Reflections on surgery
Over this past month, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons from my surgery. Some of them I knew; others came as a surprise: I mean, I had never considered that my wedding ring might need to be sawed off for a parathyroid surgery! Here’s what I learned:
The stress of a new diagnosis can be just as harmful as the actual diagnosis. I knew this and considered myself to be resilient, yet I still managed to work myself up into a tizzy that resulted in nights of poor sleep, which led to more stress and anxiety. Getting support around these difficult issues is paramount—and, in retrospect, I wish I had done this earlier than later.
Be prepared to fast from food and drink. It’s one thing to refrain from food, but not being able to drink from midnight until my procedure at 3:30 pm the next day felt severe, especially since drinking water helps mitigate anxiety. So, when I awoke at 6 am the day of surgery, I had, well, a very large sip (read: gulp) of water. If my surgery had been scheduled for the morning, I would have totally refrained from water. What also helped was drinking extra water the day before the surgery as did having a practice of intermittent fasting.
Pre-op clearance might be more extensive than one appointment. I figured my pre-op clearance —a quick visit with my primary physician — would be a non-event, but a routine EKG showed an abnormality, which led to a visit with cardiologist the following day for another EKG as well as a stress test and echocardiogram, all which turned out to be normal. I think the take-away here was the need to be flexible. Taking two additional days (see number 4) at the hospital the week before surgery was not what I had envisioned, but, for better or worse, I needed to know that there are no underlying factors that could affect the surgical outcome.
Avoid needless radiation, when possible. Four days before the surgery, my surgeon’s receptionist called to request that I have a CT scan, as the nuclear medicine sestamibi scan that I had undergone was inconclusive. I found myself annoyed by the last-minute ask, but I felt the need to be compliant. I was worried that if I didn’t undergo the scan, it would negatively impact the surgery. In retrospect, I wish I had not undergone the CT scan, as it, like the sestamibi, was inconclusive and subjected me to needless radiation. Hyperparathyroidism is best diagnosed via a simple blood test, and the adenomas are often impossible to see on a scan.. My surgeon ended up looking at all four of my parathyroid glands during the procedure, which, frankly, is what any good parathyroid surgeon must do.
Get your anger out ahead of time. I was feeling angry about this last-minute testing, so I found it cathartic when the rabbi/chaplain I met with the day before the surgery asked me, “What would you tell me that you wouldn’t tell your surgeon?” I found myself venting about the heretofore mentioned scan, and that took a huge weight off, so much so that I could …
… Be in a place of gratitude when I actually saw the surgeon the next day. And I was grateful, as I was deeply aware that my health was dependent on her cutting me open and removing tumors—albeit benign ones—that were wreaking havoc on my health. In retrospect, I’m fully cognizant that if my surgery had not taken place in December, it very well might have been further postponed, due to the January surge in Omicron cases. I’m so thankful that I was able to have it done earlier.
No jewelry allowed during the surgery, including wedding rings! No, I didn’t end up having my wedding sawed off, but it didn’t come off easily. Jeremy ended up wrapping dental floss around my ring finger and easing the ring over it. It didn’t feel good, but it kept the ring, and my finger, intact.
Mantra, please. I listened to a new playlist in the hour or so that I was left alone at the hospital before the operation. I also found it helpful to recite a mantra to myself: “May I be healthy, May I be happy, May I be safe, May I be at peace.” This had a calming effect, especially while being wheeled into the operating room. Prayer and asking friends and family to be thinking of me at the time of the procedure also brought me comfort. Thank you!
Homemade food is the best. I brought bone broth to the hospital and it hit the spot following the surgery. Highly recommend.
Practice self compassion. There’s so much that we can do on a daily basis to support our health, but sometimes things still go wrong. When I find myself blaming myself and feeling upset, I think about what I might say to a good friend in a similar position. Self compassion goes a long way in the healing process. We could all use more of this, whether or not we’re anticipating or recovering from surgery!