Aka exercise. Proper exercise and physical rehabilitation is crucial to a good recovery. This is something that both the professionals and the people who have gone through this have told me, and it is stressed a lot. Some people have told me about family members who blew off any physical aspect to recovery, and suffered for it. They either had more medical problems or at least took far longer to recover.
The first thing you’re going to do is walk. Three to four times a day in the hospital, even in ICU, and even as early as the next morning after the surgery. It’s not going to be far at first. It certainly won’t be fast. Are you familiar with Tim Conway’s old man character on the Carol Burnett Show who shuffled along with 2″ steps? Yeah, it’s going to be kind of like that. In the beginning you will have an entourage of 2 to 3 nurses dealing with your various IVs and tubes, etc., plus to make sure you don’t fall. A few days later you will get the regular physical rehabilitation people coming to see you 1 to 2 times a day, and they’re going to push you to go a little further, make sure you can do stairs, and so on.
Next comes a more rigorous rehabilitation, at the hospital three times a week. Here you do things like a treadmill, exercise bicycle, stretching, etc. I just started this week so my treadmill is at 15 minutes, but my goal is to work up to 30 minutes. I will eventually do some strength training, but right now my focus is on aerobic exercises. You wear a heart monitor the whole time, and they check your blood pressure several times before, during, and after. It’s pretty thorough. I also took a bunch of surveys the first day, which will be repeated for comparison purposes at the end. It’s a twelve week program, so I will have to work something out at work once I return.
Another aspect, both before and after surgery, is the incentive spirometer. This is a device intended to stretch and exercise your lungs. Prior use was recommended by my surgeon, it is not ‘normal’. The purpose for after surgery is that your lungs are negatively affected during surgery… “got lazy” is how one person explained it to me… and this contraption helps expand the lungs back into shape so they can be fully usable again. This is a big deal, but I have struggled with it. I can do it a few times then I start gagging, and I think the whole thing is mental. You’re supposed to do this 10+ times an hour, every hour that you’re awake.
I was also given a set of four arm exercises, stretching type exercises. These help stretch your body and muscles in your arms and upper chest back into shape, and it’s surprising how ‘closed in’, almost protective, your upper body becomes. You are expected to do these 3 to 4 times a day. For me it helped when I combined them with my walks, while in the hospital. They’re easy in a ‘hurts so good’ way. You do not have to do these anymore once you start the official rehabilitation.
Doctors and medical people can tell you all about the physical recovery. They can’t tell you much at all regarding what to expect emotionally and mentally. Oh, they can give vague and generic suggestions, but not first-hand experience.
I’ve been fortunate, I’ve been very straight forward throughout this whole experience. I’ve openly lifted my shirt and showed people my chest scar in public several times. I’ve been very open about it, almost absurdly. I haven’t really felt down or depressed, and I think things like this blog have contributed to my acceptance.
As I said in a previous post, while you are off work you’re going to have a lot of “extra” time on your hands. First and foremost you need to rest and rehabilitate, but what about you mind and emotional state? Be sure to keep your mind occupied. Do some easy projects around the house. You get a positive sense of accomplishment. Read and/or study some topics that interest you, but you wouldn’t normally have time for. Don’t be a couch potato mindlessly watching television every waking hour, but when you do watch tv include some mentally stimulating programs that will make you think and keep your mind occupied.
You will gain strength both physically and emotionally the farther you get from your surgery. Take advantage of it.