What I Wish I Knew Before My Bowel Resection
Nearly five years ago, I went under the knife for the first time. Leading up to my surgery, I was petrified of the unknown. I was worried about how I’d overcome the adversities we are forced to face during recovery. I felt like I had failed myself when surgery for my Crohn’s was the only option. Looking back, there are several experiences I’ve been able to draw from that I think will benefit you, whether you’ve had surgery for your IBD already, or if surgery is part of your future.
Surgery was my only option
When I was told I needed 18 inches of my small intestine removed, I was hospitalized for my third bowel obstruction in 16 months. My GI told me surgery was the only plausible option unless I wanted to repeatedly go through obstructions. He sent me home from the hospital for 10 days to build up my strength.
Those 10 days were emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing. But I learned a lot about my strength and resilience during that time, along with tactics for taking on the difficult days that come our way, thanks to IBD.
I never thought I'd be where I am today
Take a photo of yourself in front of the mirror in your underwear. I know this sounds ridiculous but hear me out! The day before surgery I stood in front of the mirror in my bathroom in my bra and underwear and took a photo of my body. I took the photo for myself, never to be shared. But the photo speaks volumes to me.
Not only is it a reminder of my former self, prior to any scars or incisions on my abdomen, but the girl with the sad eyes looking back in the reflection had no idea of all the beauty that was to come. Getting married, having babies, starting a blog and connecting with thousands of people around the world, all while living in remission. Something I never thought to be possible. I highly recommend taking a photo like this to have for yourself.
Things to ask your surgeon before bowel resection surgery
Communicate with your surgeon about your incisions beforehand. The night before surgery my surgeon walked into my hospital room and talked to me about the incisions. He asked me if I had any preferences. I told him I’d prefer for the scar to be as low as possible. Rather than cut me up and down (like most surgeons do for resections), he followed my instructions and did a c-section incision along with laparoscopic surgery.
So many of my peers who have had the same surgery, with fewer inches of intestine taken out, have vertical incisions. Not only is that more difficult to heal from, but it’s also a much more visible scar to live with. Along with the 18 inches of small intestine, my surgery also involved the removal of my appendix, ileocecal valve and Meckel’s diverticulum.
Be proactive with what you pack in your hospital bag. Pack clothes without waistbands, slip-on shoes or flip flops. In the days following surgery, you won’t want any added pressure on the incision. Prior to my resection, I went on a little shopping spree and purchased a few nightgowns and summer dresses, so I had comfortable options as I healed.
Can I move during bowel resection recovery?
Talk to your care team about proper body mechanics. While the thought of sitting up, walking, and getting out of bed may seem nearly impossible after major surgery, moving is huge when it comes to your recovery. I was taught to grab the side of the bed rail with my left hand and roll onto my left shoulder. From there, I would lean on my left elbow and slowly push myself up—without using my abdominal muscles. Once I was sitting up, I would gradually lower one foot at a time onto the floor.
I had a pain pump following my resection, it was helpful to hit the button and get a burst of pain medication prior to getting up to pace the hospital corridors or use the bathroom. Ask your nurses if they have a binder or a small pillow you can hold against your incision when you laugh, cough, sit up, and drive in a car. My small pillow was a huge help in my healing process.
The days right after surgery
Celebrate the small victories, because they’re BIG! The baby steps you make from the moment you move after surgery will soon be strides, but you need to be patient with yourself. Set attainable goals for yourself and try to push yourself a little further each day. I remember when I first got home from the hospital, I was only able to make it past three houses when we walked outside in my neighborhood. Then the next day, I made it four and so on. To this day, I remember those milestones, and as I walk and push my two littles ones in the stroller I constantly look up and thank God for bringing me to this point.
Ease back into work. If you work full-time and you’re on short-term or long-term disability, talk with your boss about working from home for two weeks, until you go back into the office. Trust me, you’ll need that time to garner up your strength to sit up at a computer and focus on something other than your pain.
I was so grateful to have two weeks to ease back into my work schedule. It made a world of difference in allowing me to slowly acclimate back into my typical routine and schedule. When you have surgery for IBD, it’s a lot more than “just” incisional pain. Your digestion has to learn to re-calibrate. I had my one and only accident while working from home. I was home alone when it happened, and I was mortified. Imagine if I had pushed myself and been in the office at that time.
Why I'm happy that I had surgery
If you’re reading this and fearful of surgery, trust me all your feelings are valid. At the same time, looking back, I wish I would have had my surgery sooner than 10 years into my patient journey. My surgery gave me a new lease on life. It’s been a fresh start and August is five years since I had it. Since then, I’ve had two c-sections and brought two healthy babies into this world. The resection provided me with surgical remission, which led to healthy and uneventful pregnancies. Now, when I think about future surgeries, I don’t fear them, because I know the pain that follows, but also the miracles that can happen when the rain stops and the clouds part.
Does exercising regularly help in the management of your symptoms?