So You Need Surgery – Now What?

My First Reaction

When I’ve found out I need surgery; I am always upset. It’s not so much the surgery as it is everything before and after. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think anyone likes surgery, except maybe the surgeon, but it’s a blip on the radar compared to everything else.

There’s the 65 interviews with various medical professionals and administrators, the medical tests to measure my health. all the recuperation afterwards, as well as all the paperwork. I always expect carpal tunnel syndrome to be a side effect.

When I was 11, I had a hip surgery. Three weeks recovery in the hospital, another 2 months at home, and some impressive new hardware installed in the joint. When I was finally walking again, I went back to the hospital for my check up. The doctor announced that I was going to have another surgery in the morning and admitted me.

I had a fully grown temper tantrum, crying and totally freaking out. I’ve never done that before, nor have I since. Then I spent the entire night throwing up, despite the fact that I hadn’t eaten since lunch. It was horrible; I think it was the most panic I have ever felt. It had all been a little too recent and I didn’t know how I was going to face it all again so soon.

The next morning, the nurse came to do a last-minute blood test and I was shaking so bad, she had to hold my hand down to do it. Then my surgeon came in and told me he had changed his mind. I have never felt relief like that before or since. It was like a wave passing through my body.

Any medical procedure is daunting, but add in a hospital stay or recuperation and it is overwhelming. The packing, the preparation, the panic… At least I have experience and know what to expect; when friends ask my advice, I’m never sure what to say. I certainly never tell them about that last story, they all think I’m pretty brave. If they only knew the truth.

I will share some of my experience; how I cope without losing my mind. Hopefully it helps.

Acknowledge your fears

First thing I always do is start a notebook. Usually one of those little 3 X 5 ones from the dollar store that fits in my pocket. A cell phone app would work fine. Anything as long as I can carry it everywhere. Every question, every fear, every little thing that comes to mind I jot it down. It sounds silly, but these things prey on my mind at all hours of the night and day and I need answers and solutions or I can’t sleep. It is also great for later, when the followup appointments start, then I can use it remember what questions to ask.

Don’t listen to scary hospital stories

I am very careful who I talk to while I am processing the information and my feelings. Despite all of my experiences, people persist in their love of sharing medical horror stories as soon as I say anything. I have more experience with hospitals than anybody I know and people still tell me stories that give me the willies. I try not to listen, half of these stories are untrue, blown out of proportion or taken out of context. Why do we like to repeat the most frightening tales? It isn’t healthy when you are already scared.  Any pregnant woman can tell you people are compelled to share every horror story about childbirth they’ve ever heard.

Avoid the drama queens (or being one)

I lean on the calm, the supportive and most positive people in my life, and limit my time with the Negative Nellies, the Drama Queens, the Chicken Littles and anybody who feels sorry for me or enjoys my misery. It is easier to back-burner these people or not tell them. I have some people like this in my life who are family or friends that I enjoy in the good times, I don’t want to lose them. But I don’t want them bringing me down at times like this either. So I often tell them I’m a little busy and will get back to them soon.

Gather the right amount of information

I avoid medical sights, but I like the average person ones. I’m squeamish; surprising with my history, but there it is. I need to know what’s going to happen and when because I am a planner. I do not want to know the details; it makes me ill, literally. I usually even tell the doctor to tell me what to expect, but not what’s going to happen while I’m unconscious; I really don’t want to know. Everyone is different, so I always avoid telling people how much information they need. There is a happy place where we know enough to move forward, but not enough to completely freak us out. That’s your sweet spot, find it.


Remember to breathe. Don’t panic. I remind myself daily: It’s all going to be alright.

Check out my next post:  You Need Surgery – Meeting the Surgeon