The best of healers is good cheer. ~ Pindus
We don’t realize how valuable our health is until something interferes with it! For the past couple of years, I’ve been on a mission to kick “midlife‘s” ass. I’ve been on a bit of a health binge and thank god I have been! I believe being in better shape helped me recover faster from my recent surgery.
My gallbladder has been giving me fits for a few years, but I decided to go all out with nutrition and natural remedies and attempt to bypass a surgical fix. So, when my 31-year-old daughter had to have her gallbladder out a couple of months ago, I told her adorable 30-something-year-old surgeon that I’ve been fortunate to get my little beast under control using diet and nutrition. He just smiled smugly and stated that many of his patients report some degree of success for a period of time before they end up on his surgical table. Gulp. He then offered me the 2-for-1 family discount. We all chuckled…
Then as if on cue, my gallbladder took the challenge and began a relentless series of attacks. After a week of battle, I surrendered and called the cute surgeon. After all the appropriate diagnostics to validate what we already knew, it was clear the persistent gallbladder and its accumulated pesky stones wanted out. Fortunately, I was not in an acute situation, so I was able to schedule a time well after the then upcoming Mercury Retrograde (because no one needs to schedule surgery during a Mercury Retrograde on purpose!).
I knew there were things I could do to help my body prepare for the surgical invasion before the big event as well as after, of course. Now that I’m well on the recovery side of this health crisis, I thought I’d share some of what helped me minimize the trauma. Not everyone has a chance to plan and prepare for surgery, but if you do, the following might be helpful.
Start with a solid diagnosis
Before you come to terms with a surgical solution, make sure you are 100% comfortable with the diagnosis and that you trust your surgeon.
Acceptance is the key
Once you are clear that you are going to have surgery, make peace with your decision and immediately begin imagining a good outcome. A positive attitude is a great foundation for the best possible outcome.
Beware of information overload
Be informed, but don’t go nuts Googling the procedure and start watching YouTube videos of the surgery. Know when to walk away from too much information. It is easy to terrorize yourself with other people’s horror stories or create a list of all the things that could go wrong to review every night before bedtime. Go back to # 1 and ask yourself if you trust your diagnosis and your surgeon. If yes, proceed. If not, re-evaluate carefully to see what is real and what is fear.
Go into pre-operative warrior mode
Knowing that your body is about to be invaded, now is the time to do whatever you can to prepare. Not that you will lose 20 pounds and begin a new exercise regimen, but from where you are, there are always ways to clean up your nutritional act and take extra good care of yourself. Understand what this means for you and maybe do a little research to prepare for the specific to the type of injury or illness and surgery you are having.
I truly believe that given even a few days prior to any surgery, we can focus on reducing our recovery time and negative outcomes by making a commitment to treat our bodies with the gentleness we would offer a dear sick friend. Here’s one great post with a ton of information about natural ways to boost our nutrition to support an upcoming surgery.
And for my vegan friends, I recently discovered a wonderful super healthy plant-based mineral broth that is great for before or after surgery.
Supplements: do’s & don’ts
Obviously a lot will depend on the type of illness or injury and the type of surgery you are having, but it is important to check with your surgeon or a good medical source to make sure whatever you are doing is safe. Here’s a great post by a surgeon that offers some solid and practical advice for vitamins and supplements before surgery.
Homeopathy ~ a surprising amount of surgeons actually recommend Arnica for pre- and post-operative healing (many plastic surgeons, presumably because it reduces swelling and tissue trauma). And here’s a great post with more specifics on various homeopathic remedies for general and specific types of surgeries.
Build up your blood
Not all, but many surgeries do tax our blood supply. In any case, it is a good idea to strengthen your blood for optimal healing. Here’s an excellent post with some ways to help build stronger blood.
Stay calm & reduce stress
Of course this is a perennial good idea, but seriously, our immune systems thrive without stress and now is the time to keep our immune system happy! So, do what you can to remove stress immediately, and give yourself space after the surgery. Don’t be a martyr. Remember to ask friends and loved ones for help! If you don’t already have a meditation practice, try it. Maybe try a good guided meditation. There are certainly ones geared for health and healing. Here’s a guided meditation I created that is free and might help.
Here’s one I wish I had thought of before! Prepare music or a guided meditation to listen to during surgery if your surgeon allows it. Our fabulous Green Diva Herbalist, Brigitte Mars says, “People can be very susceptible to suggestion during surgery, even though they aren’t aware,” Mars says. “Doctors saying things like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t look good,’ can be harmful to the patient.”
Talk to surgical team before you go under
If you are anxious or have concerns, no matter how silly they may seem, make sure to talk to the pre-operative staff and let them know. I have an especially hard time with anesthesia, so I made sure to let the anesthesiologist know about my concerns and he took some extra measures to help reduce my dizziness and nausea upon waking up. In fact, he stayed with me through both stages of recovery until he was sure I was ok.
Be super gentle with yourself
It’s important to try not to have any expectations — good or bad — about how you will feel or what things will be like when you wake up from surgery. Everyone is different and each procedure is different, so how you woke up from the last operation may not be how you wake up this time.
I hadn’t had surgery for over 22 years and had only a vague memory of being quite sick upon waking the last time, so I tried to let that go and be present for this procedure.
As it turns out, I did had a very rough time waking up and was quite ill, but the post-surgical staff, which included the anesthesiologist who stayed with me, were patient, but persistent angels that helped me through that first hour or two of horrible dizziness, nausea, and pain. I trusted them and did what they were asking me to do, which seemed impossible at the time — “breath deeply Megan, c’mon Meg, we know you can do it! Open your eyes Megan. We’re going to get you up now…” I was like, "WHAT!?!?” But they told me if I got up I’d feel better. I totally didn’t believe them, but did it anyway, and it did help. I was no fun, but they were amazing, and they were right about every little step.
One step at a time
Literally. Sometimes we are so relieved that all is over with and we are ok that we want to skip down the hall and sing. At least that was my husband after triple bypass surgery! He was thrilled to be alive. It was hard to slow him down, but important for him not to injure himself with enthusiasm.
You may be hungry since you haven’t had a chance to eat for at least 12 hours prior to surgery. Your system will wake up gradually and depending on the type of surgery, generally you will want to eat foods that are gentle on your system. Soft foods and lots of clean fluids (meaning, less sugary or diet sodas and more clean water and healthy teas).
Your body needs to be well hydrated for a number of reasons including tissue healing, getting rid of anesthesia, and blood rebuilding.
Detoxing from the many foreign substances pumped into your body during surgery will help your recovery. So, lots of clean water and good tea, and less soda, sugary drinks, diet soda or coffee drinks!
This seems obvious, but easier said than done in many cases. Make sure to create space for yourself to have plenty of rest when you get home. Hospitals are great, but not always good for solid periods of real rest. As much as you want to visit with your family or shake off the surgery and act normal, give yourself adequate time to be pampered and sleep as much as possible. Sleep and good rest are so vital for the body to heal and restore itself. Don’t cheat yourself on this one if you want a strong recovery.
Herbs for surgical recovery
Depending on the reason for the surgery, there may be some specific herbs and supplements for support. There are some general recommendations in this good article, but please check with your doctor to make sure there aren’t any potential contraindications.
Once the wound is completely healed, you may want to reduce the presence of the scar. I’ve used varying methods over the years. Everyone says vitamin E, but honestly, there’s not great evidence that it is the secret to scar removal. There are many great oils that can be used, including basic coconut oil or shea butter. Here are some good remedies for scars from Dr. Axe.
Gratitude & perspective
There’s almost always something to be grateful for, even if we are sick and hurting. Hopefully it is all temporary and we can see healing and recovery progress day by day. I’ve always found gratitude to be an excellent balm that heals many wounds and post-surgery is a good time to count blessings and get perspective on things. A sense of humor always helps…
I have HUGE gratitude for the many medical professionals that got me through this relatively easy gallbladder thing. Easy is a relative term. It didn’t seem so easy the day of surgery! But my docs and all the nursing staff were truly like angels. I have enormous respect for nurses who have always been there for me in times of real vulnerability and even terror. And of course my family and friends who have all been so generous to me during my recovery, especially since I was a bit nuts for a few days… ha ha ha…
Once we are fully healed, we may find out that someone we know has to have similar surgery. Now that you are almost an expert on going through this, you can be of specific help to someone who is anxious or scared. Sharing your experience, strength, and hope can make a huge difference to that person and help you in your own recovery in the process. If nothing else, it is a reminder that you have indeed survived it!