What The Doctors Won’t Tell You: The 10 Things You Need After Surgery That Will Make Your Recovery Easier

The old adage, “hindsight is 20/20” is absolutely true. Had I known what I know now and the struggles associated with post surgery life, my initial recovery stages would have been much more seamless and easy. Basic daily tasks became difficult at best, impossible at worst.

Doctors often fail to address the mundane difficulties of day to day life post surgery. That being said, while I am on the road to recovery, I wanted to share some tools, tips and tricks that have helped me during my recovery. I underwent spinal fusion and a neck procedure so these tools were vital to helping me carry on with my daily life. This is by no means the only list, a full and/or a complete list nor am I endorsing any specific products or companies. Rather, I wanted to provide advice from my personal recovery process about instruments that made my daily post op life easier.

  1. Flip flops- Any kind will do but for the first few weeks you should avoid BLT — not Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato but Bending, Lifting and Twisting. This mandate from the doctor is to avoid putting any pressure on or any twisting of your spine. However, the catch 22 is you also need to walk as this will speed up the recovery process and help with muscle atrophy. Since bending might put the repair spinal area at risk and/or cause extreme pain, flip flops to slip into enable you to walk whenever you want without having to bend down. I bought the below Adidas pair from Modell’s because of the cushioning so it helped with the pounding of the pavement.
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2. A Grabber — I was first introduced to the grabber when my mom (5' foot nada) would need to get things off the top shelf. One day, my phone fell as I was typing to my fiancee. It laid right there on the floor for hours because I couldn’t bend down to get my phone. This happened again with the remote for the tv….again with my AC…rinse and repeat. My fiancee ended up getting me the below which changed my life — no BLT for me and no more objects beyond my reach:

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3. Shower Chair — Showering after the incision has healed can help make you feel fresh and ready to take on the day. That being said, standing on a wet surface is a risk not worth taking as you recover. Here is a sample of the chair I used enabling me a safe and steady showering setup:

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4. Printed Calendar for medicine tracking — Pain meds are no joke. For weeks, I had trouble recollecting dates, conversations and times, which could present a very real and dangerous problem: keeping track of what medicines I took and when I took them became an must. A daily calendar is a great way to monitor your medicine intake and also serves as a great reminder of how far you’ve come! As you keep track of your medicine day by day, over the weeks you’ll begin to see yourself weaning off the medicine and gradually lengthening the time between dosages. This serves a practical purpose but also a emotional reminder that the long journey is filled with little wins that when tracked, can help generate larger long term victories. This was my parents idea and a true life saver. A sample of my calendar is below:

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Have a calendar for each day laid out with the respective medicines and times taken

5. Tennis balls for your walker — unless you love the sounds of metal grinding against the pavement, I highly recommend two tennis balls to cradle the bottom two metal pegs of your walker. Your neighbors and friendly passerbys’ thank you in advance.

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I am not sponsored by Adidas just found their clothes to fit best for me

6. Comfy clothes with pants/shorts with drawstrings — your incision may be hot, irritated or just flat out swollen. Wear clothes that are comfy and pants with draw strings. Draw strings enable you to pull up your pants with a grabber or hanger so you do not have to bend down and reach.

7. Laxatives — I wont delve too deep into this one but be mindful of what the pain meds can do to your digestive track. Be sure to take laxatives immediately after surgery and supplement your Doctor prescribed medicine with some over the counter additions. Be sure to check with your medical professional prior to taking anything.

8. A Body Pillow — This doesn’t necessarily apply for everyone but sleeping on your stomach is generally a nicht nicht. If you are a stomach sleeper (as I was) a body pillow such as the below can help prop yourself up against so you don’t roll over or you sleep on your side. My in laws bought me this one and it has helped immensely:

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9. Positive thinking and help — The pain is unbearable, the inability to move demoralizing and the sudden reality that nothing will be the same…overwhelming. You will find yourself alone a lot of the time with only your thoughts and fear to occupy the silence. To combat this, I recommend finding a book/passion you like and running with it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help because frankly…you need it. I spent plenty of time wallowing in my own self pity with fears about the future only to realize that there was nothing I could do to change my outcome. What will happen will happen so why not approach it with a positive attitude and the positive thinking that i’ll overcome. I read Man’s Search For Meaning and stumbled upon the below that spoke to me:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Viktor Frankl

10. Take time to reflect, indulge, accept and move on— A dear friend sent me this great quote that Kobe Bryant wrote in a post to Gordon Hayward after his gruesome leg injury in the first quarter, of his first game with his new team —

“Be sad. Be mad. Be frustrated. Scream. Cry. Sulk. When you wake up you will think it was just a nightmare only to realize it’s all too real. You will be angry and wish for the day back, the game back THAT play back. But reality gives nothing back and nor should you. Time to move on and focus on doing everything in your power to prepare for surgery, ask all the questions to be sure you understand fully the procedure so that you may visualize it in your subconscious while being operated on and better the chance of it’s success. Then focus on the recovery process day by day by day. It’s a long journey but if you focus on the mini milestones along the way you will find beauty in the struggle of doing simple things that prior to this injury were taken for granted.”

Never thought I’d quote Kobe as my spiritual guru but he’s spot on. Without acceptance and acknowledgment of the past and the change that has occurred, it is impossible to move forward with a clear mind. Accept the feelings of anger and sadness, but don’t let them consume you. Move onwards and upwards with acceptance at the core.

These are just some things I’ve thought about and come across that helped make my recovery a bit easier. Nothing will bring me back to my old self and that is ok. There is a new me — a better me — one that with the above tools and tricks will hopefully bounce back…better than ever.

Best of luck to everyone in their recovery!

Ariel

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