Thumbs up after surgery

Recovering From Abdominal Surgery: What You Need to Know

On Sunday night we had a big ranch celebration with my extended family with music, gluten-free pizza and dancing. It was a truly magical night and a highlight of our summer on the ranch. At around 10:00 PM, I hopped into bed with a bad stomach ache that I brushed off as pizza belly. But the stomach ache persistently nagged, stabbed at me from the inside and kept me up all night. It was an inexplicable kind of stomach ache and my instinct whispered that something was wrong.

12 hours before surgery at pizza night. I had no clue what was coming!

I had a scheduled flight to LA that day for a big exciting work week full of meetings, branded photoshoots and more. My suitcase was at the front door! At 6:30 Monday morning, I woke my poor hubby and asked him to drive me to the ER. I was worried I might be acting like a wimp or over-exaggerating but this stomach ache signaled alarm bells in me. I went with my gut (literally).

When we arrived at the ER in Livingston, Montana, they immediately examined my painful belly, drew blood, CT scanned my abdomen and informed me that my appendix was infected. It had to be removed urgently, as in, right away. I was in severe pain with little time to process what all that meant. Within two hours I was in the OR as doctors prepped for an appendectomy. I don’t remember much except waking up drowsily after the best sleep of my life under anesthesia. I was slightly shell-shocked, mostly drugged and unaware of the reality of what recovery from this meant. The doctor said my appendix was probably just hours from rupturing and had only slightly started to ooze so we were very lucky to have caught it when we did.

Appendectomies are often done as outpatient procedures so I was discharged as soon as I could get up and walk (wobble) to the bathroom (we will talk about the bathroom later…I’ve since spent hours on the toilet). We drove 35 minutes home to our secluded ranch. With a bloated belly looking like I was 3-months pregnant, I went to show off the bandages to my mom. It was then that I saw blood pooling inside one of the bandages. I called the ER and they told me to turn around and come back immediately. I sensed to grab my cosmetic bag that was already packed for my LA trip and a fleece blanket, anticipating an overnight hospital stay.

By the time we arrived at the hospital, blood had gushed everywhere and soaked through my shirt and my seat. Don’t worry, it was a rental car. They wheeled me back in (I couldn’t even wobble at this stage) and they did whatever they did to stop the bleeding and close me back up. At this stage, still shocked, I was in nerves and shaking. I’d say I was on the bed being put back together for 15 minutes when the ER doctor told me I’m free to leave. LEAVE?? My blood pressure was through the roof, I was unstable and post OP with a small complication, surely I was not risking the drive back to our ranch on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere in this condition.

Intuition alarm bells rang again and I insisted on staying overnight, I was simply in no condition to be sent home. It took a while for them to agree to, which I’m still mind-boggled about (later, nurses tell me that because of Covid they are encouraging everyone to get home faster than usual, understandable).

After one night at the hospital I was discharged with meds and a follow-up appointment. I arrived home to my extended family on the ranch and they have since been an incredible support. My sisters and my mom have been cooking, shopping, doing all of our errands and taking care of the kids. They lovingly urged me to focus on one impossible job: rest and recover. I have appreciated my family more than ever and am filled with so much gratitude. Things could be worse!

As you’d expect, I groggily googled “recovery from appendectomy” and “ what to expect after an appendectomy” and “how to relieve gas after an appendectomy.” The results were poor at best. I used the knowledge that I had and experimented with a care plan. With the advice from friends and doctors and the archives of my own professional experience, I was able to derive a treatment plan to set me on the path for optimal recovery. Some of the below might be specific for abdominal surgery. Some of it is applicable to postpartum healing (c-sections in particular but natural birth too), other surgeries or illnesses that leave you debilitated, gastrointestinal issues and more. Please remember, none of this is to be used as medical advice, I’m just sharing my experience and what I know from two decades practicing in the health and wellness industry. 

What to Expect The First Few Days After an Appendectomy

Your belly will be very bloated. During my laparoscopic procedure, they pumped air into my abdomen. It takes a while for the gasses to make their way out. Because of this, and the post-surgery inflammation, I still look around 3 months pregnant. The gasses are loud, rumble all day and make for great discomfort. During surgery, they often maneuver around your colon so the whole area gets disrupted and inflamed. Basically, it takes a few days to poop so that adds to the gastrointestinal joys. It’s also hard to stand up straight because of the pain so for a few days, I wobbled hunched over. Think about how you’d walk after being punched in your abdomen. This, and my inactivity for a few days, resulted in annoying back and neck pain.

For a few days, I basically alternated between sleeping in bed and sitting, reclined, and in an oversized chair with my feet up. Bathroom trips were my only form of exercise and despite being told by the surgeon to walk daily, I was so uncomfortable when I did, that I stopped. This is another example of listening to the wisdom of your body and assessing the discharge instructions from the doctors with a connected sense of what you, individually, need to heal. In addition to the aches and pains, my abdominal scars (I have 3) are tender, raised and very sore so painkillers have been essential. And finally, one of the incisions went through my rectus abdominus, one of the major abdominal muscles, so you lose all core strength. This makes everything from getting in and out of bed, walking and even talking for too long very stressful.

That’s the bad news. 

Here’s the good news.

There are ways to keep yourself (more) comfortable, fed, nurtured and supported and I’ve outlined these below. And although I’m only 4 days post OP, I am seeing progress every day and I know that healing and full recovery is near. Also, if you stay fit when you’re healthy you’ll have the stamina needed for recovery, when ill health strikes. The mantra that I keep repeating is “This Too Shall Pass”.

Every day you get stronger. The discomfort is temporary.

How To Relieve Gas After Surgery

As I mentioned above, the bloating and gas are the most excruciating initial symptoms. 

  • Walking helps move things around but I found walking for the first to days unbearable. Try and get up and down and take a few steps but balance that with rest-you will resolve the gas eventually. 
  • Sit on the toilet. I sometimes sat for 20 minutes. Its a good ergonomic position to allow gas to pass. In my days of teaching prenatal yoga, I used to have my students practice practice pushing their babies on the toilet! 
  • The lack of bowel movements exacerbates the gas which causes extra pain. It’s vital to take a tool softener so when you do go, you don’t strain. I started the stool softener immediately after surgery. I was also desperate to poop so my surgeon suggested milk of magnesium. It’s disgusting. But 4 hours later it happened. Use it if you’re desperate.
  • Probiotics are vital. I am still on antibiotics for infection but plan to continue to keep my digestive track healthy. I doubled the regular dose and bought a potent, refrigerated bottle. Consult with your pharmacist on your best-bet brand.
  • Twists and yoga: I am personally not ready for twists because my abdomen is still swollen but if you’re recovering from something other than invasive surgery and need relief from gas, try some supine twists.

What to Eat After Surgery

  • There aren’t any rules when it comes to what to eat. I didn’t have much of an appetite because I was so bloated. My mom’s chicken soup did the trick and I’m living on this liquid gold.
  • Soft, easy to diget foods are best. Scrambled eggs with spinach and chicken soup with pieces of chicken and vegetables was all I ate for 3 days. I avoided all sugar, alcohol, oils and anything heavy. I aimed to create an alkaline environment in my gut for optimal healing so anything acidic was out the door. Oh, except coffee. Mostly because coffee acts as a bowel stimulant and I was desperate to poop!
  • Drink drink drink! All day long! Water helps flush it all away and obviously keeps you hydrated. I sipped on warm water and peppermint tea all day long. 

Supplements after Surgery

Here’s what I took:

  • Prescription painkillers: some prescriptions make your gastro issues worse but for me they were essential for the first three days. I switched to Tylenol after day 3-sometimes all you need is a few days of meds.
  • Antibiotics, for infection. 
  • Probiotics: (see above).
  • Stool softeners: because of your lack of abdominal strength you don’t wanna strain your bowels. I’m taking an over the counter one called Colace.
  • Magnesium supplements’; best to consult with your Doctor.
  • CBD supplements: best to consult with your Doctor.
  • Arnica: (tablets dissolve under your tongue, promote internal healing). I’ve used this for all sorts of internal and external injuries. I can’t always tell if it works but it certainly doesn’t hurt!

The Importance of Family and Community

Having support is vital and I was lucky to have physical support. My kids helped lift me out of bed and delivered the chicken soup. Additionally, my mom and sisters shopped and cooked, taking on all of my domestic responsibilities. I had visits from my nieces every day which made me smile. Beyond the physical and emotional support, messages and calls from friends from afar did wonders for my mood. I even reached out to friends who I hadn’t spoken to in a while with the desire to connect, chat and be vulnerable for a change. My son’s new startup app Lighthouse came in handy to connect and communicate with friends! I felt enormously showered with love which gave me so much hope. My Instagram community was also the most supportive and incredible blessing and I felt compelled to share and show up authentically every day.

Keeping a Healthy Mental State and Avoiding Depression

All I really wanted to do was lay flat on my back in a dark room, alone to wallow. But I soon realized the negative effect it would have on my mood. I decided to reserve the bed in my bedroom for sleep only. During the day, I napped on the balcony and set up spots where I could sit and rest. I intentionally got myself outdoors because on day 2 I could feel myself sinking into depressive thoughts. First thing in the morning, I am usually so active and productive that waking up and staying in bed felt like agony to me. I created a routine that kept me from getting too down. It sounds so minor but even just moving stations and alternating activities keep you from going crazy and helps the days pass more quickly.

Rest and Patience

Today I woke up with a surge of energy and sat at my desk for the first time. It felt great until it exhausted me and I had to go lay down afterward. Filled with frustration, I remembered this was a chance to learn a lesson in patience and surrender. If you’re truly in tune with your body, you’ll know when it’s time to rest or when you feel able to work or walk or engage in other activities. I’ve cleared my calendar for a few weeks and given myself the time to heal. The body has a wise way of sending you signals with what it needs. It’s your job to just listen.

Post Surgery Self care 

The last thing I wanted to do was shower because just getting in and out of the water and figuring out how to dry my legs was a challenge but I forced myself to shower every day. While on my feet, I wobbled to the sink to cleanse, moisturize and mask my face. The whole process probably took 30 minutes but I felt clean and human. It’s easy to neglect yourself when you feel lousy. Don’t. I’m even booking a home manicure next week and looking forward to my post OP visit when I’ll be in the clear for a CBD-soaked bath!

Sleep Comfort After Surgery

If you ever have a scheduled procedure I highly recommend renting a hospital bed for home use. They are cheap and allow for easier mobility in and out of bed . Getting in and out of my high fluffy pillow top bed has been the most challenging daily activity. I created a flexible bed solution with a step stool to get in and out of bed and a table I could use to lean on to get in and out. It did the trick well enough. Pillows will be your best friend, you’ll use them to prop yourself up so keep them handy nearby. Body pillows are a lifesaver too. I use one to sleep in my daily life and it’s been great as I’m slowly transitioning to side sleeping-body pillows help align your hips and shoulders.

Ab Rehab

As previously mentioned, if you strain or damage your largest ab muscle, your rectus abdominus, (after surgery, childbirth, injury or in day-to-day life), you’ll need to rely on deeper muscles for support. That’s where your transverse abdominus and pelvic floor muscles come in handy. Much like after having a baby, both of these muscles are vital in core stability and eventual abdominal healing. Here’s more info on transverse abdominals from my friend Julie Tupler’s site. But in a nutshell, drawing your belly button back like you are squeezing into a pair of tight jeans while gripping your pelvis like you’re holding back the urge to pee will be vital for when you do anything strenuous including walking, getting up and down, coughing, laughing and going to the bathroom. Important: never come up from a supine position in a jackknife position. To protect your abdominals, always roll to your side first.

For scars 

Get some vitamin E-oil and use it whenever the doc says it is safe. Later, when the scars aren’t raw, use Mederma, an effective scar cream. I plan to wear a bikini again one day!

The Importance of Flexibility

Flexibility is all good and dandy when things are going right in your life but it becomes essential when life throws you curveballs. You really have no choice but adopt a flexible mindset and this was certainly true for me. I’ll update this piece as my recovery is more complete with any more tips and tricks but in the meantime feel free to contact me directly or get in touch with me on Instagram, either way! I’ll keep updating you on how things are going, so join me on this healing journey!

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