16 Days after #topsurgery: How to prep for & post-op #selfcare #recovery

Email written in response to American friend from America who is having his top surgery in two weeks.

Note: I’m doing about a third of these things… Will write a follow-up post about why it’s SO hard to selfcare, rest and accept that I deserve this happiness and goodness FINALLY happening after 37 years of dysphoria and self-hatred._____________________________________________
Join the club on adjusting meds and surgery prepping at same time… (Typical of what’s happening at the moment – my answer became blog post. Let me know if you have other questions). 
FEELINGS AND EMOTIONAL SIDE:

  • Go with all feelings and don’t beat yourself up if not having THE RIGHT feelings (the only right feelings are YOUR feelings). 
  • Write in journal about feelings and why you think you’re feeling unexcited and terrified, or sad and excited, or elated, worried and angry. Therapy if you can afford it, or whatever works for you besides therapy (I have a psychiatrist, a therapist, an NLP practitioner and a spiritual healer (body therapy, chakras, etc.)
  • Document the process with photos – even if you don’t share them. Important for seeing how far you’be come, and to keep dysphoria of healing chest at bay – it changes weekly, and esp. after week 4ish whe you can start using scar treatment and massaging scar tissue. 
  • REMEMBER: you will only get a real idea of what your chest looks like after 10 months.

PRE-SURGERY: 

  • Spring clean. Nest. Your room is going to be your sanctuary. 
  • Disinfect bathroom properly before surgery.
  • Sponge bathing: Put everything (toiletries, etc. at reachable height!
  • Put everything you need at reachable height – i.e. Without lifting arms or moving arms backwards to reach, e.g. Bedside table. 
  • Food: do the same thing re height: on counters, cupboards where you don’t have to reach. 

SKIN CARE AND SUPPLEMENTS:

  • Stop everything, including supplements two weeks before surgery, except Zinc, antacids if you need them, psych meds, T (unless your Dr says to stop T). 
  • Rub shea, coconut or anything with vitamin E into whole chest area twice a day (preferably after shower/bath.
  • and ENJOY those showers/baths – you’re not going to be able to do them for about a month after surgery.

POST-SURGERY:

SLEEPING: 

  • Suggestions vary on how much pain you’re experiencing and how much mobility you have. But: what’s really helped me: 
  • Big (we call them continental pillows here – double the size of a normal pillow) as you’re going to be spending a lot of time on back; 
  • two pillows to adjust continental pillow to comfortable height. 
  • I sleep at an angle (half upright).
  • Putting head side of bed against wall a must – to lean pillows against if you don’t have headboard.
  • Pillow for under your knees – essential – mid to upper back pain is going to happen. Know this. Partly because lying on back for two months, partly because body is adjusting to new weight (esp. if you’re large-chested). Also because you can’t stretch, move much or exercise as you normally would. 
  • Also aeroplane neck pillow – helps HUGELY to keep your head comfy and keep your spine alignes while sleeping on back.
  • If you have a rocking chair or LazyBoy (recliner) or comfy couch, bring it into your room so you have something other than lying on your back to do.
  • DO NOT sit on couches you have to use your arms or abs to get out of.

CLOTHING: 

  • You CANNOT lift your arms. Use/buy zip up and/or button up (short and long sleeve tops). Put on gently! 
  • Don’t stretch arms too far back.
  • Loose drawstring shorts or sweatpants. 
  • Compression socks. 
  • Slip on slippers and shoes. You CAN’t bend down. 
  • Hoodies and beanies – you DO NOT want to get sick.

BATHING: 

  • Get facecloth or one of those glove cloth thingies. Needs to be moist, not wet, otherwise you wet bandages. (It’s like washing with a baby wipe, so get used to idea of not feeling clean…).
  • Baby wipes also a good idea. Pat dry after this to ensure no moisture once you put compression vest on (this is what I found at Dischem and am using and Doc happy with it). Official compression vests cost +- R1000, IF you can find them in SA. Not worth it, in my opinion for using for a month or two. At least with this backbrace, I can use it again for gym.

  • You won’t be able to wash your hair. Get someone else to do it. 
  • Best position: sit on chair over counter over low plastic bowl that allows you to lean forward properly without hurting your chest or putting strain on it. 
  • Cover chest tightly in towel and for extra measure tuck big plastic bags into top of towel wrap. 
  • Your head will be leaning forward, so bandages shouldn’t get wet, but precaution. 
  • Get someone to wash your hair – if you don’t have housemate or partner, don’t be too proud or shy to ask a friend! 
  • Get them to wash and towel dry / blow dry hair properly before you sit up, to prevent water from running into towel and plastic bag covered bandages.

FOOD: 

  • If you live alone and friend can’t come every time you need to eat: Don’t eat anything that requires using arm or chest forcefully – cutting up chicken, etc. 
  • I’m living off smoothies and tuna on toast. 
  • Get protein powder for after surgery: you need A LOT of protein.
  • Put protein and fruit and almond milk that doesn’t cause sinus issues – soya and dairy causes sinus issues and last thing you need is getting sick. Avoid dairy in general. 
  • Try to eat as healthily as possible – the usual suspects: fruit, veg (green, orange, purple, red), chicken, fish, beans, chickpeas, AVOCADOS, BANANAS, NUTS, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, brown carbs – rice, sweet potatoes, pasta, muesli). Soup. Frozen meals (put microwave in reachable position). 
  • WATER and Green tea to expel toxins.

BUT TREAT YO’SELF too. 

  • Comfort food once a day is ok!
  • You’re healing. 
  • Listen to your body. 
  • You’ll probably crave sugar, so do it for first few days, then try taper it after first week. 

SUPPLEMENTS: 

  • flaxseed oil capsules, 
  • omega 3, 6, 9, 
  • grapeseed extract, 
  • ZINC, 
  • VITAMIN C.

SCAR/SKIN CARE:

  • for first few weeks, do exactly what Doc tells you. 
  • Start taking supplements again towards end of first week. 
  • Wear compression socks to prevent blood clots. 
  • I’m still at week 2 post op so will update:
  • When doc gives you go ahead, use vitamin e based cream, arnica oil, bio oil or whatever you can find on internet that has Vit E in it and MASSAGE around incisions – breaks down scar tissue and promotes healing: helps take care of scar tissue and any puckering.
  • Put whatever doc says on scars, or silicone tape (3M). Will update.

EXERCISE / ANYTHING THAT ELEVATES HEART RATE (especially for gymbunnies and neurodivergent Spoonies with mental health issues, like me:

  • NO EXERCISE until doc clears you.
  • Deep breathing is great.
  • Meditation is great.
  • Listening to music, reading, art-ing is great.
  • If you’re manic, hypomanic or just full of energy, DO things – walking (not anything more than 5 minutes, and SLOWLY, e.g. going to shops, pacing up and down in your room), cleaning (if it hurts, STOP). 
  • By week three you should be able to go for longer walks (will update).

CONCLUSION AND MORE SELFCARE TIPS WITH COMMUNITY SUPPORT:

  • DON’T be a hero. 
  • Tuck your cape into your underwear and that’s ok.
  • Sleep lots, rest lots. 
  • And water! 
  • BUT: We’re human. If you get any of this “wrong”, relax! 
  • Phone Dr if you’re worried. 
  • Check in with other peeps who have recently undergone top, esp. same procedure.
  • There are NO dumb questions. They help to ease anxiety that’s going to increase dysphoria and you’re not going to get the rest you need. 

Regards,
Germaine 

Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces

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