Rehabilitation from a surgery – Not unlike making your body well again

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Joleen Wilson - Dietary Manager

Joleen Wilson, RD/LD, CNSC, CBIS

Written by Joleen Wilson, RD/LD, CNSC, CBIS, Dietitian for Pathway to Eating Disorders Treatment at Brookhaven Hospital

A little over a month ago, I underwent labral and rotator cuff repair of my left shoulder.  Things were especially difficult starting out, but eventually the pain lessened and things became easier.  This experience made me reflect on similarities between recovering from a surgery and a weight loss journey or recovery from an eating disorder.  I had to take baby steps, and sometimes I had to focus on getting through one hour at a time. I’d like to share my journey with you from those first few weeks after my surgery, and how I believe it’s akin to lifestyle changes.

Waking up from surgery, I was cloudy and disoriented.  I hadn’t eaten in 18 hours and I was shaky and weak.  Yet, I wasn’t hungry and all I wanted to do was go back under anesthesia and escape this reality.  When my nurse helped me back from the bathroom, I nearly hit the floor when I passed out.  I refused to drink any more Sprite or eat anymore crackers and I fell asleep.  After what seemed like only a few minutes of slumber, the nurses were saying crazy words like “discharge” and “home”, and “Mom went to pull the car up”.  Once home, I could only tolerate small amounts of water and saltines with peanut butter. The pain meds made me super nauseous, and extraordinarily tired.

The above scenerio regarding the first few days after a big surgery is similar to waking up from a hypoglycemic event when you’re dealing with anorexia.  You don’t know where you are.  You feel sick, light-headed, and unable to focus due to the malnutrition that restricting your food intake has caused.  You find it hard to keep attention to task and you feel nauseous constantly.  Your caregivers urge you to eat, but you are too scared you’ll vomit.  You can shorten this phase, if you take a bite even if you don’t want to and drink enough fluids to prevent orthostasis and passing out.  You will likely feel prematurely full due to slowed digestion, and fluid collection in the abdomen can be mistaken for abdominal weight gain.  Do not fret, for it will go away with continued adequate intake.  As you become strong enough to walk, don’t abuse your new-found strength.  Keep exercise and excessive calorie burning to a minimum and let your food nourish your body.  Eventually all your efforts will turn into a more beautiful, healthier you and you’ll look back at all you’ve accomplished and be proud of your efforts.  You will be more open to living and loving, rather than constantly worried about your weight and the calories you have eaten.

Next time I will discuss the events of the 1st and 2nd weeks post-surgery and how I liken these to “taking it one day at a time” when it comes to wellness.

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