The Side of Surgery Recovery We Can't Keep Forgetting About
I sit here tentatively typing out this post, as it’s something I’ve never quite discussed with people outside my immediate family. It’s definitely not anything I’ve written about publicly.
We often associate surgery as a pretty one-sided thing. It’s physical. Seemingly only physical. In a nutshell, you go to the hospital, have the surgery, and talk to your doctors about how you feel in your body. You get stronger painkillers if need be, recover as best you can in hospital, and go home. One day you find yourself feeling at your best and it seems the recovery process is over.
If only it were that simple.
Often we forget the toll having severe and embracive surgery can have, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.
In discussion with my mom the other night I was reflecting on my last open heart surgery with her and I shared the things I remember best about it. I remember the exceptional pressure I felt on my chest and the inability to control my leg movement due to nerve damage from the heart and lung machine. I remember the heat of the intensive care unit, the total discomfort in trying to sleep while the lights of the hospital burn brighter than the sun, but most of all, over all of that physical feeling, the thing I remember best is how I felt mentally.
I remember the loneliness. Lying awake for ours having nothing to do but think about everything that’s gone on and why my heart couldn’t just do what a heart is supposed to do.
I remember the pure fear of being surrounded by total strangers looking after me, trusting these people I had never met in my life, with my life.
I remember the frustration of the nerve damage in my leg and at a point being totally dependent on someone taking me to the bathroom.
I remember the embarrassment of using a bedpan with a male nurse, as I was 13 and in the throes of puberty.
I remember mentally pleading with my parents and the nurses to let them stay longer when visits hours were ending.
I remember so much of how I felt in my head that it totally overthrows what I felt in my body.
I realize how quickly our doctors want us to recover and get healthier. They want to see progress. Physical progress. But I’ve learned there’s more to surgery then just recovering physically and making physical progress. There are our mental recovery and our mental progress too.
Mental health awareness is important to me because I know the toll surgery took on me. On all of me. Not just my body, but my spirit, my happiness, my emotions, my character, my determination.
Please, I urge you to not forget about your mental health when recovering from surgery. Don’t push it under the rug and think that just because your body is getting back to normal that your mind is too. The recovery process is so much broader than just the physical.
Getty Image by Kwangmooza