) that will take extra planning, including how you're going to get home. Something nobody knows until you're told you need surgery is that a cardiologist and a lung doctor have to certify that you're allowed to have surgery. Most deaths during non-emergency surgery are from heart attacks, strokes, or breathing problems. That means several extra doctor appointments. In my case, I had to have my other kidney scanned before they would remove the bad one.

3. One big thing you need to keep in mind is that while you are recovering, you are going to be dependent on a lot of help from family and friends. You need to ask for as little help as you can get by with because after a couple of weeks of waiting on your every need, your family and friends are going to get tired of being your body servant. More people to share the load, and simplifying your needs and requirements, will help a lot. In my case, I stocked the freeze with microwave meals I can eat, reducing the amount of time Leanna had to spend preparing or fetching me food. There was no way I could cook for myself but I could manage to take something out of a box, put it in the microwave, and push a button or two. (We moved a chair to be beside the microwave so I could sit down and wait for it to finish.)

4. Modern hospitals are very different from just a decade ago. You can order room service meals from a menu rather than just eating whatever cold food somebody puts in front of you. The trick is to get people to explain the system to you while you're awake enough to grasp it. I never got to watch TV because the only time I was shown how it worked was when I was groggy. I was shown a place on the bulletin board that said how many grams of carbohydrates I could have but nobody said if that was per meal or per day or during my entire stay. (I just ordered what I wanted.) When my food arrived, I was not allowed to eat it until my blood sugar had been tested (by which time my food was cold). Take your own blood sugar meter and check it for yourself and then start eating. They can just get over it. I found out that I had a yellow gown because I was a fall risk but when I proved I could walk (expect them to force you to walk pretty quickly after your surgery) I was promoted to a blue one.

5. You will be given post-surgical instructions when you leave the hospital. Read them, ask questions, make sure you understand them, then review them with your family and with your primary physician. In my case, the cancer in my kidney was why my blood pressure was so high and once that was gone it dropped to dangerously low levels.

6. Avoid reading a lot of stuff on internet but stay with one or two sites that your doctor tells you are good ones. Being informed is good. Being scared to death about things that might happen is not good.

7. You will be bored during recovery as you spend the time you would have been at work waiting for the day you can get back to work. I planned a rotating series of activities, including banked episodes of TV shows, books to read, and the entire Admiral Jingles library (on YouTube) from World of Tanks and World of Warships. I also discovered some YouTube series of astronomy and alternate history stuff. I had never heard of Last Week Tonight or of Ted Talks.
8. Rearrange the house so that you have at least two places to be (bed and a recliner for example) which have access to a telephone and television, as well as a place to put food, drink, and reading materials. I ended up having my cell phone hung around my neck on a string so that I'd always have a way to call for help.

9. Planning for an extended period away from work is tedious but necessary. Get major projects finished before you go in. Teach someone to handle your routine tasks that have to be done every day. Be prepared to have the time away from work suddenly get much longer. Jean and I both got horrible colds which cost me two weeks in bed and almost killed Jean (literally) and did cause permanent damage. The worst part of recovery is just how "wearing" it is to feel bad for a few weeks. You get mentally worn out, and become convinced you will never get better, and if you don't shake that feeling, you never will feel better.
10. It is apparently common for surgical patients to tear a muscle while under pain medicines (perhaps catching themselves before a fall, trying to pick up something too heavy, or reaching for something too far away and too hard to move). Jean and I both had this happen, and it caused a lot of discomfort during recovery. (In my case, the torn muscle was right in front of my heart, and the severe pain made the hospital think I was having a heart attack. They were very good about this, however, and used an X-ray and EKG to determine that my heart was just fine.) Watch what you're doing and follow the post-surgical instructions to avoid injuring yourself.