Recovery is a vague word in that it means so much more than “getting over”. You can recover from the flu, you can recover from falling in the street, and you can recover from an emotional upset. Recovering from the flu is getting back to your normal. Getting off the ground gracefully and laughing about your fall is how you bounce back. Being able to move on as a stronger person is how you might recover from an emotional trauma. Recovery from a surgery is so different.
One would have to take in account the patient, what type of surgery one had, how long they had the issue causing the need for surgery and how healthy they were before their journey began. Also, we would have to include the physical and emotional support the patient has before and after surgery. With all these things to consider recovery will never be cookie cutter. No one body is the same, physically or emotionally; no journey is the same, physically or emotionally. No one’s support group is the same.
Let’s start with the patient. Some will do anything to avoid going under the “knife”, some want the surgery as soon as possible. It might take a patient several years to get to the point that they seek a doctor’s help. After seeking the help it may take a doctor a long time to diagnose the issue. Then when insurance or the socialized medicine gets involved it could take years just to see a specialist. You have to go through the process of approval with both types of groups. With the insurance companies in the United States it will depend on the policy and company. But with the socialized care systems in other countries, it could take a review panel to see the needed specialist, then they have the right to tell you “no”. But if both groups wish to deny you, at least here in the United States you can go an extra step and usually you can get your approval. It all depends on your personal stubbornness and if you are willing to fight for your rights.
Let’s say we have a patient (perfect health otherwise) that is begging for the first available appointment for surgery. She/he is spending less time doing possible harm to their body, so maybe their recovery will be less in duration than the patient that is trying everything out there to avoid the surgery. Possibly, because they tried to avoid it, causing their body to weaken, their recovery may take longer. Same concept for a cavity, if you have the work done before it becomes a tooth ache you will have a smaller filling.
Now we have our insurance stepping in. In the US, you or your doctor calls them and says they want you to see a specialist. You get your approval and go visit this new doctor. This new doctor will say I see “….. going on, my suggestions are ……. or ……”. Here the patient has a choice, do we do surgery or do we try other things. The patient makes up his/her mind and they proceed. In other systems you may take five years or more before you jump through all the hoops they require. I know of a gentleman in another country who is on a waiting list that is backed up for two years just to see a pain management doctor. Only after he sees this group of doctors can he see a specialist that could handle the surgery he needs. They already know he needs the surgery but….. He also knows that the surgeon he needs is now backed up three more years to be able to use the hospital and set dates. If he were willing to go out of his country and pay for the surgery, from his own pocket, then he could have it in a closer time frame. He estimated in American dollars that while he waits for the Pain Management appointment he will spend over $2400 in pain medicine, and add in his loss of income from not being able to work. Then he knows that for at least two more years he will be spending possibly $12,000. He has questioned his right to live because of the loss to his family. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the patient in the US decides they are the as-soon-as-possible patient and they want the surgery quickly. The patient will have less stress physically and mentally, so we would imagine them to heal quicker. The patient in the other country is having to fight battles everyday of his life, so one would expect him to have a longer healing phase.
As with the cavity, if the patient has no other health problems, surgery will be “simple’ for them. But if the patient has other issues physically, they will have to add time to their recovery. What type of other issues will also have to be taken into account? Are they diabetic, or do they have low blood counts? Do they have an auto immune disease, have they had surgery before? We know no one’s body is perfect, so why feel as if you will recover in exactly 6 weeks?
Let’s say you have an extremely caring and attentive family for support. This patient may have all the help and compassion that they could ask for 100 times over. This well-being that the family provides makes that patient a healthier person emotionally. It also makes the physical body heal faster. If our patient has lukewarm support then he/she will have to do some things for themselves and possibly cause a relapse in recovery. Also, the apathetic emotional care will put a damper on the joy of finally getting the body fixed, and will add stress to the patient before and after the surgery. That patient may have to worry about getting children to school, meals, and what everyone who appears disinterested is thinking about them. Then there are patients who are out there alone. Alone will never be the ideal way to heal. The patient will start out with an extreme measure of stress. Not only will that person be worried about the family, if they have any, but also worried about themselves. How will they get to the surgery? Who will be there for them when they wake up? Who will drive them home? Who will help them take baths, fix meals, etc. When we think of these three patient support types, we all know which should recover fastest and which might end up back into a hospital. So their doctor will not be able to [and should not!] give each patient a date to go back to work.
Lastly, we might think of the type of surgery: open heart, bone reset with screws, Tarlov cyst or disc fusion. Each type of surgery requires different stays in the hospital, physical therapy, even medicines. Also, the doctor should be able to give you a list of what not to do for a particular length of time. That doctor should tell you what the expectations of “success” would be and a time frame to be at certain percentages of “success”. Now if the patient does not listen fully to the doctor, then they might expect to wake up 100%. Anyone doing that I would call a “fool”. There are a lot of patients who listen to the negative before they listen to the positive. They worry so much about what might happen, instead of what is hoped for, that they predestine their outcome. Some expect miracles, then they should be talking to God about it, and are so disappointed with the results that they cause themselves to develop depression.
My thought on the whole process of recovery is multifaceted. First, if your issue is going to end up with surgery no matter what types of evading treatment you seek, why prolong the inevitable? Second, interview several different doctors doing the surgery or even get on the web and research. Find blogs like this one to see what other patients went through. Be Positive! Ask lots of questions. Listen, if you want the doctor to listen to you, then give them the respect to fully listen to them. Third, do exactly what that doctor tells you after surgery. If they say no carrying a gallon of milk for six weeks, that is what they mean. Even for just a step or two, no gallon in your hands! Third, get yourself healthy as soon as possible. That does not mean just the body, but your mind. Fresh air is a bonus and good eating is a must. If you have negative people around you questioning your every decision, then cut them until after the surgery. If they are in your home, then stand up for yourself and say “THIS IS MY BODY”. Fourth, set an “after surgery” goal. Mine was simply a reduction in pain by 50%. Your goal should be realistic, not something like jumping out of an airplane. My second goal was to sit for 15 minutes, and not concentrate on the uncomfortable tailbone. Having achieved the first, and mostly the second, I am adding another goal of being able to be in a car for an hour and not want to cry. Christmas is coming and I need to go to West Virginia, which is 7 hours away. Fifth, do not feel sorry for yourself! Yep, we have a tendency to feel sorry for ourselves. If things are not going as you planned, remember you are not the one in control. Sixth, remember that you are an individual; you may not be “typical”. Your mental and physical health could slow you down, your expectations could be too high.
Don’t think of recovery as something only your body does. Your spirit has to renew also. If you can’t reconcile and relax with your new normal, then you will never fully heal. If you don’t look for positives, your body and spirit cannot enjoy its chance to mend. Let’s face it, all the worry you go through just getting to surgery made your body and spirit ill. If you do not find something (hobby, art, voice) to help you ignore your body during recovery, your mind will constantly worry about what your body is feeling. You will tend to experience your discomfort more. Keeping your mind off of what is happening in your body is key to keeping the stress of recovery under control. If you have children, you are extra busy and stressed, but let them learn a new hobby as well. It is a special time to share secrets and dreams with those children. Moms can get pedicures from their little ones (use children’s nail color), dad can give them while he is recuperating. This is a perfect time to teach those teens how to balance a check book, about the reality of bills and paychecks, and budgeting. Even teach them about insurance.
For me, I had three cysts worked on. I was told typical recovery for returning to most normal activity was six weeks. But remember: that would be for one cyst, so why even think of a full recovery as soon as the six weeks. Why not do as me; each cyst got their own six weeks. I also was told that nerves had to wake up after being fiddled with. What did that mean? It means that each nerve would be on its own time frame. I had no control over those nerves, so if it took the one for my bladder three months to wake up, then I had to accept that it took three months. There was not a thing I could or can do about it. Why get upset over that part of the recovery?
What time frame did the surgeon give me? He told me that 90 to 95% had a reasonable recovery by two years. Wow, two years. Does that mean that at six weeks I should call him and complain, or ‘regret’ the surgery? I think not. I did have my family doctor ask me at my six month appointment (not the surgeon) if it was a mistake. You talking about wanting to blow up at a professional, I was never so glad to get out of her office. My answer was, “No, I went into it knowing that it could take me two years to get to a 90% recovery.” I also told her that I was smart enough to know that 100% was never going to happen and I was not stupid enough to expect it. Then I told her that if I had not had the surgery, I would not have been sitting in her office talking to her. My goal was a 50% reduction in pain so that I could have a new normal for a life.
Have I recovered? Yes, for this stage in the whole process! There is more recovery to go into, so six months down the road we will see how well I have progressed.