Dr. Kristen Mitteness
How I Recovered from Surgery (and what I wish I would have done)
Updated: Oct 31, 2021
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. I'm most certainly not an expert on surgery. This is simply my story and personal feedback. Please work with your trusted healthcare providers to determine what is best for you.
I truly think that I what I did to prepare for surgery set me up for my recovery. My work, research and general perspective on health has led me to really value preparation and this process simply solidified (but possibly skewed) my perception on the importance of PREhab and preventative measures.
This whole journey has challenged my need to be in control. It taught me that while we can control many things in our life (and health) we can't control everything. There is a very fine line between relinquishing control and actively making good decisions in the moment to work toward an ideal outcome. In many cases your hard work will pay off, but in some cases you're going to have to submit, pivot or simply regroup, reassess and retry.
Here are some of the ways I recovered from surgery. Some of the challenges I wasn't expecting and some of the things I was expecting, didn't happen.
Medications: I was sent home with Tylenol (yes, just over the counter Tylenol) and an anti-inflammatory. I was expecting to be sent home with something stronger. It's not that I needed it! In fact, I felt comfortable enough to stop taking the Tylenol by day 4 post op. This surprised me. The anti-inflammatory I was advised to take for one week. I suspected it was affecting my appetite so I stopped taking it on day 6. I'm not convinced it was the culprit. But I was progressing well, so I felt comfortable to move on medication free. I also wanted to use my pain to guide what I should or should not be doing. I didn't want to mask it.
Vitamins: You are put on lots of different medications to have surgery, including an antibiotic to prevent infection. After my surgery, I was pretty diligent on taking a few vitamins including: probiotic, multivitamin, fish oils and adrenal support. I knew at this time my body needed a little extra support. While I'm on and off with my supplements, I ensured I was more "on" than usual. I'm also playing around with a desiccated ovary and uterus supplement.
During week 8, I met with a Naturopath at Nature Doctors who works with many oncology patients. His name is Dr. Aminder Singh and he is awesome. He suggested a few new supplements to reduce my future cancer risk and immunity. We'll also be doing some additional blood work. Gosh, I just love working with other functional practitioners who are smarter than me (and helpful!).
Diet: I was surprised at how much my appetite was affected by surgery. I was rarely hungry and when I did try to eat I couldn't eat much and I didn't really have an appetite for anything. It's kind of a good thing because it allowed me to be able to eat healthy food when I did decide to eat. Our kinesiologist, Evan, gave me the best advice when it came to eating. He said to think of it more like drinking water, just take sips throughout the day rather than drinking it all at once. I had been doing this already because it was the only thing I could do, but hearing it said like that gave me a sense of relief knowing that what I was going through wasn't unusual. I also ate a lot more rice than I usually do because I could tolerate it and I used it as a vehicle to get bone broth in. I was thankful I had a freezer full of healthy foods made by friends! It took the thinking out of eating healthy, which I appreciated.
Electrolytes: We ended up ordering LMNT electrolytes. Not only are they delicious, I think they made a huge difference in my first few weeks of recovery . I was having pretty severe orthostatic hypotension (I got extremely dizzy when I stood up). Now, I've experienced that a bit in the past. I have pretty low blood pressure on a good day but I don't typically have symptoms unless I'm dehydrated. For the first 3-4 weeks post op I almost fell over a few times after standing up. Interestingly, it only happened if I was sitting and then stood up. Never if I was laying down and then stood up. Anyway, these electrolytes are fantastic and now I feel like I'm addicted. They're not cheap, but they serve a purpose and it's nice to drink something different from water and coffee and for some reason I don't like sparkling water as much as I once did.
Squatty Potty: I was advised by my pelvic floor physio to consider using a stool when going to the bathroom. Lucky for me, Quinn has been using one for years now. I was kind of "whatever" about it. Yeah, sure, I'll use it. Going to the bathroom (pee or poop) was tough post op. All of my nerves in my midsection were numb for two days after surgery. Learning to use them took a bit of work afterward. Using the squatty potty was a GAME CHANGER. I'm not sure I can put into words how much this helped. I still use it to this day and can seriously tell the difference. From a functional perspective, it really does make sense. And you know I love taking an evolutionary and functional approach to life.
Exercise: I teach people all day long about the importance of core rehab and am proficient in the functional progressions. I was very intentional about movement. I used every day movements to guide how I decided to exercise. I quickly learned that a full squat was comfortable so it was one of the first things I did. I also utilized blood flow restriction bands. For the first 4 weeks, I used pain as my guide. If it felt painful AT ALL, I backed off. If I was sore the next day, I backed off. I was not trying to find the edge, I was actively working to stay away from the edge. I was on a 10# weight restriction for the first 4 weeks. I also used an exercise band. Lucky for me, I noticed changes day to day (even from morning to night) so progress was fast. And, kind of overnight, I knew I was ready for more. I started testing out more and more movements and realized I was pretty functional. I increased my weights very slowly. I worked through pain when it felt safe. By week 5, I was back at the gym and doing burpees.
I also checked in with my pelvic floor physio before I went to work and she corrected some of my exercises. She's awesome!
Stretching: Around week three, I realized I was focusing WAY TOO MUCH on strengthening and really needed to make sure I was stretching. Scar tissue can cause lots of issues. I see lots of low back pain in my patients and athletes and sometimes an old abdominal scar is part of the problem and needs to be addressed. I was also noticing that if I was seated for any amount of time I was feeling more and more stiff around my incision when I stood up. There is a very fine line between strengthening and stretching and I was moving way too far in one direction. I added abdominal stretching to my daily routine and noticed benefits right away. It will be a focus of mine indefinitely now.
Wound care: Melissa is one of the occupational therapists at Lifemark. She is also an expert in wound care. I was so lucky to have her to help me out. She explained what was going on, what to look for and helped expedite my healing. I was amazed at how quickly my incision responded once she started treating me. It felt like magic! I also started using lotion and massaging it at about 3 weeks post op which is much faster than what is typically advised, but I felt ready for it. I make my own lotion out of tallow (I render it myself), castor oil, jojoba oil, vanilla and sandalwood. At 6 weeks, my incision was still a little sore when I wear tight pants, but overall was feeling good and is becoming much more flexible and less adherent.
At week 8, I still had some internal sutures that are irritating, but externally, my incision felt pretty okay.
Sleep: I'm a good sleeper. I did have a tough time sleeping a few nights when I first got home. I thought for sure sleeping would be easy. It was partially from having a hard time moving or finding a comfortable position. It could also have been from detoxing the medications I had been on. It could also have been from doing so much less than I normally do, so I just wasn't as tired at night. Since I was off work, I was able to sleep as necessary. I took less naps than I anticipated. I went to bed around 10:00 (like always) and often woke up around 8:00. This is typical for me. I didn't seem to need more sleep than I normally do which I was a bit surprised by.
By 8 weeks post op, I felt fully functional. That't not to say that I'm wasn't uncomfortable sometimes - mostly due to my (extremely) slow dissolving sutures. But, I was able to run every day, lift weights (though I was not nearly as strong as I once was) and working as much as I need to.