It's normal to be scared and anxious before a hysterectomy. Guest contributor Shari A. Strosser shares some tips on what you can do to be better prepared for your procedure.
Nervous about your upcoming hysterectomy? Of course you are. The angst I felt prior to my surgery led me on a frenzied quest to soak up as much information as possible. Once I felt satisfied that I had not only researched the subject to death but also had adequately self-medicated with chocolate and buffalo chicken dip, I summarized several helpful hints to prepare for surgery--a checklist which served as a handy reference. After following what proved to be invaluable advice from other experienced women, I felt much less anxious and more in control knowing that I was as prepared as I could be from a practical standpoint.
1. Stop the Obsessive Research
I am all too familiar with the insatiable desire to read everything accessible on the subject. There is a wealth of medical, technical and practical information available from a variety of sources including internet articles and forums, support groups and books. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of misinformation and some downright frightening articles and videos that will cause even more anxiety. Hopefully, you have not yet spent countless hours hunched over the computer only to achieve bloodshot eyes and several empty pints of cookie dough ice cream. Step away from the computer and go get a massage or engage in frivolous retail therapy—but not before you finish reading the rest of these tips, of course.
2. Items to Have on Hand
Invest in some loose, oversized undies (also known as «granny panties») for comfort. Get a pair of slip on, backless shoes (sneaker mules are comfy) to wear to/from the hospital and thereafter. A bed tray with legs ($20 - $35) is not only useful for eating and internet surfing but also for protecting your abdomen from pets. Use a child’s sippy cup or a straw when drinking to prevent spills. Purchasing No-Rinse Shampoo ($6 - $8), facial and personal wipes makes the first few days a bit easier. A toilet seat riser ($20) is very helpful. An abdominal binder ($12 - $30) provides support when you need it. You can thank me now for advising you to stock up on prune juice to ease constipation from the pain medication. (Consult with your physician about whether you should also have stool softeners, gas-minimizing medication and laxatives on hand.) A purchase you won’t regret: a $10 long-reach gripper to pick things up without reaching or bending over.
3. Prepare Your Home
Since you are most likely a bundle of nerves anyway, use this time to clean your home. Also, it’s not a bad idea to cook and freeze some meals to have on hand during your recovery. Place some disposable plates, bowls, cups and utensils within easy reach in the kitchen. Be sure to have ice packs in the freezer and an easily-accessible heating pad. Arrange plenty of comfortable, loose-fitting clothing on top of a dresser to avoid having to bend over and open drawers for a while. Gather plenty of pillows, including a flat one to insulate your tummy from the car seat belt and a body pillow for support if you are a side sleeper. Don’t forget to have some «thank you» cards on hand.
4. Prepare Yourself
If you have time to get in shape, strong arms and legs are valuable assets. Remember to take off all jewelry and nail polish before your procedure. Cut your toe nails short (in case bending over proves to be challenging for a while). Drinking cranberry juice before and after surgery may help prevent a urinary tract infection from the catheter. Likewise, be sure to drink plenty of water right up until the time your physician has instructed you to cease eating/drinking so that you will not be dehydrated when you arrive at the hospital. Most importantly, though, just calm the heck down! The needless angst is not enhancing your spectacular self.
5. Overnight Bag Necessities
Even if you're expected hospital stay is one day or less, it is a good idea to have a bag packed to leave at home or in the car in the event that your hospital stay is longer than anticipated. This will ensure that your significant other, family member or friend will not have to scramble to find your essentials. (For those of you with husbands, there’s no need to remind you that finding things in your home is a challenge he cannot win.) First item to pack: ear plugs. That’s right; ear plugs. You’re welcome. Basic essentials to include: nightgown (and robe, if you’d like), underwear, socks, comb, No-Rinse Shampoo, facial wipes, toothbrush/toothpaste, deodorant, lip balm, maxi-pads (for possible post-op bleeding), cranberry juice, and hard candies.
6. Items to Bring to the Hospital
Take your health insurance card and a form of identification (unless the hospital advises you to leave them at home). As with any surgical procedure, have your Living Will/Advanced Directive/Health Care Proxy with you. Bring reading glasses, if you normally wear them, something to read, and your cell phone. You’ll want hard candies and/or throat lozenges on hand to ease your throat from the intubation tube. Keep a note pad and pen handy to jot down information from your doctor or nurse. A «fanny pack» bag tied to the bed rail will keep your essentials in easy reach. Remember to bring your overnight bag packed with the items discussed above as well as a flat pillow to insulate your tummy against the seat belt on the car ride home.
7. Take a Deep Breath
Some of the tips I have shared here did not necessarily apply to me as I was scheduled for an outpatient laparoscopic procedure. Nevertheless, I felt more comfortable being prepared for a worst-case scenario. Once you know that you are as prepared as you can be from a practical standpoint, you will feel a renewed sense of control which will lessen your anxiety. I’m the leave-no-stone-unturned type; in addition to a to-do list for myself, I also felt the need to compile a comprehensive list of household duties for my husband. At the outset of my recovery, I began refer to him as my «manservant.» I’m not sure why he didn’t find this endearing nickname as humorous as I did.
Please know that the anxiety leading up to the surgery is truly the worst part for many women. You will be just fine and will feel better and better every day. Be sure to treat yourself to a big, gooey ice cream sundae while you are recovering. In fact, make it a double; you deserve it. On behalf of all of the ladies who generously shared their experience, advice and support with me, positive thoughts are with you and we’ll see you on the other side.