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Abdominal surgery – What helped me recover from a Salpingo Oophorectomy

Cynthia Young

Coming back stronger from abdominal surgery.

I had a Laparoscopy to remove a large cyst my gynaecologist was concerned was cancerous, my right ovary and if they found anything while operating my left ovary and perhaps my uterus.

Seeing the private medical insurance approval for a hysterectomy was scary.  I had no control and people outside of me were deciding what was happening inside me.

I was terrified of all of it and struggling emotionally.

Your surgery may be the result of months or even years of pain/symptoms or like mine could have come about as a complete shock.  Either way I feel for you and hope I can offer some reassurance.

Because there may be a huge bright side.

After all the stress, worry, crying, pain, discomfort, talking, resting, sleeping, walking, breathing and practising Pilates.   One day 6 weeks post surgery I was aware of a strength I had never felt before.  It was actually alarming how strong I felt physically and then mentally.  After questioning how I felt.  I started looking into how this could have come about.

One conversation, book, podcast led me to another and led me to positive traumatic growth.

I now realise this process of reading, listening, questioning and learning was huge in rehabilitating my mind which actually was where my recovery needed to begin.  My mind and then my body needed to recover.

8 months after my abdominal surgery I reviewed my post surgery results with my gynaecologist.  Everything has healed well and although I have one ovary my periods are regular and my hormone levels are normal apparently.  So no blaming peri menopause for my mood swings, they're all on me!

My large cyst was in fact a Teratoma, peculiar thing. No more surgery is needed, I've been prescribed Vitamin D, I go back in a year for a check up and I have continued to feel stronger physically and mentally every week since.

Ready to leave the hospital after surgery

As a Pilates teacher movement is part of my everyday life which helped with the physical side of my recovery.  Advice when I left hospital was about keeping my stitches clean, pain relief, when I could shower, drive, have sex and when I would be back for a check up and results.

Sometimes in Pilates you find strength isn't the issue but a lack of confidence or trust in our bodies is.  If we don't feel confident about movement or are worried about moving our bodies we limit and underestimate ourselves.  So I hope to reassure you that it is safe for you to start moving your body again as soon as you feel able to. But there is no rush.

I was already focused on staying positive and for the most part with support I was able to.  But it was something I had to work on everyday.  Some days when I wondered whether I was going to need more surgery I didn't think there was any point in putting effort into recovery.

But what you're thinking and feeling right now is really important.

Emotions, thoughts, feelings have a physical response in the body.  Our bodies respond to what is going on in our head creating facial expressions we cannot hide, shortness of breath, sweating, increased heart rate, blushing, pain, grinding our teeth, an upset stomach...  While movement of our bodies floods our minds with endorphins helping us to feel good and relax.  Our minds inform out bodies and our bodies inform our minds.

"You can only separate mind and body verbally" Andrew Weil

So for anyone starting their recovery from a Laparoscopy or Laparotomy I am offering a little of what worked for me to hopefully reassure you that not only will you recover from your abdominal surgery but you could come back stronger!

This shouldn't be the start of you putting limitations on your body.  Now could be the time to improve your relationship with it, give it some time and  some TLC.

WHAT IS POSITIVE TRAUMATIC GROWTH

An experience that pushes you to your breaking point or challenges YOU to your core is a trauma.  It could be a death, illness, divorce, loss of a business or a job, anything.  It's relative to your lived experiences and what you have had to overcome already.

With hindsight I can see I was challenged emotionally way before the physical challenge of surgery.  I was scared of everything, the future, the operation, what body parts I was going to come out with, recovery, did I have cancer, what life would be like with one less ovary or possibly neither, would I have to have more operations, how would I recover.....

But coming through a traumatic experience can for some people be a catalyst for change.  You hit rock bottom and have to navigate another way.  You could find a renewed confidence, strength, spiritual connection and appreciation for life.  It does not mean you escape feeling the fear and anxiety.  That is still there. But Research suggests that not only can you survive a traumatic experience but you can thrive from it.

What aids positive traumatic growth and what do I think helped me process the experience positively.

Acceptance.  Once I was able to accept the surgery was happening (with a little help from a friend) and trust the doctors I was able to get a plan together in my head.

I was able to think logically about post surgery and manage my expectations.  Basically I tried to have no expectation of myself.  I accepted it would be a while before I was back to my Pilates, a while before I would be teaching, that my body was going to be different, that I wouldn't be able to get as much done in a day or as fast as I would like.   This let me relax into it and give myself a break.  I was to turn up the best prepared I could mentally and physically everyday and trust I would be able to deal with whatever came next.

Trickier some days than others but my husband, my friends and family were amazing.My children were actually great and had a lot of fun calling me "useless" as I found everyday tasks too much.

Talking. Key to helping you process everything and feel supported is talking about the experience.  Lockdowns have shown us that isolation and lack of social interaction can lead to a decline in mental health.

You may prefer writing your thoughts down before expressing them or even recording them.  Sharing how you are feeling can be difficult but talking creates connections with others which will help fuel your recovery.  Research shows that disclosing negative experiences either by talking or writing unburdens us and leads to positive outcomes.   Thinking about negative experiences gives no benefits at all. So, don't try to deal with this on your own and do try to be vulnerable.

You may well feel down at times post surgery.  You will feel tired, your body will feel strange to you, the anaesthetic will be leaving your system, you may not be sleeping well and you may be worried.  So don't worry if you have the odd day where you feel down but if you continue to feel anxious or depressed after your surgery please get advice from your health provider in the UK

How long will it take me to recover from abdominal surgery?

This will depend on the type of surgery you have, what it is for, how the surgery goes, your emotional support, the level of pain you experience, exercise, what you put you in your body, your effort, your ability to rest, be patient and knowing how and where to start recovery.

 

How long will I be in hospital after a Laparoscopy or Laparotomy?

A diagnostic laparoscopy may be treated as a day case, with you feeling able to return to your usual activities within a week or two.

A laparoscopic surgery you'll probably be in overnight and may find it takes around 4-6 weeks to be able to return to your normal activities.

A laparotomy you will definitely stay in hospital at lest over night and it will more likely be at least 6 weeks until you feel able to continue your usual activities.

How did I feel after abdominal surgery?

Uncomfortable.  The middle of my body didn't look or feel like my own.  My movement was restricted, I was bloated, felt heavy, bruised, had discomfort in my shoulders, under my ribs and string hanging out of my distended stomach.

I felt like Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas some days.

Before my 3 week check up I did not feel pain but sometimes felt inside on my right side where my ovary had been removed a stretching sensation.  At my 3 week check my gynaecologist reassured me this was normal and part of my body healing internally.

I also had phantom ovary sensations just before I ovulated for the first 5 cycles, these stopped at my sixth cycle.   I would not describe these sensations as pain more like a cramp that would go almost as quickly as it came on.  I was definitely aware of it but they didn't ever stop me in my tracks or last long.  If you are feeling any pain or have any concerns speak to your GP or health care provider. Your operation has been about taking care of your body and you need to carry on.

Your energy levels will be low for a few days as you recover from the anaesthetic and you body starts the healing process.  You will have been under mental and physical stress so now you need to try and eliminate as much outside stress as you can. If you work or have your own business plan some time off.  If you have children ask people for help with childcare or pick ups.  I had four incision sites for my surgery.  I could not have picked up a toddler and did not have the capacity to look after anyone dependant on me for at least for a couple of days.

Sleep and Rest

Rest acts a reset for the mind, leaves you feeling recharged, improves attention, improves concentration and relaxes you.  Rest can be active (writing, exercise, dance) or passive (a massage, a bath, reading).  I hope you have time now to experiment with different activities.  Perhaps things you enjoyed as a child you haven't had time for lately, or try something new. If you are having difficulty sleeping rest will be even more important to help keep you thinking clearly, relaxed and healing well.  If you find it difficult to rest it may help you to schedule rest in to your day, time for a bath, time to read, meditate or write.  These rest breaks will also help break the day up.

Sleep is so important for our mental and physical health and we feel it when we don't get enough.  Some people struggle with sleep at the best of times and unfortunately it's not unusual to suffer with some disturbed sleep immediately post surgery or some time later.

I didn't struggle to sleep post surgery but I wasn't getting a great nights sleep as my sleeping position was uncomfortable.  I had to sleep almost sitting up, trying to turn was uncomfortable and getting in or out of bed was difficult.

My sleep issue came a week after my surgery when I had a panic attack in the middle of the night.  I woke up from a "dream" that I was on my way to the anaesthetic room again.

I couldn't breathe or calm down.

This was my first experience of a panic attack.   Lots of bad scenarios were running through my head but the main thought.  I was going to have to do this again (have surgery) and that I couldn't do it.  I didn't have the mental or physical strength.

The following morning I was anxious, scared and tearful. This calmed down as the day wore on and I was able to talk.  I did have moments of worry about what might be coming next but I wasn't overwhelmed by these thoughts again.  This is I guess normal.  We have to process our experiences/fears and go through all the emotions.  If you find your anxiety continues to overwhelm you or you have problems sleeping do speak to your doctor.

Getting moving again post surgery

I had less mobility, less strength and my body felt heavy and uncomfortable.

 

Walk as little and as often as you feel up to it.  It was the only thing I could just about do to start with. Its good exercise and will help to ease the gas from your stomach if you had a laparoscopy.  Your body is busy healing so when you feel tired rest.  If you feel any pain or discomfort stop.

My unexpected top tip for getting moving again post abdominal surgery, MOTOR IMAGERY

I'd never heard of it until Searching for a podcast to listen to a few months ago. I found "Think yourself stronger" with Michael Mosley, I was intrigued and it was just 15 mins.  It was the missing piece of the puzzle for me for how I felt so much physically stronger post surgery.

Once I'd accepted I was having surgery and was planning what I might do afterwards with all my time one thought was to just watch some pilates classes.   As I watched the classes in bed I imagined myself doing the movements and could feel my muscles gently working.

When I could I started sitting to watch the class imaging the movements and adding in versions of the arm, upper or lower body movements where I could.  Turns out this is called Motor Imagery.

I probably started moving more earlier because of this and could feel my stitches and abs being gently stretched.  Motor imagery, imaging yourself performing a task, is used by professional athletes as part of their training and rehab.  In the podcast studies found a 24% boost in strength after it's use.

Well, 6 weeks post surgery I decided one day to get dressed to do a class rather than watch it.  I was very relaxed and determined in fact that I would not be able to do the whole class.  I knew there would be things I could not do.

Oh my word I was in for a shocker.  I did the whole class and I felt stronger doing some exercises than I had doing them pre surgery just weeks before.  I am sure the practice of motor imagery was one of the best things I did recovery wise.

I have three classes on my YouTube channel for those early weeks post surgery to get you gently moving, stretching and strengthening.

I am now 10 months post surgery.  I have learnt so much about my body, appreciate more and amazingly feel so much stronger and happier now than pre surgery.

I now see that my mind needs to be just as flexible and strong as my body.

I am not glad I had this experience but I have discovered I (my mind and body) am so much more resilient than I realised and have much more potential.  I hope you find some of the resources I have recommended useful and they help you on your path of recovery and rehab.

Stay positive, minimise stress, eat well, hydrate, move, breath, sleep, rest and have fun!

Do let me know of your recommendations and I would love to hear from you if you want to reach out.

Take care, Cynthia

 

 

 

 

 

Not for comparison but purely for information here are a few of the observations I noted during my recovery in the early days.

Day 0

Freezing when I came round.  Man the catheter is longer than I expected.  Very tired, it stings when I wee. getting out of and into bed is not easy or moving around with an IV drip.

Day 1

Discharged from hospital after my gynaecologist checked my stitches and happy I'm drinking and going to the toilet.  Walking like a duck, little bloated,  little gassy and uncomfortable under my ribs and shoulder blades.  Stomach feels fragile, not very hungry only want bland foods in small amounts.

Day 2  Oh my word, I had to cough today! As I felt it coming I panicked, grabbed a pillow to hold to my stomach and cough at the minimal strength I could. Walking a little and as and when I feel like it to keep me moving and help get rid of the gas in my stomach.

Day 3. Shoulder blade and under the rib pain is much more noticeable. Breathing exercises - I can't see any change in my ribs or stomach as I breathe.

Day 5  Argh my posture starting to ache in my lower back. Sticking my bum out, no abs and my glutes are tight!   Lengthening the back of my pelvis lets my bum relax and my abs lift a little I can feel a little stretch on my stitches.  Pilates with its focus on length is my saviour here.

Day 6 Feels like most of the gas in my stomach has gone starting to be able to see my ribs again.  First day I'm able to move my pelvis and hips fairly freely.  I do some pelvic clock type movements in bed and standing, start testing my pelvic stability with some knee openings in bed, massaging under my ribs which feels uncomfortably tight and bruised .  Its not malleable under there at all and actually feels painful to do will try this again in a few more days time.  Add some overhead arm movements and surprised at range of movement.

Day 10 I can now slowly and gingerly make it to the floor to do some exercises but it doesn't seem worth the effort.  I dont want to push myself too fast and am waiting for my 3 week check.   There is only so much I can do when I get down to the Mat anyway so I stick with standing and sitting exercises which is less strain on my body and gives me some stretch.

Generally I am feeling better I am walking around more, not driving yet but nowhere near where I was pre surgery.

Day 16 Hairdresser - Surprise! I couldn't lift my head up from the wash basin.  My lovely hairdresser had to support my head  and help me out of the chair. 

3 weeks - I have been back to the gynaecologist, everything is healing OK, biopsy results are all clear and I feel like I can now really relax into my recovery. I have felt like I have been pretending to be OK and moving on while reserving a little space to wait and hear whether there was another surgery that needed to happen or whether they had found cancer.

 

 

 

 

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