Recently, a friend of mine suggested I post a guide for people dealing with orthopedic surgery. After all, it’s traumatic, life-disrupting, frustrating, and mysterious.
As #projectfemur is an orthopedic adventure – and one that is ongoing, with new chapters ahead – I thought that it would be good to get this stuff down in writing. So here, without any further ado, is my basic guide (and it will evolve over time, as I remember more key points):
- Enter with a positive attitude. You’re getting the surgery regardless, so you might as well embrace the situation and enter with optimism, smiles, and a sense of humor.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your doctors tough questions before surgery. They are there to help, and for some people – especially for me – I like to know what’s going to happen. I’ve had some great Q&A sessions with admit nurses, anesthesiologists, X-ray techs, and my surgeons. Some of the questions are totally banal, others are quite serious and complex – and all received thoughtful, appropriate answers.
- During the first 24 to 48 hours after surgery, you likely won’t feel quite like yourself. Anesthesia, opioid pain killers, nerve blocks, and the like wreak havoc with your mind. They can give you a false sense of happiness, can make you queasy, and can even make you do things you would never do when sober. There’s a good reason most hospitals make you sign a document stating that they can’t be held responsible for any decisions you make while under the influence of anesthesia.
- Follow your doctor’s/physical therapist’s recovery prescription to the letter. Don’t rush the recovery. Your body won’t always communicate what’s going on (especially when you are on the high-level pain meds), so it’s best to be conservative and let things heal. Orthopedic surgery is traumatic, and the body responds to trauma by slowing itself down, concentrating its energy on healing things.
- Manage your pain. Trust me on this: it’s always best to be ahead of the pain curve, especially in the early days of recovery. Pain often creates more problems than it solves, including biomechanical compensation that can lead to new or further injuries. And for some people pain is a good indicator of progress in healing, or that a move you’re trying to do isn’t smart. But this isn’t about completely eliminating pain, but managing your pain. So lay off the heavy-duty painkillers as soon as you can, but the non-addictive ones? They’re good to have by your side.
- Get rest. Sleep when your body says it needs to sleep. The rest will help with recovery, and will also help you during your awake periods when you’ll need the energy for PT, day-to-day life, and socializing.
- Eat healthy food before and after the surgery. Sure, have some treats here and there – you will crave and, frankly, need them after all you’ve been through. But it’s best to stick with healthy, balanced, real food meals. Eat complete proteins. Make sure you get all of your necessary vitamins in your diet. Lay off the alcohol for a bit (at least lay off the second drink, and if you are on opioids or high-dose acetaminophen, try and abstain completely). You’ll heal faster, have more energy, and will gain less weight while you’re down.
- Realize that your body will be different after the surgery. Things won’t necessarily work like they did before Your biomechanics will be changed. Accept this as a welcome challenge, because you will get better and learn how to work with your renewed body parts.
- Accept that there can – and likely will – be setbacks. Have patience. Be ready for them, and treat them as speed bumps. Be honest with your friends and loved ones – and most of all, yourself – about the setbacks and related frustrations. They will pass, given time.
- Smile a lot, and have a sense of humor about the situation. Attitude is everything! Honestly, this is possibly the biggest key to maintaining composure and optimism during the throes of recovery. When in doubt, read a favorite pick-me-up book or watch a go-to movie or TV series. For me, the James Bond films were must-see recovery fodder after both of my surgeries.
Like I said earlier, there’s bound to be more – that’s just what I can rattle off right now.
Have any advice? Leave it in the comments!
(The picture at the top is from January 2014, during my recovery from the original #projectfemur surgery, when my friends Mary, Ed, Ryan, and Ted stopped by for a visit.)