What to Expect When You’re Expecting Surgery

I had surgery over the summer, and I was lucky enough that I didn't have any major complications. But the fact remains, surgery is scary. It’s unpredictable, it involves putting yourself in a very vulnerable position, and you often feel like you're going through it alone. So, I’ve consulted some other people I know who have gone through major surgery and compiled a list of the top seven things we wish we'd known before going into surgery. 

1. Anesthesia  

It’s not like they present it in the movies. It’s not a gentle, blurry descent into a dreamless sleep. Honestly, it’s much more like blacking out. You don't feel the onset of the drug. For me, I was having a conversation with a nurse and then I was waking up from surgery. There was no in between. It’s also different for everyone. It can take a while for the anesthesia to kick in so don't expect to knock out immediately. 

2. Scars

So, you're going to have scars. It’s inevitable, but it doesn't always feel real until after the fact, when you’re looking in the mirror. Expect that you may not be prepared for how different your body may look after surgery, and don't beat yourself up for it. Give yourself time to adjust. It's also worth noting that if the IV is left in for a couple of days, it may leave scars. Scars aren't a bad thing. They're evidence you persevered, wear them with pride!

3. Hospital Food

First of all, vegetarian food in hospitals is disgusting. It also may take you a while to gain your appetite back. Surgery is trauma and everyone responds differently. I was massively dehydrated after my surgery, and felt like I needed to drink five gallons of water a day minimum. 

4. Changes in Your Body

Again, surgery is trauma. It will have an impact on your body that might extend past the area you had surgery on. If you have surgery in one area, the nerve pain or numbness might extend into areas you thought were unrelated. It also might affect your hormones, I got hormonal acne that I had never experienced before my surgery. 

5. Autonomy 

Losing your autonomy is awful. Not being able to fill up your own water bottle, go to the bathroom, or shower on your own is terrible. And knowing that you'll need help with these things is very different from living the reality. Your exhaustion will probably last longer than you expect, give yourself time to relax and rest don't expect yourself to be productive. 

6. Painkillers

Painkillers are awful, I had no idea how awful they were before my surgery. They affect your sleep schedule, make you absurdly and uncomfortably constipated, and it’s ridiculously difficult to get through recovery without them. There’s also the looming danger of getting addicted, so getting off them as soon as possible is a priority. 

7. Friends and Family

People might not understand what you’re going through. If your friends and family don't see you going through recovery, they may not understand exactly the impact it had on you. Depending on the people you love is important, your support system is critical, but know that you are the only one who really understands your experience. Don't let anyone tell you how you feel, or how you should feel.

Surgery is different for everyone. Recovery is different for everyone. It can be difficult, long and drawn out, and your body might not feel exactly the same afterward. Don’t go in with expectations for yourself. Accept what comes and give yourself the time you need, however long that turns out to be. Surgery is trauma, that's something that keeps coming up, but the trauma is not just physical. The experience might affect you more mentally than you anticipate, just know that everyone reacts differently and every reaction is a valid one. Try not to place judgment on yourself.