Canada, with its free health-care system, among many other reasons, is a wonderful place to live. Though, after my successful surgery, I wasn't given much more information on what to expect in recovery. Here are some of the more unpleasant surprises I would soon endure.
I was in the hospital for a total of five days. Surgery went well, I was pumped with opioids to lessen the pain intravenously, then sent home with a heavy duty regimen of pill form opioids to try and keep it bearable while I began recovery. That's it. That's all she wrote. Here's some meds, with little information, now be on your way... and scheduled me for check ups with my surgeon periodically to see how the healing was progressing.
As some of you know, I was battling heavy substance abuse before all this trauma. This substance abuse came to an abrupt end as it had a major role in my demise. Withdrawal symptoms were definitely lessened by the fact that I was in excruciating pain. It took most of my attention, at times, just laying in bed trying to get through it minute-by-minute. So, this made abstinence easier knowing what the outcome of abuse could look like. Death or paralysis were the last things this monster could do to me. I wasn't willing to risk it anymore.
Recovery has been slow. I am now over four months sober and out of the hospital. Yes, I definitely have some times where cravings wash over me, but I have a pretty prolific battle wound to remind me its definitely a no-no and I'm not willing to put myself in such high-risk scenarios anymore.
In early recovery after trauma like mine, there were definitely some things I was not prepared for. Not having my bowels work for the first week out of the hospital was one of these super-lovely symptoms I was unprepared for.
When you are put under for reasons such as mine, your whole body needs time to reboot well after you wake from the surgery. It took a week, but thank goodness I was able to use the facilities on my own, well, with my sweet raised toilet seat... If I was unable to, it would be another trip to the hospital to have them help me out. Which I was dreading. Obviously. I will spare you the details of that shindig of a procedure. Things have relatively normalized but it can still be a little... crappy.
Stress sweating constantly and my hair falling out and breaking was another unexpected repercussion. I used to experience stress sweat before the accident but not like this. It's embarrassing and I absolutely hate it, but it's the nature of the beast hen you've endured serious trauma. My hair was falling out, by the mitt-full, and breaking off. Avoid pony tails and hot styling tools and get your hair trimmed. Sitting in a salon chair two months after surgery was uncomfortable, but it helped stop the constant breakage. As for the stress sweat, it happens, and it's not a big deal. There are plenty of clinical level products available in various retailers that now target stress sweat.
Opioids and painkillers can make you feel sick and itchy. This was something I could have been easily warned about but it wouldn't have done much use as prevention is difficult when taking these medications. Imagine you're constantly uncomfortable, just waiting for your next dose of painkillers, and they make you abruptly vomit when they please... Not the best. Especially when people are around. The first time this happened, I was sitting on my walker on the porch of my mother's beautiful Dundas home. All of a sudden, I projectile vomit all over the banister and my mother and boyfriend come running to try and help with neighbours out and about trying to enjoy their day. I felt like a beauty queen... Sarcasm. Unfortunately, you just have to ride this out when you are taking heavy painkillers and opioids. Ginger Gravol was a major help in this when my stomach felt particularly crummy. Also, starting in the hospital with the intravenous line of opioids and then still later at home on the high dose schedule I was on, I was incredibly itchy. The most itchy I've ever been. I literally ripped my flesh off scratching at this insatiable itch that ran through my entire body. Within a few days some areas were just raw, and I had to use a plastic pasta serving spoon to scratch without breaking my skin any further. Thanks mom, and sorry about your pasta serving spoon! To be honest, I'm pretty sure she just washed it and still uses it for its intended purpose. Weaning off these guys was also a difficult ordeal. When you're taking heavy prescription opioids, you feel pretty dang good minus the previously mentioned side-effects. Coming off them and dealing with the pain that was formerly quite masked with lessened severity, though still horrible, is incredibly difficult.
Medical cannabis is extremely helpful in pain management. Search cannabis in the blog to learn how I easily acquired my medical cannabis prescription after my surgery. When you're on a scheduled pain killer regime, especially at first, it can be incredibly daunting waiting for you next dose. When I first got home and was taking a slow release opioid every 12 hours with milder boosters every 4 hours, pain was immense and I would be counting the minutes until I could have my next dosage. The best thing that helped with this was obtaining medical cannabis & CBD oils. They alleviated this desperate feeling of pain and settled me down when I was feeling over-whelmed and exhausted. Chronic pain takes its toll on your mental health and using medical cannabis and oils was the healthiest and safest possible path to venture in my recovery process. I would recommend obtaining your medical cannabis prescription if you are experiencing chronic pain immediately. It's easy, and the pricing is affordable. Since I was barely mobile, my mother bought me a little bag to carry around my medications and CBD oils so I could take a dose whenever necessary. P.s. This bag was a beaut. Pink & sparkly with Minions on it that reads "Be Nice to Unicorns". Thank you, mum, for making me look like even more of a boob. If you happened to visit me at the beginning of my recovery, you'll know I was quite a vision; sparkly satchel in hand, bright orange walker & blue cane at my side, and some Jack Nicholson vibes hair, as my partner and mother so kindly pointed out, since I could only wash it over the sink in the loo.
Smoking cigarettes hampers your healing significantly. As I made the obvious choice of sobriety after my injury, I heavily relied on cigarettes to help me quell cravings for other more nefarious vices and help me stay calm. Upon my first visit to the surgeon two months post surgery, I got the heart wrenching news my vertebrae weren't knitting back together very well. Smoking was the culprit. This news sucked. I left the Orthopaedic Clinic with tears in my eyes and feeling quite defeated. I went home and spoke to my therapist immediately about my concerns and the slowed healing. She explained that quitting probably wasn't the safest option as it was an effective tool for me to quell the aforementioned cravings I was still experiencing. But, vaping was a safer, less toxic solution and I have one by my side now at all times. It's a safety net that works for me. Quitting completely could have jeopardized my sobriety and when the stakes are as high as they were for me, it's okay to need a crutch. Choosing the lesser of evils is the tactic I use to help in my journey of recovery.
Your fight or flight mode stays online. For the first two to two-and-a-half months, my nervous system was fully online, all the time. This sucks to say the least. My body was so afraid of further harm, and I felt it mentally and physically. I was constantly afraid, every noise, bump, etc. made me jump and my heart race. Genuine fear ran through me constantly until my body felt safe enough to relax a bit. Some of my healing was done in a rough part of town, this definitely made things a little more dicey. Feeling vulnerable for physical safety is difficult and stressful. I would experience regular shocks down my spinal cord when things startled me as well. It's all connected, have patience and know it's not forever. Eventually, my nervous system calmed down and lessened in severity of these feelings. However, even still, I am very cautious and diligent when it comes to safety for peace of mind.
Your body is going to seize up if you have movement restrictions. If, like me, your injury restricts you from certain movements, for me it was bending forward in any way, your body is going to seize up. This unfortunately is a necessary process you have to endure to make sure that healing takes place correctly. Any bending forward could compromise the new pieces of metal put around and into my spine to brace me. This is an incredibly frustrating aspect of recovery. Throughout my days I experience immense urges to crack my back in attempts to put things back into place in my back and hips like I would before the surgery. This is obviously a no-no for now. Gently stretching in warm water in the tub frequently helps a great deal. This girl has been a daily tub thumper.
🎶 I get knocked down, but I get up again, You're never gonna keep me down!
Feeling physically vulnerable is an unpleasant reality for a while. As mentioned prior, it's hard to be nervous for your safety constantly. If I saw a nefarious looking human in my vicinity it prompted fear and discomfort as I knew there was no way I could get away. My chances even before the surgery weren't great. When I mentioned this ongoing fear to my partner explaining " I can't even run away" prompted his response of " was this really an option in the first place?" as my athletic prowess wasn't exactly top notch to begin with. I also felt extremely vulnerable in the hospital, when I woke with no pants on, a catheter I wasn't aware was going in, and my period with no pads on the premises for them to give me. Good job Hamilton Health Sciences for being prepared for basic women's needs, my sister went and got me pads and cleaned me up thankfully. You're the best, James. Also, as I could not bathe on my own or wet my incision for two weeks post surgery. I had to be washed in the middle of my mother's bathroom on a plastic chair by my boyfriend. It's hard to accept these type of help. Of course I am also so thankful for the care I received, but it definitely made me feel helpless. The first couple times being bathed I just cried. My body was battered, I was swollen beyond belief, and I just wanted to feel clean. Getting cleared to shower on my own was such a milestone in recovery for me. I am such an independent person, needing help for basic things, never mind things I actually really wanted to do was a major downer. Things like getting out of bed was no longer just standing up and going about my day. I had to call for help or struggle profusely if I could manage the right position. I'm healing, and now I can get in and out of bed on my own for the most part.
PTSD can rear its ugly head. As mentioned previously, my fight or flight system was fully online for a prolonged period of time. The first few times I heard an ambulance siren brought me to tears. Thoughts of what happened during the surgical procedure and grotesque fear washed over me constantly. The crunching sound my vertebrae made as they popped on impact rung through my ears and made me hysterical at times. PTSD is a serious repercussion of major trauma. It is normal and okay, and seeking help from a mental health professional like a therapist was key in helping me get through the initial severity of it. Now, it is more manageable and I am more careful in selecting my thoughts and staying away from unnecessary triggers.
Don't be embarrassed by your needs in recovery. Easier said than done. It was not my finest hour leaving the hospital with my raised toilet seat, cane, and walker. I was in no way enthused to have to use these tools to help me recover. But, they truly helped me have an easier time gaining mobility after my surgery. Trust me when I say at 25 I didn't think my current whip would be a bright orange walker. But, that bad boy helped me get walking again and I am so thankful to have had it. It's can feel embarrassing to need mobility aids, but no one cares if it's something you need and something that helps you. After I was able to walk a short distance, I had embarked on a ten minute walk, my usual goal two times a day through Dundas Square. A car full of young men drove by uttering " you're still sexy", not helpful, but reiterated to me that it was all good even though it was from a gaggle of rude dudes.
My jaw and facial muscles are constantly strained and sore. This particular issue has bad staying power in my day to day. Constantly wincing from the pain during my day and while I sleep makes for a sore jaw and face. I have to remind myself frequently to drop my shoulders, unclench my jaw, and unfurl my brows. Being mindful and checking in on your body and how its feeling is so important so you're not constantly straining your muscles. You easily begin to not notice when you seize up, so keep checking in, and remember your breath to relax you.
Coughing and sneezing sucks. It HURTS to cough or sneeze. My solution has been to brace myself, ensure my body isn't too extended, and if there's a pillow near by to grab it and hug before a coughing fit or sneeze ensues when I feel them creeping up. At the beginning especially, when I would feel a cough or sneeze coming my heart would race and my mind would fill with dread, feeling desperate to get into a less painful position or to brace myself. Now, it's not so bad, but sneezing or coughing with my body extended is still a no fly zone.
You're not getting into your previous wardrobe. First of all, I really hated not having my own clothes to get into that were comfortable after surgery. There was no way I was going to be able to squeeze into my regular yoga pants, tops etc. and the materials were just not conducive to comfort when I had a huge incision running down my spine and major swelling. My mother and partner went out and got me various soft outfits that were unrestrictive and pretty easy to take on and off when II had gotten past the initial part of being unable to change myself.
Your body is going to seek stability in its natural form. When I began to walk with my walker, when I wore shoes, even my mother's orthopaedic Birks, my body felt so unstable. For the first few weeks, I walked barefoot, my body wanted to regain itself in the way it would naturally, before people started wearing shoes on their feet. Thankfully, the weather was warm and I was able to walk outside with no shoes. It's definitely factor I didn't expect, but totally makes sense. After I regained some strength and stability I was able to start wearing shoes again for my daily walks. Also, fuzzy socks were also my demise on several occasions. When your body is seized, swollen, unstable and in terrible pain, flitting around in potentially very slippery socks (if you have wood or linoleum flooring in your home) is dangerous. This particular issues was remedied by getting various slippers and socks with grippers on the bottom. Gripper socks were also a huge help with anchoring myself when I couldn't gain stability in bed to attempt to move positions or get a little more comfortable.
Meditation, EFT, mindfulness, and gratitude journaling are major boosters to your well-being during recovery, and the rest of your life. These self-care practices are simple, you can do them anywhere, and they effectively calm the mind. I diligently participated in each of these practices on the daily to ensure I was getting some peace of mind. Trauma is hard to deal with. These tools are such a great addition to your recovery process. For more information on these self-care practices, click on what you'd like to learn about further below:
Getting caught off guard by obstacles in the healing process is the nature of this beast. Try to find the best solutions for yourself and don't feel bad about them. Most of the time, it's not forever, and you can get through it just as I have so far. One thing my therapist reminds me in times when I feel down about the slowness of recovery and the pain I'm going through, is that your body contains the infinite wisdom of the universe. You are a truly magical being, and your body knows how to help you reach homeostasis again.