Thursday, October 9, 2014

Successful Patient: Grieving After Surgery

Surgeons want their patients to know the details of the procedures they'll be doing along with the risks and complications.  Try telling a surgeon that you're terrified before the surgery.  How does he respond? Right. It depends upon the surgeon, but most don't deal well with the emotional side of surgery.

Feeling frightened and/or nervous before surgery is normal.  I've now survived five surgeries and each time, I was extremely nervous beforehand. But what about after surgery? What are the emotions common afterward?

Relief. Of course. Who wouldn't feel relief that it's all over?
Fear. Yes, a fear of hearing what the outcome was. Depending on the surgery, an individual may have had a tumor removed and is waiting to hear if it was malignant or benign.
Surprise. Yes, you are still alive and you made it through the surgery just fine.
Happiness. I felt this intensely after my first surgery, not only that it was over but that it also had the best possible outcome. Plus, I woke up during the gurney ride from Recovery to my room.  I love gurney rides!
Despair. This could result over a negative outcome, or because of intense post-op pain and/or nausea.  It is the worst thing to wake up and feel worse than you did when they put you under.
Confusion. This often happens because of the combination of drugs used for the anesthesia. I feel very fortunate that I have not woken confused but have known exactly where I was and who I was.

A day or two after surgery, especially major surgery in which something has been removed -- a tumor, a part of an organ -- it's possible to feel something totally unexpected. Grief.

For example, the day after my first surgery, the assisting surgeon stood next to my bed describing to me what they had done during the surgery. Suddenly, I felt such a powerful, full-body sorrow that I burst into tears. The surgeon stopped talking, staring at me, surprised. I was just as surprised as he was, and explained that I just felt incredibly sad. The tears stopped almost as suddenly as they began.

It took me months to figure out what that sorrow was all about. It finally came to me: I had felt sad hearing that they had removed a segment of small bowel.  I had lost a small part of my body that I'd never get back.  The sorrow was grief.

After my most recent surgery, the sorrow didn't hit me until I'd been home for about four days. It came upon me slowly in the evening, until I began crying. A friend happened to call at that time and she was concerned that I was crying until I explained. Again, the surgeon had removed a part of me that I would never get back.  Granted, I needed for it to be removed so that I could survive and thrive, but it was still a loss. Acknowledging the loss and grieving it allowed me to move on.

Face of Anger
A part of the grieving process is Anger. This is another emotion that people can feel coming out of surgery, especially if they are not happy with how they are treated or if the surgeon doesn't communicate very well. I've experienced anger as part of the grieving process, part of going through the loss of a part of my body that I'll never get back.  Again, it took me months to figure out what made me so angry.  It was a combination of being part of the grieving process and then being angry that the surgeon hadn't taken out more, leaving me with still active disease.

We are emotional beings. While your surgeon may not be the best person to share your feelings with, she still needs to acknowledge your feelings, if you choose to describe them to her.  We humans have a powerful
mind-body connection demonstrated by the emotional reactions I've described.  Once you recognize this, it's possible to use it to your advantage by using music to calm your mind and body, by maintaining a positive frame of mind, or using positive mantras.  A successful patient will pay attention to his emotions as well as his physical needs....

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