Tips for Recovering From IBD Surgery
Last updated: November 2021
It's been more than 7 years since my partial colectomy surgery and I often reflect on how much it has changed my life for the better. However, upon hearing the news that I would need surgery for my Crohn's, I immediately went into panic mode, as I had always thought having surgery was the worst-case scenario.
Reading others' surgery recovery experiences
Of course, I went down the rabbit hole of the internet, reading horror stories about what could go wrong and all of the possible complications, so I made a conscious decision to stop clicking and start asking people I knew who had the same surgery I was about to have so that I could best prepare for what to expect, especially during recovery.
Discussing the surgery with others was both helpful and hurtful.
I didn't realize how overwhelmed I would be in hearing what recovery looks like and I felt that in this situation, ignorance probably is bliss. So, I want to share with you some "tips" that I have discovered while undergoing, and recovering from, a partial colectomy. But, I put the word tips in quotes because my first tip is:
Every BODY is different.
Be aware that every single Crohn's or ulcerative colitis patient will have a different recovery experience.
What happened to one patient may not be the case for you – for better or for worse. It was informative for me to speak to others who have had partial colectomies so that I had an idea of what to expect. But truthfully, it filled me with more worry than hope.
And, fortunately, I did not experience any of the negative side effects as those who had gone before me. I was only in the hospital for 48 hours following surgery and since I cannot tolerate heavy pain meds, I only took Motrin and Tylenol. (Tip worth noting – I found taking Motrin PM helped me sleep better at night!)
My Crohn's surgery recovery
I was up and moving pretty easily and had no issues with having a bowel movement prior to leaving the hospital. My recovery was pretty quick; however, I did spend close to 3 weeks at home, physically unable to walk further than my 737-square-foot condo, but the pain was manageable.
I share this information with you just to share my experience, but please do not think that all patients are discharged after 48 hours or that something is wrong if you have to stay longer. Again, we are all different and our bodies heal differently.
Have a surgery recovery plan
One important tip is to have a plan, but also be flexible if things need to change. I planned on being out of work for 3 weeks, but was willing (and able) to push my return date back if necessary.
I also made my condo post-surgery friendly by having everything easily accessible so I didn't have to do any unnecessary bending or reaching. My mom stayed with me for a few days after my surgery to make sure I was able to get around OK at home, so she was able to get me groceries. But if you live alone I would suggest planning a grocery delivery for soon after returning home to make sure you aren't stuck without any food or necessities.
Focus on your mental health
Focus on your mental health in addition to physical health after surgery.
Prior to my surgery, I saw my therapist twice a week. During our sessions, she encouraged me to download meditation apps that would help keep me calm prior to surgery and relax afterward.
This was a great piece of advice as I found my mental health would sometimes require more care and attention than my physical health since I was feeling lonely and sad that I couldn't leave my apartment, and wondered if my life would ever go back to how it was before surgery. (Spoiler: it did, and got even better.)
Be gentle on yourself after IBD surgery
Don't worry if you aren't making progress in your recovery as you had hoped, or if you have a setback that prevents you from leaving the hospital as quickly as you anticipated. Just be gentle on yourself and allow your body to heal completely.
Reserve judgment, take it slow, and enjoy having the opportunity to relax while your body recovers from a major surgery. It may be tempting to go on a long walk the first day you feel well. But take it easy, as overdoing it may lead to a setback.
It may also be tempting to be hard on yourself for not having any energy or feeling lazy, but all of that is ok. Just rest and don't compare yourself to other patients – you got this!
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