At some stage in our lives, many of us will undergo some form of surgery; from minor through to major.
If you are someone who is physically active, involved in competitive sport, or living an active and adventurous lifestyle, then there is unfortunately a chance of injury. This can possibly lead to surgery, rehabilitation, recovery and a short to long term change in physical ability and quality of life.
When it comes to injuries, the physiological and anatomical damage to your body will depend on the impact on your life. Whether your injury is minor, needing physiotherapy and recovery, or major resulting in surgery and full rehabilitation, it’s going to have an impact on your physical ability. We all know this, however what people aren’t necessarily aware of, is the psychological and emotional impact it’s going to have on you.
Recently I had my second knee reconstruction. In a way I was lucky that it was my second surgery, as I knew what I was in for. I knew what the surgery involved, and I knew how long recovery would take. However, this doesn’t mean it was an easy process, and the road to recovery has certainly not been an enjoyable experience.
There are many contributing factors that anyone who faces surgery needs to be aware of and it’s important to know how to manage your wellbeing through recovery. So, I’ve written this column to bring awareness to the emotional implications, and hopefully provide some insight from my lived experience on how to manage your recovery journey.
The first impact is the stress and anxiety that can escalate pre-surgery. Many people are afraid of surgical procedures, going under anaesthetic and the complications and implications that could occur. We’re lucky to live in a day and age where surgery is a lot less invasive than it used to be, and the knowledge around these procedures has increased immensely. But your fears are still valid; it is completely normal to be scared and have reservations around a major medical procedure.
Make sure you know everything you need to know to put your mind at ease. Ensure you ask every question you can, even if it seems small or insignificant. Do your research so you are fully aware of what will be happening on the day, so that the fear of the unknown can be erased, and you can minimise your pre-surgery nerves. Also, try and find people who have had similar surgical procedures so they can tell you first-hand about their experience.
Immediately post-surgery, the initial impact is coming out of anaesthetic and initial pain management. When you have a general anaesthetic, you are essentially being placed in a medically induced coma. So, unlike going to sleep at night and waking up in the morning, it’s a whole different experience. You can face many unexpected emotional responses – for me it was waking up in a state where I was groggy and incoherent, felt like I had no cognitive function, feeling disorientated and unaware of where I was and what was happening.
Express your emotions, and let staff know how you’re feeling. It’s completely normal to come out of anaesthetic and have what may seem like an irrational response. But staff are there for a reason – to support you and help you navigate the journey. If you’re in discomfort or upset, tell them. Don’t be brave and try and ride it out, you need to have your pain and emotional state under control to start your recovery journey.
After the initial 24-48 hours, once your pain management is under control and medical staff are happy that there have been no complications, you get discharged. But once you’re home and the drugs start to leave your system, reality starts to kick in and your mental reliance is tested. I lost all sense of independence. I had to get assistance with everything, including little things that we take for granted daily like getting out of bed, being able to use the bathroom and getting
Make sure you have everything in place for your return home. Ensure you have a great support system in place – let them know in advance that you won’t be able to function for a while and you are going to need help. Whether this means moving in with family or friends temporarily, or getting someone to come and stay with you; try and eliminate any added stress by having people in place to do the things you need done and help with what you need help with.
Regarding my mental wellbeing, I was able to manage it initially, be kind to myself and look after my emotional health. But after a week or so, that’s where things really started to go downhill and the strategies, I put in place for self-care unravelled. The lack of physical activity left me feeling lethargic, and the lack of independence made me feel frustrated. I was unable to sleep due to lack of exertion and discomfort, and I found myself getting more and more frustrated, irritable, moody and depressed.
Treat yourself with kindness and be aware of how you are may feel. If you’re an active person, and that is taken away from you it’s going to be hard. But if you’re aware of the physical limitations pre-surgery, try to come up with strategies to keep you occupied during initial recovery.
Whether that’s preparing audio books or podcasts to listen to or finding ways to be creative such as art and music. Also remember it is okay to just rest – don’t beat yourself up.
I’m coming up to three months post-surgery now, and say my mental wellbeing is still being affected – I’m back at work but I’m not running at full capacity. I don’t have the energy I used to, and I still can’t complete the activities I want to. You will face many obstacles after an injury or surgery, but it’s how we manage our mental wellbeing that will determine how difficult your overall recovery is.
Be prepared for the long haul. Recovery isn’t quick. Most major surgeries take anywhere between three and six months just to get through the initial rehabilitation stages. So, pre-plan activities that you will be able to replace your usual interests with until you’re recovered. It might just be the perfect time to pick up a new skill or hobby that’s always interested you, but you just haven’t had the time for.
I take my hat off to anyone that can go through an injury or surgical procedure and keep a positive attitude – it’s hard! All I can say is once I gave up trying to fight the process, and just went with the flow, my mental wellbeing increased immensely.
Remember to be kind to yourself, get support and reach out for help – never suffer in silence, and allow your mental wellbeing to be compromised. The key to get through any situational crisis in life is having self-care strategies in place and creating yourself an amazing support system.