Recovery After Partial Colectomy

I had my partial colectomy on April 10, 2014. I remember that day vividly, as it was the day that my life changed for the better. The warm, spring day was full of optimism and hope as I eagerly entered the hospital knowing I was leaving 12 inches of diseased bowel (and an appendix) lighter.

Unlike many Crohn's or UC patients who have their surgery urgently, I scheduled my surgery 3 months in advance so that the inflammation and abscess in my ileum could shrink, preventing potential complications. Therefore, I had time to do my research on what to expect before and after the surgery by speaking with patients who have had the same procedure. They were quite helpful in preparing me for what was to come, however, fortunately, I had a much better experience than the picture they painted. 

I was only in the hospital for 48 hours, had my surgery done laparoscopically, and had an incredibly easy recovery. I know that not everyone is as lucky, so here is my short list of how to best recover from your partial colectomy, regardless of how simple or complicated it may be.

After a partial colectomy for Crohn's or ulcerative colitis

Don't compare yourself to others

It's easy to set certain expectations about surgery based on stories from others. But, don't make anecdotes the benchmark for how your body will recover. It may take you longer to recover or maybe you will have a minor setback that they did not. On the other hand, perhaps you will be lucky and have a much better experience than they did. So, use the advice provided by others as guidelines as to what to expect after your surgery, but do not expect your experience to be the same – for better or worse.

Take recovery one day at a time

Looking down the long recovery road can seem daunting. I remember not being able to stand long enough to shower, brush, and blow dry my hair for the first week or so after surgery. I couldn't imagine ever being able to stand long enough for that previously simple part of my daily routine ever again, and it really affected my mental health.

In order to keep my mental health intact through my recovery, I simply took it one day at a time. I noted little wins like having longer stretches of time in between taking Motrin or being able to stand for both my shower and brushing my hair. Step by step, I got stronger and had better days, and eventually I was back to the old me and felt great.

Look better to feel better

Speaking of showering, it is amazing how much better one feels mentally and physically after a shower and putting on clothing that isn't pajamas. As soon as I was cleared to get out of bed in the hospital, I showered and changed out of my hospital gown, and even threw on a swipe of mascara to feel a little better about myself. As IBD patients, we tend to feel "ugly" and undesired when dealing with flares and surgery, so looking better on the outside definitely helps me feel better both physically and mentally on the inside.

Keep a small pillow nearby

You don't realize how much you laugh, cough, or sneeze in a day until you have surgery. Keeping a small pillow next to me at all times came in handy to add pressure to my incision when I made movements that caused pain. It also helps when getting up and down from bed or the couch, and even just walking around the first few days after surgery.

Rest: You just had surgery!

This seems like a no-brainer but if you are like me and are tempted to push yourself physically the first day you feel well, then this is your friendly reminder to REST. Your body has gone through a lot and needs time to heal and repair itself. Should you start feeling well enough to walk more or go outside, do so at a gradual pace. Then, when you return, lay down for a few hours, giving your body the ability to replenish and recharge.

Consider physical therapy after a partial colectomy

When you are finally cleared by your physician to resume normal activities, it may be helpful to do some physical therapy (PT) sessions so that you are not overdoing it or causing injury to any part of your body, not just the abdominal area. PT will allow you to know your limits, improve your strength, and listen to your body so that you know what you can and cannot do at the onset of physical activity. Talk to your GI doctor about getting a prescription for PT and if your insurance covers it, it may be worth a few sessions to be sure you are back on your game in the safest way possible.

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