Pre-Op Preparation and Post-Op Recovery Tips
It goes without saying that the healthier your body before the operation, the healthier your body will be afterwards. I prepared my body before surgery and had a really positive recovery for the first two/three weeks, when I listened to my body and followed some of the tips below. However, after returning to work my stress levels rocketed and I reached for caffeine to help me cope and stopped supporting my body as well as I could have. It's not surprising then that I saw my recovery go from full speed ahead to a painful drag, a perfect example to me of how much we need to appreciate our amazing bodies and take the time to nourish and nurture them after surgery.
Get your vits - Vitamins and minerals from fruit and vegetables help your body's immune system fight infection. In addition, they contain nutrients called carotenoids sand flavanoids which aids the body in repairing damage. Start taking vitamins, but also, up your fruit and vegetable intake - the recommended daily allowance is now under debate but five portions is the minimum!
Get fat - That is, get your fatty acids. "Research has shown that Omega 3 fatty acid EPA, taken five days before the scheduled operation, can have a positive impact on inflammation after the operation, reducing infection, improving wound healing and shortening recovery time." Source - Take Control of your Endometriosis, Henrietta Norton.
You can up your omega 3s with oily fish (if you eat it) such as salmon and tuna, and for vegans, nuts and seeds such as walnuts, hemp and pumpkin seeds are also good sources - just make sure you soak these first in order to digest them and absorb the right nutrients. I like to take Viridian's Vegan EPA and DHA as it comes in a form that's easy for our bodies to absorb (when we eat plant sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, our bodies have to convert these in order to benefit). It's not cheap, but I found a significant reduction in my pain levels when I started taking this.
Pump up the protein - Protein helps build healthy muscle tissue. It's useful to start increasing your protein intake (unless you already eat a fair amount) in order to develop strong muscles that are more able to recover from surgery quicker. It's also worth continuing this post-op to continue providing the nutrients your body needs to build and create new tissue. I am vegan, and I know so many women with endometriosis who are as well, due to the inflammatory properties of dairy, so if that is the case, try finding a plant based protein powder and add to your breakfast smoothie or cereal. I really like Pulsin Rice Powder, which you can get at Dolphin Fitness for a pretty good discounted rate! They do other options such as Whey, Hemp and Soya, but the rice is very high in protein and the jury is still out on the effects of soya on endometriosis.
Reduce (unnecessary) inflammation - Though inflammation is our body's response to damage and kick starts the healing process, chronic inflammation is strongly linked to disease, pain and may actually slow down the healing process. Women with endometriosis are known to have higher levels of inflammation, especially in the localised areas where endometriosis grows, so it's important to keep this in check and reduce our levels before and after surgery, so a normal level of inflammation can get to work on healing and we can reduce our pain levels. Gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol are all inflammatory foods, so if you can reduce these (especially sugar) before and after surgery, you should experience lesser pain levels and a normal healing response from your body.
Exercise is important - Stronger muscles and tissue repair quicker than weak and unused muscles, so getting in exercise, if you can, is helpful. I understand the limitations that endometriosis puts on our bodies and our ability to be active, but if you can, short walks, yoga and pilates are gentle exercises that I have found to be manageable and enjoyable when I'm not in pain. From a personal perspective, I have found that walking when I'm feeling particularly fatigued has often left me feeling more tired, whereas pilates and yoga really energise me and put me in a positive mind frame. I love to walk and get fresh air, being outside has a positive impact on both the body and the mind, so it's of course a brilliant exercise to incorporate into your daily routine, but it's useful to listen to your body and work out what exercise suits you best and when.
Up your probiotics - Probiotics help support the immune system and fight off infection. If you have a relatively normal digestive system - i.e. you don't have regular stomach issues or react badly to certain foods, it's helpful to up your probiotic intake to support the good bacteria in your gut. If you have problems with your stomach, you may have a high level of 'bad' bacteria in your gut, and taking probiotics will actually feed these. In this case, it could be useful to talk to a doctor or nutritionist, before going ahead.
Sleep off the anesthetic - This can take 48 hours to get out of your system and leaves you feeling groggy. Be kind to yourself and sleep when you feel tired - I alternated between sleeping, feel good movies and pottering around the house for the first two days post op.
Be active and rest when needed - In my first two weeks post op, I noticed some really varying energy levels that changed dramatically. I did my best to listen to them and it seemed to serve me well (until I went full steam ahead with a hen do and going back to work). I took on board what the doctors said about keeping active, which helps your body get back to normal and I saw a significant difference in my mobility within a couple of days - I was seriously suprised! After my first operation, I was bedridden! I couldn't get out of bed alone for 3 - 4 days, it felt like someone had cut right through my stomach muscles. At the same time, the idea that being active was helpful hadn't really been communicated to me and the people around me reinforced the notion that I was unwell/needed rest/was weak. I think that mentally and my own, made for a slow healing process, where I rarely got up in my first week.
Help your liver out - Your body will not only be working hard to repair, but will also be working to rid you of the drugs you were administered during surgery and also any pain meds you've been taking post-op. Optimum liver function is essential in women with endometriosis - we need it to break down excess hormones, and in particular, balance our levels of oestrogen (excess oestrogen is linked to endometriosis). There are a number of things we can do to support the liver and body in detoxing...
Dry brush your skin each morning. You can get a wooden body brush for about £5 - £10, you'll be able to find them in Boots, Superdrug or big supermarkets. Dry brushing helps stimulate blood circulation, not only aiding your body to deliver much needed nutrients and oxygen around the body, but helping old toxins to be moved out of the system.
Taking baths with Himalayan salt draws our toxins through osmosis and helps stimulate circulation. Magnesium in Himalayan salt also aids the healing of damaged skin and muscles, so when you're able to bathe again (check with your doctor), this is a great way to support your living and help heal the incisions from surgery.
Avoid alcohol, caffeine, drugs, excess medication - all these will put a strain on the liver.
Indulge in liver supporting foods - some examples of these are carrots, leafy greens, lemon, turmeric, dandelion, garlic, parsley and beetroot (to name a few!). There is lots of information about this online and you can speak to your doctor or if you're able to, a nutritionist, about other foods and supplements.
Stay positive - I know all too well the physical, emotional and mental impact endometriosis has on us. The stress of going through an operation can be tiring and can make us feel negative (though many experience feelings of relief). Finding some things that make you feel good, that you can do to keep you occupied whilst you're recovering, rather than spending lots of time thinking about the condition, will help keep you positive. This isn't just to keep the blues away, but research is showing that happiness actually keeps us healthier -
"Happiness doesn't just feel good. A review of hundreds of studies has found compelling evidence that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. Anxiety, depression, pessimism and a lack of enjoyment of daily activities have all been found to be associated with higher rates of disease and shorter lifespans.... Research shows that people who are optimistic tend to be happier, healthier and cope better in tough times." Action for Happiness
Whilst I was off, I mixed my time up with favourite comfort films, a good book and as I got better, even some very light decorating of our house. I'm big on progress, I unfortunately feel pretty bad about myself if I have too much down time, so breaking up the relaxing with doing an activity that I could see was paying off, meant I then felt good about myself when I got back into bed. I wasn't a slave driver though! When I was tired, I listened to that and indulged in some Harry Potter and George Clarke's Amazing Spaces, rather than pursuing the house stuff I had planned to do. I also went on gentle walks in my local park, sat in comfy coffee shops with my laptop, listened to interesting podcasts and audio books, and meditated. A lot of these things I did I found eye-opening and exciting, so I felt positive and motivated about my next steps after recovering. Think about what makes you feel good, or things you've always wanted to do but haven't had time - things like reading, knitting, painting, going to life drawing classes or watching a TV series you've wanted to see for ages.
Help your body to heal - I'm a perfectionist and a workaholic. I'm also one of those people who complain about how much work they have to do, yet I don't let anyone else take the weight off. The second week of my recovery, I had my sister's hen on the weekend, which I had solely organised and we were kicking off with brunch at my house. My original suggestion was eating out, but after a few conversations with others, I went with doing it at home. Not only did this cost more than it would have done if we ate out (there were a lot of ingredients to buy and I wanted good quality), which was stressful for me because I had lots of wedding costs, it was also very hard work. Every day I was having to go and get something for the house, I was cleaning, tidying, preparing the shopping list, etc - I didn't have the energy to do it all in one go, so each day of my second week included hen prep at some stage. My priority was no longer healing and by the Sunday, I was exhausted, with my first day back at work the next day.
What I'm getting at is - I didn't help myself. As much as having brunch at mine was special and I am proud to say, beautiful, I also didn't do myself any favours with being such a perfectionist about it all. We still would have had a lovely day if I had just booked brunch out and not have had to worry about cleaning, decorating and cooking! Sometimes you do have to make compromises in order to look after your health and make yourself a priority, and when I look back, I always wish I had done. I returned to work fully mobile yes, but very tired and then was hit with a stressful environment, which added to my fatigue - bit by bit I felt my healing slow down.
Up your alkaline food intake - Many of us have a body that is too high in acid, which can create the right conditions for diseases and also cause damage to our body. Our body is also unable to heal as effectively when our acid levels are too high, therefore slowing down our recovery process. To aid your body in re-balancing its pH levels and in turn, providing it with the optimum conditions to heal, I've provided below a really detailed image of some of the best foods to stock up on and those to avoid, (image from AcidAlkalineFood.com ).
I've always wanted to try LoveRaw Alkaline Greens, which you get at Planet Organic and add to your smoothies, yoghurt, etc. I also think this interview by Sarah Wilson, with the Alkaline Sister, is a great read and helps you to understand the affects of acid on the body.
I really hope these ideas help you have a successful and easier recovery from surgery! If you have any tips I've missed, I'd love to hear from you!