Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Being Prepared for Surgery

Before we go any further, you should know that this blog post does not contain any medical advice. There are no exercises, no medications (or alternative remedies), no recommendations for tests or monitoring, and no diet guidelines.

So, if this isn't a medical guide, what is it?

This is a list of things that I do in the days or weeks before planned surgery to make my life easier in the days and weeks after the surgery. Of course, the nature of the surgery will change some things, but I'll try to be as general as possible.

Here in the UK, most people will know their surgery date at least a month in advance (for routine, non-urgent procedures). I like to use that time to think about the effects the surgery may have on my life while I'm recovering, and try to come up with as many solutions as possible before the problems have a chance to rear their ugly heads!

In my opinion, there is almost nothing worse than feeling weak and feeble, in pain, limited by wounds/dressings/plaster casts. Add to that the feeling of unwashed hair and skin, unwanted body hair, and flaking nails, and it's almost a recipe for disaster! Here are a few of the things that I do to prepare my body for surgery and to keep myself looking as normal as possible afterwards.


Book a haircut as close to the date of your surgery as humanly possible - this will ensure that your hair looks as good as possible, even if you're not able to give it much attention. If you have very long, thick or curly hair, consider a change of style to one that needs minimal maintenance. This doesn't always mean short! My hair is wavy/curly and prone to frizz. Short styles, for me, mean endless conditioning and styling products and hours of blowdrying or using straightening irons or tongs. With a blunt cut just above shoulder length, I can get away with scrunching a little mousse through my hair and leaving it to dry naturally.

If your hair is coloured, make sure you get your roots done, preferably just before surgery, so that it will look fresh for as long as possible while you recover and build up enough energy to get to the salon for the next colour!

Styling your hair may be another hurdle, especially if the surgery affects your hands/arms/shoulders, or is likely to leave you feeling very weak. I recommend investing in the following basic kit:
1. Dry shampoo: Having hair that looks bouncy and freshly-washed without getting out of bed is like a miracle! If possible, try a couple of brands and stock up on cans of your favourite in various sizes. You may still need help to apply it, massage it in and brush it out again, but it still takes considerably less effort for both you and your helper than a full shampoo and conditioner, plus it doesn't leave your hair wet, so no risk of getting chilled (or getting wet bedclothes)
2. Alice bands and 'crocodile' clips: These are enough to hold your hair back from your face, even if you have one hand out of action. Some people find the fabric bands easier than solid ones, but I'm a fan of the solid ones. The wider the better, in order to cover as much hair as possible! Having the crocodile clips as well means that you can try out a variety of styles with minimal effort or assistance
3. A wide-toothed comb is great for gentle hair-styling (or just detangling); if you can get one with a long handle, so much the better!

If your surgery means that blowdrying your hair is not an option, there are two things you can do. The first is to resign yourself to having a different style for a few weeks, working with your natural hair texture. As you'll be giving your hair a break from heated styling tools, it's a good opportunity to use intensive deep conditioners. Put a soft towel over your pillow and apply the conditioner. Massage your scalp well, and then comb the conditioner through to the ends of your hair. It can stay there until you next wash your hair. Not particularly glamourous or attractive, but your hair will be in better condition afterwards! The other option is to book a course of regular blow-dry treatments at your hairdressing salon. It's a lovely thing to do to pamper yourself, and may be the only way to get your hair washed and styled properly if you have an arm in a cast, but consider how you're going to get to and from the salon if you're not up to walking and not allowed to drive.


After surgery, you may not feel like keeping up with your usual skincare regime. I like to cleanse, tone and moisturise, and have various favourite products to exfoliate and moisturise my skin. This all goes out of the window after any surgery, but especially if I have an arm in plaster. Simple cleansing wipes are my saving grace - they remove everything (even betadine, chlorhexidine and EEG glue - all of which you may encounter during your hospital stay!), and leave my skin feeling lovely. At a pinch, you could use them to wash your body, but I wouldn't recommend doing this more than once! My top five tips for skin have to be:
1. If you wax, book a wax prior to your surgery: If you don't wax, think about whether you're going to keep up with whatever method you normally use, and whether it would bother you if you didn't keep up with it. Waxing lasts for 4-6 weeks for most people, and there's nothing quite like feeling smooth and polished when you're a bit weak.
2. Simple cleansing wipes
3. A pleasantly fragranced deodorant (I find spray easier than any other method of application)
4. A real sponge and a mild liquid soap: it's hard to rinse properly if you're washing in bed or in a chair, but it's not the end of the world if a mild soap stays on your skin - aqueous cream can be used instead of liquid soap - it doesn't feel particularly 'cleansing' but it does work, and it'll leave your skin lovely and soft
5. A luxurious moisturiser: it may be more difficult to apply, but having the luxury of my favourite scent as well as soft skin is worth the time it takes to apply it! There are lots of different types of moisturiser, depending on your needs - it may be easier to use a body butter that's almost solid and won't run everywhere, a pump dispenser, or a spray.


More than any other part of me, my face gives me away after surgery. It takes almost nothing to make me look pale and drawn, with dark circles around my eyes, and it is guaranteed to make me feel worse if I see myself in the mirror looking like that. Of course, there's always the option to just avoid the mirror, but let's assume that we generally like mirrors.

Before surgery:
1. Shape your eyebrows and wax/thread/pluck any stray hairs
2. Get your eyelashes tinted: this is cheap and readily available at salons, and will mean that you don't need to wear mascara for up to six weeks. I have no arguments for the pedants who say that you don't need to wear mascara anyway. I like to have dark lashes, and drawing attention to my lashes and big green/blue eyes is better than drawing attention to the dark circles around my eyes!
3. Invest in a cream blush, or even better, a cream product for cheeks and lips: I love the Benefit Benetint lip and cheek balm and Bobbi Brown's Pot Rouge in Powder Pink. Give me 30 seconds with either of these, and I'll magically transform into a healthy-looking creature before your very eyes.
4. Get a really good brightening concealer for under-eye bags and any other dark shadows that may emerge post-surgery: My intention is not really to promote lots of beauty products, but I use Clinique's Airbrush Concealer. I've used it for many years, and love it. It is also very easy to apply. Even with one hand. Even if that hand is your non-dominant hand.
5. Stock up on moisturiser and lip balm: Hospitals are dry places, and my skin is dry and flaky for days or even weeks afterwards, so I use a much heavier moisturiser than usual.
6. Choose some low-profile jewellery to wear while you're recovering: You'll probably have to remove all your jewellery for the surgery (you may be allowed to tape over a wedding band) but you'll need something simple to wear afterwards, if only to maintain piercings (don't forget about belly buttons, tongues, lips, etc. and make sure you have someone ready to put them back in for you after surgery if you can't do it yourself). I usually wear plain pearl or diamond stud earrings, a simple, light necklace, and my wedding and engagement rings, but no other jewellery. It's enough to keep me looking polished, and to keep the holes in my earlobes open, and that's all I need.

After surgery:
Get a manicure and pedicure: Don't make the mistake of doing this prior to surgery, as you'll just have to take it off, which is a bit of a nightmare if you have a gel or shellac manicure. Once you're safely out of the hospital, book yourself in for a mani-pedi, preferably with gel or shellac polish, which lasts for a couple of weeks without chipping or flaking. I like to get a bright colour on my feet and a neutral colour on my hands - it does have to go with everything for two weeks, after all! If you're not well enough to go out for your manicure, you may be able to find a mobile technician who will come to your home, or even to the hospital.

After all this preparation, I'm sure you're just about ready to just get to the hospital so that you can have a break, but three last things:
1. Order some pretty seasonal flowers to be delivered a couple of days after you get home from hospital (unless you're likely to be inundated with floral gifts from friends), or buy yourself an orchid in bud, so that it'll flower when you get home and are there to see it.
2. Put fresh sheets on your bed ready for when you get back. If you're anything like me, this thought will sustain you through the hard first night in the hospital after surgery. I tell myself that I just have to get through this night (and maybe a couple of others) and then I can go home and snuggle into my lovely soft bed with the clean, fresh sheets, and that means that Everything Will Be Alright.

1 comment:

  1. Good morning, Jo!
    Just poured myself a cup of (improper) coffee ;-) and will share a brief coffee break with you before I head out to Physical Therapy!
    I love you! I love your way with words! I love the way you know yourself and I love the way you have of sharing yourself with all of us! You Rock!!

    This latest post is so helpful! I have not had to have surgery often and certainly one that pose the post-op challenges you have faced, but these tips and the lessons you have learned are indeed very helpful! I will certainly pass along your blog address to my friends who are facing surgery and check back and review them the next time I go in for surgery…Which will probably be to replace my port. (It has been giving me grief! But it was “installed in Sept of ‘07 so it doesn’t owe me much anymore!)

    Some of your advice is helpful in getting ready for the horrid storms we have been getting in our neck of New England these past two years that resulted power outages of week! I did plan ahead and had personal wipes and a few of the other things you suggested…but you gave me more ideas for my emergency supplies and preparations!

    I just realized that I somehow missed commenting on your post of October 1…the one where you discussed your new baseline and the realization that you will probably never be a mother. I grieve that loss with you. Your personality and wisdom would make you an excellent mother. It will also make you an excellent aunt and friend…but as you noted, it isn’t the same. When you spoke of not being able to lift a child, I do understand that. My muscles have deteriorated to the point where this past weekend was probably the last visit with Gabe when I will be able to lift him. I didn’t try. I sat and had people bring him to me. It is a helpless feeling to know that if something went wrong I couldn’t pick him up…unless some huge rush of adrenaline kicked in!

    You wrote that because you can’t do and be all you would like to be for those you love, you are a failure. That word could NEVER describe you! Wouldn’t be anywhere on any list of words that describe you! You inspire me and so many others. We love you because of the woman, person, friend that you are not because of anything you might do! Sharing your soul is such a gift to all of us! I treasure your friendship and I have never met you in person!
    Hope this finds you having a good day! Thanks for sharing “coffee” with me!

    Much love and many hugs form across the pond!