Surgery is something I know a thing or two about. During my sickness with ulcerative colitis, I had a total of six surgeries, which meant six pre-op appointments, six hospital stays, and six recoveries. I know there are many people in the IBD community who have had many more than six. But for me, after number six, I am pretty well-versed in how to prep for surgery.
I live alone and did all of my surgery recoveries alone (which is how I wanted it). Many people will have family or friends come over to help, which is really great. I, however, was too stubborn to ask for help. Don’t be dumb like me ask for help.
These steps helped me prepare for surgery, and I hope they help you too.
Clean your house.
The first few surgeries I was so caught up in the surgery prep that I let my house go into complete disarray. The weeks after surgery you won’t be moving much, except to poop and eat. I found that with all the liquids I was drinking, and the food here and there, I made a huge mess that I was unable to clean up myself. You want to start with a clean slate so when you eventually do make a huge mess, you don’t end up looking like a hoarder.
Tip: Hire someone to come to your house a few weeks post-op to clean for you. I wasn’t comfortable asking my friends or family to clean my house. It just felt weird to me. My sister offered to hire someone to do some basic cleaning for me and it was one of the best things I ever did during my recovery.
Fill your prescriptions. he worst thing is to get discharged from the hospital and then have to make a stop at the pharmacy for pain meds you desperately need. Do yourself a favor and have them prepped and ready to go. More than likely you’ll end up driving down the bumpiest road in town and you will wish you had taken a Percocet before you even got in the car.
Stock up on groceries.
Make sure you’ve got food. Toothpaste. TOILET PAPER. Whatever you will need to sit at home on your ass for a few weeks. I always seemed to forget something important and heavy like dog food. Dogs gotta eat too
Stock up on soft post-op foods you’ll want to eat and lots of electrolyte water. I’m a big Smart Water fan. Get your Gatorade or Pedialyte whatever you think works best but get a lot of it; it’s much better to have too much than to run out. My surgery recovery diet was Cheese-Its and blue Gatorade. No, it was not particularly healthy, but it always did the job and when you get the chance to live on Cheese-Its without regret, YOU DO IT.
Prepare a sweet couch bed.
This is really only relevant if you have an upstairs at your house. I did and I didn’t sleep upstairs for like a year. After surgery I needed to be close to my kitchen, bathroom and TV. I did that by living on my couch. I made sure to have all my favorite blankets, pillows and remote controls within reach. Sheets to create a couch fort are optional.
Get a dog.
OK, this may be a bit of a stretch, but I’m a firm believer in the power of healing through animals. My dogs never left my side when I was sick and in recovery. Their cute little faces made every stupid day much better. If you don’t have a dog, borrow one. Cats don’t count they hate people.
Pack your hospital bag.
A good hospital bag is key to a bearable hospital stay. In fact, you should always have a hospital "go" bag packed in case of ER visits that result in getting admitted. I have gotten caught at the hospital without anything to entertain me, no spare clothes, and the real travesty of forgetting my phone charger. So take some time to plan out packing your bag. Remember you’re going to be stuck in a crappy bed for a week. Plan well.
Here are some of my suggestions of what to pack:
-CHARGERS! (Don’t forget the chargers! It’s the worst).
-Toilet paper: Bring the good stuff. Hospital TP is one step above sand paper, which is close to cruel and unusual punishment.
-Wet wipes (You can thank me later).
-Calmoseptine: This is a gift from the Gods. Find it in the butt section of the pharmacy and buy lots and lots of it. I always say it’s like a cool minty breeze on your butt. You’re welcome.
-Softie pants/tank tops: I despise hospital gowns. I always brought my own pants and a tank top to wear instead of those horrible things.
-Pillow: Hospital pillows are not actually pillows. They are a mean joke in the shape of a pillow made out of a weird plastic. Bring your own pillow and pillow case. Not only is it significantly more comfortable, but it will also help you on that awful ride home from the hospital when you hit all those bumps.
Things to skip packing:
-Books: You’ll be too drugged up to actually retain anything you read. I know; I tried.
-Sodoku: Again, this is brain power you just won’t have.
-Knitting/Crocheting (Skipped stitches galore).
-Answering work emails: Typos, grammatical errors, and inappropriate responses. Been there. Done it.
-Long-sleeved clothing: IV tubes do not work with long sleeves; bring a blanket instead.
I think the best suggestion I can really give in prepping for surgery is to make a lot of lists. Things to bring, things to do, numbers to call, things to buy, etc. You’re going to be super drugged post-op and will likely forget a lot of stuff. Do yourself a favor and make all the important lists before you’re high on pain pills. The more you prep before surgery, the easier your recovery will be. I promise.
Jackie Zimmerman is a multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis patient and the founder of Girls With Guts. Since diagnosis, she has blogged her IBD journey at Blood, Poop, and Tears. Jackie has worked hard to become a strong voice in the patient advocacy community. In her free time (what free time?!) she spends time with her two rescue pups and plays roller derby. She’s online @JackieZimm.