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Post-surgery tips and advice: What to expect

It’s a good idea to expect the unexpected as you heal

A woman drinks a glass of water while holding a medicine bottle as she sits upright in bed
A woman drinks a glass of water while holding a medicine bottle as she sits upright in bed

As a patient preparing for surgery, a lot of thought and energy is put into the weeks leading up to the big day. Between selecting a specialist, finding out about your upcoming procedure, choosing the right hospital and organising time off work, it can be information overload.

Your post-surgery recovery is equally important. While your doctor will prepare you for what is likely to happen physically following your operation, it’s a good idea to expect the unexpected as you heal. With that in mind, here are eight post-surgery tips to help you manage your recovery.

Post-Surgery Tip #1: Your recovery time may not match others

Regardless of other people’s experiences (even if your surgeries, health, age and lifestyle closely match up), your pain level and recovery time may vary greatly. So while talking to people that have been through the same procedure can be helpful in terms of gauging what to expect, you should also factor in your health professional’s advice and plan your downtime and expectations accordingly. And, whether it’s hitting the dancefloor at a friend’s wedding or getting back on the golf course for an upcoming tournament, it’s a good idea to discuss any recovery goals you have with your surgeon before you head into the operating theatre.

Post-Surgery Tip #2: Coming off your pain meds shouldn’t be a race

It’s not unusual to think coming off your pain medications as soon as possible is important, and that the sooner you can manage without them, the better you are doing. However, it’s best to stick to your doctors’ recommendations and use them to prevent strong pain developing, rather than hanging out until you can’t deal with the pain anymore; this can make you feel worn down quickly and drag out your recovery time.

credit: nib health insurance

Post-Surgery Tip #3: You do a lot more mini jobs in a day than you can possibly plan for

A lot of people are good at planning for the big moments – having help on hand, freezing meals in advance, taking time off work and making sure pets and children will be taken care of – but it’s often the mini-movements we fail to plan for. You probably won’t realise how many times you get up from a chair during the day until ‘getting up’ is a mission in itself. You might find yourself sitting down with a cup of tea only to realise you’ve left your phone on the table or realising no one has replaced the toilet roll when you’re already on the loo.

It takes a little practice, but when you do need to get up, take a minute to mentally run through what else needs doing while you’re up, so you can group together tasks when you’re on your feet. In saying that, don’t feel like you have to do everything at once; it’s a good idea to gradually increase how much you do each day.

Post-Surgery Tip #4: Having a shower will feel like a day spa

There is nothing quite like the feeling of freshness and relaxation a shower and fresh clothes can bring when recovering. You can turn this into an even better experience by indulging in some lovely scented toiletries. Depending on your surgery, you might need to put a plastic bag over any wounds to ensure the dressing doesn’t get wet.

Keep a plastic chair in the shower so you can sit down, and a spare in the bathroom if you have the space – it’s best to avoid having to walk back into a slippery shower recess if you get dizzy. You might be able to borrow a chair from the hospital or you could always hire one from a local equipment supplier.

Post-Surgery Tip #5: Things hurt in weird ways

You may be prepared for pain in the areas affected by your surgery, but sometimes the ways they are triggered can come as a surprise – for example, the excellent comedy series you’ve planned to catch up on while recuperating from your c-section might have to hit the bottom of the pile once you realise laughter hurts!

A female doctor reassures a patient in a hospital bed

Post-Surgery Tip #6: You may need to step away from emails and work calls for longer than anticipated

Mental fatigue hanging around longer and stronger than expected after surgery is a common complaint and one that can affect your ability to get motivated. Planning to take care of admin and ‘desk jobs’ in the early days of recovery may seem like a great idea if you have to be off your feet, but be aware your brain may be slowed down by all that’s going on. Take as much time away from work as you can manage to allow yourself to fully recover.

Post-Surgery Tip #7: You may get very bored and low

While we know to expect some serious downtime, the level of lowness this can cause can come as a surprise. It’s great to have loads of lap-friendly activities pre-organised, but also make sure you organise regular visits – people make you perkier post-surgery than you may realise. And as a bonus, knowing your best mate is dropping around for lunch or after work gives you the incentive to take a shower and make yourself presentable. To help keep the boredom at bay, check out our top tips for staying sane while healing.

Post-Surgery Tip #8: You will have questions

Even the most vigilant pre and post-surgical question asker will still wind up wondering if something (say a twinge or a headache) is normal during their recovery time – and you’ll probably dither over whether it’s worthwhile ringing your doctor. There are ways to clarify if what you’re feeling is normal, such as calling Health Direct for advice. You could also try keeping a diary of minor aches and pains, and noting how and when you’ve slept and what pain meds you’ve had, as it can be useful for spotting patterns or identifying causes.

Recovery will no doubt throw a few curve balls your way (don’t forget to stock up on recovery-friendly clothing if you’ll be sporting a cast, for example!) but these eight tips will help you be a little more prepared.

At nib, we also offer a range of Health Management Programs at no additional cost to eligible members*, including a Discharge Support Program. This program allows nib members access to a personalised recovery program after they return from hospital. If you would like to find out whether you’re eligible, or you’d like more information, email [email protected].

*Available to eligible nib members who’ve held Hospital Cover for 12 months and served their relevant waiting periods. Additional criteria vary according to each program.