Hernia Surgery: Dr. Peter Rice



The Pharmacist Recovers from Drive-By Hernia Surgery

 

I awoke in the recovery area of the Littleton Adventist Hospital same day surgery center. I had a bilateral hernia surgery repair, so I found myself with an incision on each side which was glued together. The only thing missing was duct tape.

Someone wheeled me out to the waiting car and I headed for home. Of course I was not allowed to drive. My wife works at night and so my mom came up from Florida to take care of me. I had my appendix out almost 50 years ago – my mom had taken care of me then – and I remembered a relatively quick recovery. I was expecting the same 1-2 day recovery this time after surgery.  I was wrong.

A hernia repair surgery involves tissue (usually the fat surrounding the intestines) that has migrated where it doesn’t belong. The surgeon places the tissue back where it belongs, closes the hole that allowed it to get there and in my case applied a mesh patch to help reinforce the repair. It doesn’t sound like much, but sounds can be deceiving.

As the anesthesia wore off, it felt as though they had torn my insides apart: everything from my abdominal wall to my bladder and boy parts were traumatized. I opted to not use the opioid pain reliever which was prescribed but instead used ibuprofen. The NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) target the source of postsurgical pain – inflammation – and encourage quicker healing after surgery.

Surgery Recovery

The first days after surgery were the worst. I was pain-free as long as I sat still, so I engaged in some TV binge watching: Person of Interest and Blacklist. My mom was very helpful in keeping me supplied with tea and snacks. She’s 92 years old, and gave me her cane to help me get around during the first few days.

You start out only able to sit still.  They instruct you to take a deep breath and cough every hour or two, but even that was way too painful early on.

And then I began to notice some progress, and it reminded you how miraculous our bodies are in their ability to heal.  

  • After a day or two, I could clear my throat.  
  • Another day or two and I could blow my nose.  
  • Then coughing became possible.
  • About three or four days in I could lay in bed to sleep, but it was not comfortable.
  • Slowly over about two weeks it became easier to roll over and get in and out of bed.  
  • Being able to walk upright, peeing normally, increasing your distance, riding in a car, and even taking a shower are recovery milestones.

I was impatient to heal and wondered if some of the unexpected feelings – like an intense burning – were normal.  So I went to the internet and was completely disheartened to find a collection of post-hernia repair horror stories, some involving intense burning pain and permanent loss of man-function.  I could find NO stories of normal recovery on the internet; mine may be the first.

It’s been five weeks today. I’m recovering well and consider myself almost entirely back to normal. My scars are still healing, but I can move normally and have recovered all the functions I had worried about early on. I think the last thing to recover will be my “Brazilian”; it’s still stubbly and uncomfortable.

I have some knowledge of human physiology which helped me interpret the surgery recovery process.  I knew enough to emphasize a good protein diet and the vitamins needed for recovery: B vitamins, folic acid and biotin for nerve healing, and vitamin C and zinc for rebuilding connective tissue.

But I wondered about other patients turned out in the cold (so to speak) after drive-by surgery. Although pharmacists do not study post-surgical patient care, I still think pharmacists are in a naturally good position to help patients after surgery because as patients we’re looking for pain medicines, potentially for laxative help, and for comfort items such as ice packs, hot water bottles and heating pads.

If you find yourself recovering from surgery with some concerns or a story to tell, stop by your pharmacist and help her or him understand your patient experience. Your pharmacist may be able to help you better understand your own experience, and make medication and care decisions to optimize your recovery.

In the meantime, I’ve included links below to time-lapse presentations of rebuilding the World Trade Center and a new Denver Airport expansion. When you find yourself recovering from surgery or an illness, remember that a similar construction project is going on inside you as your body clears away damaged tissue and debris if necessary and rebuilds with strong healthy tissue.  A miraculous process!  

Resources

http://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/recovering-from-abdominal-hernia-repair-often-takes-longer-than-patients-expect-study-finds/

Official One World Trade Center Time-Lapse 2004-2013

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nn11DWH_LEA

Denver International Airport South Terminal Redevelopment Project

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQLsna-rY5A

Dr. Peter J. Rice

About Dr. Peter J. Rice

Dr. Peter J. Rice is a professor of Pharmacology emeritus at the East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine and Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. --------------------------------------------------------------------------He received his BS in pharmacy from Northeastern University, PhD in pharmacology from the Ohio State University and PharmD from the University of Kentucky. He is a Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist and practices in the ambulatory care and community pharmacy settings. Professor Rice is the author of Understanding Drug Action: An introduction to pharmacology (APhA, 2014) and is a fellow of the American Pharmacists Association. --------------------------He welcomes interesting medication questions and suggestions for future columns.
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