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The Unvarnished Truth About Plastic Surgery - Part 3 - Learn From My Errors (Look Both Ways)

Monday, February 01, 2010


I made any number of mistakes heading into surgery, but I also did a few things right, if I do say so myself. I want you to know what I know now. That way, if you go into it, or you know someone who is, you can be better prepared.

I chose this song not only for its lyric (which is in the title of this blog, as always), but also because it's positive, major chords. But it made me cry a little this morning. What can I say? I'm still overly emotional and I suspect I will continue to be so until my routine is restored. And that will be at least a few weeks from now, and more likely it will be a few months.

But back to prep. There are a lot of things that you can do that will make life easier, not only for you but for your caregiver(s). Every little bit helps. I'm going to not only list my suggestions but also tell you why I'm suggesting something. Of course you're free to reject everything. You won't hurt my feelings.

Also, to recap, for those who may not have been following along, I had a tummy tuck, a breast lift and an umbilical hernia was repaired. All of these things happened 17 days ago. You may be getting one or two of these procedures, or something similar. Hence you may need to modify my suggestions to suit your own particular situation. Oh, and my apologies in advance if any of this is too icky, or it seems like TMI.

* Make your appointment for surgery - I *highly* recommend getting the surgery done in the Wintertime. This is because you'll have to wear a surgical binder, and, even in 30 degree weather, you can find yourself sweating into it. Sweat's got salt in it, and your open wounds are being covered by the binder. Yeah. Ouch. Imagine the sweat when it's in the 80s. Another reason is, the binder must be worn about 2 months or so. Hence mine will come off in mid- to late-March. Just in time for lighter clothes, and the 5K running season will begin in April.
* Line up your caregiver(s) - more than one, if you can get that. Generally, your primary caregiver will be your spouse or significant other, or a parent. Ask them if it's okay, as it might not be, or they might have their own issues. And be sensitive to their needs. If your mother is 95, no matter how much she loves you and wants to do it, she's not a good choice for a primary caregiver. But she could be all right for a secondary caregiver. The secondary is to give the primary a break, perhaps allow the primary to go back to work, or get in some "me time", or just take you to the doctor on occasion. Your primary will thank you a thousand times over if you can do this for them.
* Start strength training, if you haven't already started - work EVERYTHING. Your abs are going to be out of commission for a while, so it's better if they are as fit as possible before surgery. That way, when you are able to go back to working them, they might still have some fitness. Plus well-worked abs might require less surgical intervention. Work your arms because for the first few days after surgery, that's how you're going to get in and out of bed. Work your legs because they will also assist you for getting in and out of bed. Work your chest because, if you have breast work done, you also won't be able work the chest area for a while. Hence give yourself some extra fitness there as you'll be idle for a while.

* Get your hair cut - you won't be up for it for a while, so do something nice for yourself.
* Stock up on the following medical supplies - tape, bandages (you can get some from the hospital; I got 2 weeks' worth. Problem is, I need 4 weeks' worth, possibly more), big band-aids, Bacitracin or the like, baby powder (you'll want to sprinkle this on the inside of the binder every time you put it back on), Zantac (the way you sit and lie may very well give you reflux; you can also get it from your pain meds. Ask your doctor if it's okay to take it), Maalox (same idea as Zantac, but it's not as long-lasting. Go with whatever your doctor recommends), Colace (general anesthesia and narcotic pain meds can give you wicked constipation. Again clear this with your doctor), Fleet Enema ('nough said), Monistat1 (if you need to be cathetered, you can find yourself with a urinary tract infection. Get the one-day deal even though it costs more, so that you can minimize any suffering you may encounter), Cortaid (this is anti-itch cream; healing skin can become very itchy, and scratching will reopen everything), Hydrogen peroxide (for wound care), Q-tips and/or cotton balls (to apply the hydrogen peroxide to your wounds), Extra Strength Tylenol (it's better than Aspirin or Advil because it won't make you bleed. But ask your doctor first), Mederma (this is a cream for scar care. Start applying it as soon as wounds have healed in order to minimize the appearance of scars), saline nasal spray (sneezing and nose blowing will hurt for the first few days, so avoid that by blowing a little gently but frequently. Make sure your doctor says it's okay to use this; it might not be if you have high blood pressure), multivitamins (clear these with your doctor; you'll need them at least for the first week or so as you won't be eating much, so this will give you a fighting chance to get in some nutrition) and, finally, sunscreen (any scars will have to be either covered or sunscreened for at least a good year after surgery).
* Pick up any prescriptions you've been given
* Make sure you have the following other supplies on hand - about a half a dozen pairs of panties that are one size too big (these are granny panties; be as comfortable as possible), slipper socks (you'll get them from the hospital, too; this is in case you need extras so you can wash a pair), slippers with treads, two pairs of sweat pants that are one size too big, about four tops that are maybe a size or two too big (these should be minimal fuss as you will end up sleeping in them half the time), at least one zippered sweatshirt or soft (non-itchy) cardigan (you'll get cold, then too hot, and back again, so make it easier on yourself and avoid having to raise your arms to take off this sweater or sweatshirt), extra pillows (the less you have to lean back, the happier you'll be. It'll be easier on your abs and it will minimize the risk of reflux), blankets (my parents brought over an electric blanket and it was heaven), soft cover books or crossword puzzles or magazines (you won't be able to lift -- or rest on your abs -- a heavy hardcover book), jigsaw puzzles if you like them, playing cards, and any other easy entertainment. Movies are fine, but stay away from anything that's too stressful or funny, as stress and laughing both involve your abdominal muscles. Get yourself a binder alternative, such as a girdle-type item or a stretchy camisole. Make sure these items are too big for you. Also purchase a leave-in hair conditioner spray and, if you can find it, dry shampoo. Get yourself soft-cup front-hook bras if you are having breast work done. Get a pad of paper and a bunch of good pens (you will need to record your medications and anything out of the ordinary that you're feeling. The last thing you or your caregiver needs is to be hunting around for a pad of paper or a working pen).
* Stock up on the following foods and related items - bendy straws (you'll need them to drink while you're lying down), individual yogurts if you like them (there were times when that was all I could/would eat), soups, potatoes, tea bags, flavor sticks for water (you'll need to drink a lot of water), prune juice (for obvious reasons), oatmeal (the reason for all of the soft food is, a lot of heavy chewing will also involve your abs. You'll be fine after a few days to a week, but in the beginning you'll want to avoid all that chewing), and any other plain foods you like (yes, PLAIN. Narcotic pain medications, and the anesthesia, can make you nauseous, even days later, so head that off at the pass and avoid spices).

* Do the laundry
* Change the sheets on your bed
* Make up a separate bed for yourself, elsewhere, if you don't normally sleep alone. If your partner tosses and turns it will not be pleasant for you during the first week or so
* Put a clean towel down on where you're going to sleep
* Set up a table next to your bed, with a tissue box, a pad and paper (so that you can record which medications you're taking, and any other information that will help your doctor and caregiver), napkins, bendy straws, magazines and anything else you might need on hand
* Go out to eat (you won't be able to for a while, so treat yourself nicely)
* Fill the car(s)'s gas tank(s)
* Pay any bills and balance the checkbook, if those are your regular tasks
* Board your pets, at least for a couple of days (you might want them nearby, but if they get on and off the bed, it'll hurt. You won't be able to let them in and out, walk them or change litter, and if they get underfoot and you trip, it will REALLY hurt. So seriously consider at least a few days of pet-free living)
* You may also want to consider, if you have very small children, having them sleep over elsewhere, at least for the first night or two (teenagers and tweens can obviously fend for themselves, but preschoolers may not understand why you are moving slowly or taking forever in the bathroom, or why you can't pick them up. Plus you will mainly be sleeping for the first few days, and your primary caregiver will be occupied caring for YOU. So make it easier on your primary caregiver and make it so that s/he doesn't also have to care for the kids)
* Color your hair if you do this at home (you won't want to have the hair color rinse off in the shower over your wounds until they've completely healed)
* Remove any nail polish from both fingernails and toenails (you aren't allowed to wear any makeup to surgery, and there are things that doctors can tell by checking your fingernails, such as whether you've become cyanotic. Make life easier for your doctor and take off the polish
* Clip your fingernails and toenails (it'll be too hard to bend over and clip your toenails for a while. As for your fingernails, for the first few days after surgery, you may be absently touching your face or body a lot; it would be best if that didn't mean you were constantly, inadvertently, scratching yourself)
* Take a shower and wash your hair, shampooing twice (you won't be able to shower for a while after surgery). Oh and shave your bikini area. ALL of it. Trust me on this one; the doctor's gotta put tape somewhere. 'Nough said.
* Pack your overnight bag for the hospital and take the following items - a pair of larger panties, a large top, a large pair of sweatpants, two pairs of socks, a laundry bag, a case for your glasses (if you wear eyeglasses), your prescriptions in their original bottles (including anything you take regularly that isn't surgically-related, such as thyroid medication), a soft cup bra (only if you aren't having breast work done. If you are, they'll give you a bra to wear) and your cardigan or zip-front sweatshirt. Also bring basic toiletries: powder, deodorant, hair brush, tooth brush, tooth paste. You may get some of these things at the hospital but it's nice to have your own things.
* Take down from high shelves anything you might need. Reaching up is going to be tough for a while.

* Get up and walk whenever you can. You will have very little stamina but every moment up and about will help you. Try not to let your caregiver wait on you hand and foot, no matter how tempting that might be. It's better for everyone if you become as self-sufficient as possible, as soon as possible
* Drink a ton of water. Think you've had enough? Drink more. You need to flush out the anesthesia and do anything you can to prevent or at least ameliorate constipation.
* Try to stay out of stressful situations. Just because you've got a ton of family togetherness does not mean it's time to have some sort of major talk.
* Be as good and considerate a patient as you can be. You're in pain, yes, but it's not your caregiver's fault.
* Do whatever you can independently. This will not only be better for healing but it will also improve your mood. No laundry or heavy lifting of course, but you should be the only one getting yourself in and out of bed.
* Make sure to take your medications with food or milk, EVERY SINGLE TIME.
* Visit your doctor at least once. Bring your pad of paper with your medication information on it; the doctor may want a copy. Mention anything that seems of interest or at all related to the surgery. Are you feeling hot more often than you should? Is anything lopsided? Is there swelling? There will be bruising, but what if it doesn't seem to be going away? Do your wounds seem to be healing? Do they smell? Are any stitches pulling? Are the medications managing your pain well? Can you sleep at night?

* You'll be more independent, which is great! This should help your mood
* Start off slow with walking. No more than maybe 15 minutes at a time, and not uphill
* Do some short-distance driving. Select a time when there shouldn't be too much traffic, so as to minimize stress. Of course make sure you are not on any sort of narcotic painkiller when you drive. Tylenol is fine
* You should be able to do things like go food shopping. Take it slow and don't lift anything too heavy; leave that for your caregiver. If you can get your groceries delivered, seriously consider that. This is another reason to get the surgery done in the Winter -- since it will take longer than usual for you to put your food away, it's better for food safety if it's not super-hot in your kitchen while the food is on the counter.
* You might be seeing your doctor. Again, mention anything of interest. If you've ended up with a hematoma or seroma, ask to have the fluid aspirated out as that will help you feel better

* With your doctor's okay, start light strength training
* Wounds should be all healed by now. If you've gotten a hematoma or seroma, it should be close to being all resolved by now
* You should be able to work if you haven't gone back already, so long as you don't engage in heavy lifting

* With your doctor's okay, you should be able to take off the binder for good
* You should be able to engage in heavier strength training, and you may very well be back to your pre-surgery levels by now

There's probably more about the later times, but I haven't lived them yet so I can't comment.

I do hope this helps people. I don't want any of you making my mistakes and feeling more pain and discomfort than you have to.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Again, thank you so much for telling your fantastic, grueling, successful story. No surgery is easy but for you...I can't imagine going through all that at once. As I said befor, you're an emoticon woman and very brave to have shared al of this with us, Here's to continued recovery and mush success being as healthy as one can be. emoticon
    1986 days ago
    emoticon pre-surgery checklist! Wish hospitals and doc offices passed your list out.
    2058 days ago
    This post is an absolute treasure. Thanks so much for being so frank about the details of surgery. I started at 363 and want to end at 170. If I get where I'm going I will definitely need your instructions. Thanks for sharing.
    2332 days ago
    Wow. emoticon for sacrificing your time and energy to write such a detailed blog. I'm sure that many have been and will be helped by this blog.
    2647 days ago
  • no profile photo CD10497195
    much needed blog, thanks for sharing
    2648 days ago
    this is the best advice ever and i wish i had read this before my first recent surgery because you are spot on correct in all of it!! thanks for such a detailed blog. emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

    Lori in new york
    [still recovering and ready for next and hopefully final surgery feb 15th, augh!!]
    4154 days ago
    Since you have self-respect. I note that you do not mention Granny Dresses. Long dresses sized bigger than you are, are the easiest thing to wear after any abdominal surgery. no need to bend over to stretch those stitches. I am glad to see you are feeling much better. I bet you are looking much better too. Are you eating well again?
    4158 days ago
    emoticon blog. Again, thanks for the great amount of detail and effort you put into your blogs. There are many things that you mentioned that I would never think of before going into surgery.

    I still have a very long way to go, but one day I will have to have all of this done plus more. It has given me something to think about, because I do not know if I have one person who would want or could be there full time for me as a caregiver.

    I am so strong minded and independent that I would have thought that I could handle everything myself. Now that you have shared this, I know that when it is my turn, I will not be able to care fully for myself. I will need help and lots of it.

    Stay strong, and take care of yourself. I can't wait to see your results!


    4159 days ago
    This is awesome! I am not planning on surgery, but this is very comprehensive. You need to give this to your doctor to hand out to their patients!
    4159 days ago
  • no profile photo CD3248497
    Even though I won't need this anytime soon or maybe never (pray for me) it's good to know. I read everything. I have never had surgery before in my life and I can imagine (just in case, but pray for me here too) if it was ever to happen, some of the tips will be the same. I hope you are feeling a little better today than yesterday!
    4159 days ago
    Thanks for all the advice! You sound like you're feeling much better!
    4160 days ago
    Wow! That IS quite the list. But how are you feeling ma'dear?
    4160 days ago
    I don't ever see me doing this...but if I do, I'll know where to go for the best advice!
    4160 days ago
    Great blog. I am waiting for the one that says how great it is.It sounds scary.
    4160 days ago
    What a wonderfully complete set of advice. I haven't really thought about the possibility of surgery, but I'll make sure to look up this resource if I enter that path. You should possibly put that in the Examiner?
    4160 days ago
    very good list - should be posted on this site so everyone can see it.
    4160 days ago
  • no profile photo CD4749243
    You really ought to consider writing a pamphlet or posting this as general information on the internet--something like this could be really useful for any surgical patient!

    You're the best! How thoughtful of you to take the time to share all this with others.

    4160 days ago
    Again, such immeasurably invaluable information you are sharing here...! Wow!

    Don't know if I'll EVER consider doing this...I flip-flop all the time on it...but if I ever do, I have saved your blogs elsewhere to studiously, religiously review and follow!

    4161 days ago
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I'm sure you will help a lot of people with this information. I hope you continue to feel better every day.
    4161 days ago
    I have one to add to the list. If the bed you sleep in, or will be sleeping in, is low to the floor invest in a set of risers. I had surgery in my twenties while my bed was a mattress on the floor. I was young and fit but still... The higher the bed the less work your gut muscles will have to do to get in and out.

    If your house doesn't have a "comfort" height toilet you can get a seat extender. These are common for people who need assistance getting on and off the loo.
    4161 days ago
  • no profile photo WONDERTURTLE
    Thanks for sharing your hard-won wisdom! It is a lot to consider and it was kind of you to give your account. I wish you continued healing!
    4161 days ago
  • no profile photo CD5594611
    I'm in sore pain just thinking about it! I never realized it it was this long a recovery. They make it look easy on Big Medicine. I am going to need it down the road and this has been most informative. Thanks Jes! emoticon
    4161 days ago
    Great blog - very comprehensive. Brings back memories of C-sections past (although the hysterectomy was worse.)
    4161 days ago
    Good comprehensive list. Good continued healing.
    4161 days ago
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