This is the second of a 3-part series on hysterectomy. **DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional and nothing in these articles should be construed as medical advice.
After my recent hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, I realized I didn't have enough practical advice on how to prepare and what to expect for the recovery period. I'm not just talking about the surgical aspect but the practical aspects as well.
Before hysterectomy (or any surgery that will require weeks-long recovery), get your house and work in order. I have the luxury of working from home which is a blessing that is not lost on me. After hysterectomy, accept help, enlist paid services you might not typically use, and know when to say when.
Gather or buy a week's worth of very loose, comfortable clothing. I already had a couple pair of very comfort-waist joggers and a mountain of oversized t-shirts my husband bequeathed to me. However, my surgery happened during the change of seasons from winter to spring so I bought a couple capri style, lightweight joggers, as well as a couple of pajama sets of capri length pants and scoop neck style short sleeve shirts. All of my purchases came from Sam's Club so they were inexpensive. My niece also gifted me a long t-shirt style nightgown that was incredibly comfy. Keep these post-surgery clothes out separate from the rest of your clothing. I kept mine on a stand in the closet making them easy to access without extra effort.
Mentally prepare yourself for drinking more water post-surgery. The reason is because you'll be taking Miralax or Dulcolax which drains your hydration. Pick up your stool softener of choice and nice water bottle if you need to. This will be the most important part of your recovery period as you must avoid straining after surgery.
If you're married, have a realistic conversation with your spouse about expectations after surgery. He still has to work, your house still needs to be cleaned, and shopping and cooking are still vital to your survival. If you need to hire a cleaner or budget extra for grocery delivery, this is the time in your life to treat yourselves to these luxuries. If you have family available who can help, take them up on it. There is no shame in asking for help, especially if you can plan ahead and create a schedule for your helpers.
Assume you're going home the same day, but be prepared to spend time in the hospital. Every good intention was that I would go home the same night of my surgery. Then, a bad reaction to anesthesia happened and I needed to stay overnight. It was much needed and the best option for my recovery.
DO NOT compare yourself to others. There will be friends and family who had a faster or smoother or longer or harder recovery than you. Your body is unique and therefore your healing and recovery will be unique to you. When others share their stories, thank them for the perspective and tell them your experience is in line with your doctor's expectations (assuming it is).
Listen to and follow your doctor's directions. Even though my surgery was robotic assisted laparoscopy, my doctor told me my recovery time is 12 weeks. But wait, all those women who had abdominal hysterectomies only had a 6-week recovery! Shouldn't mine be just as short or even shorter? Not necessarily. My doctor's orders were 12 weeks of no housework, no lifting, no exercise, no driving. Every time I try to get away with doing something, my body reminds me why my doctor knows best.
The lack of movement is brutal on the body. I've learned that even though I can't do a lot of activity, I can still walk around my house and not be waited on. I can still do some gentle stretching to keep my muscles working, and I can do little things like make my lunch, do my computer work, and trek to the kitchen multiple times to refill my coffee.
Extend yourself grace even if no one else does. The problem with hysterectomy is that you very quickly look fine and normal, and within a couple of weeks you actually feel fine and normal. But you still can't do the things that your family expects you to be able to go back to doing. And it's a mind game because to them you look fine, and to you, you feel fine, but inside, your body is not fine. So, even if you feel fine, you are the gatekeeper of your internal healing and you must guard it well.
Plan to catch up on reading, hobbies, making lists of all the things you're going to do once you're able, researching how to paint cabinets, planning your new healthier lifestyle meals and exercise schedule. Oh, believe me, I know how this goes. I hardly ever exercise and I sit here desperate to go on walks and start pilates. It's when we can't do things that we want to do them.
Create boundaries for your recovery. This means not pushing yourself to do too much too soon. It means limiting your social obligations so you can give yourself rest. Stop being the go-to person for a few weeks.
Take time to rest. Listen to your body. When was the last time you had this much time to focus on yourself? More importantly, when will you ever have this time again? Make the most of it so that when you do return to life as usual, you can do it as a completely healed woman.