I shared my gut-wrenching story with you of my emergency appendectomy last week. Up until two and a half weeks ago, I had blissfully sailed through life never having had a surgery. Then with no planning (you know I love to plan and organize things), bam! I had an emergency appendectomy that was the most complicated my surgeon had seen all year. Through this process, I picked up some practical tips for recovering from an appendectomy that I hope will help you if you ever join the club that I just did.
Let me start by saying that I have no medical training. My tips worked for me, but always check with your doctor and nurse before trying anything new. These tips are in no way expert or medical advice.
I’m a problem-solver. It makes me feel complete to plan, organize and problem-solve. Even as I was laying in the hospital for five days (like an overturned turtle on my back), I was problem-solving better ways to work through my recovery and get myself home as soon as possible.
Get Up and Out of Bed as Soon as You’re Allowed – It’s going to hurt. A lot. But if the medical staff tells you it’s okay, then you need to do it. The nurse will help you until you’re steady enough to do it on you own. Getting out of bed to use the restroom will do wonders for your attitude and getting out of bed is your first step to being able to go home. Take your time and work on getting yourself up and out of bed on your own. Honestly, what else do you have to do?
Use Your Right Knee to Help You Sit Up – I found that I could bend my right knee up towards by body, grab it with my right hand and pull myself up while pushing up at the same time with my left arm. This was the easiest and least painful way for me to get up and out of the bed. Using my right arm to pull against my right knee gave me the leverage I needed to sit up on my own.
How to Get Rid of the Trough in the Hospital Bed – When you raise the head of the hospital bed, it creates a trough where your behind is sitting. If you’ve had abdominal surgery, it’s incredibly difficult to get up and out of that trough when you need to get out of bed. If you’ve ever been stuck in a hospital bed after surgery, you know what that stinkin’ trough in the bed is. It was three long days of painfully struggling out of that trough before I finally asked the nurse out how to get rid of that impossible trough in the bed. It’s really simple once you know what to do. First raise the head of your bed part way. Then lower the foot of the bed. Raise the head of the bed some more and then lower the foot of the bed. Continue in this way until you’re sitting up and then end by lowering the foot of the bed. This should result in you sitting up on a flat bed rather than sitting in a trough and that makes getting out of bed so very much easier.
Walk as Much as You Can – Once your nurse or doctor tells you to start walking – do it. It’s going to hurt and wipe you out, but do it. Walking will help you get rid of that gas rolling through your abdomen (and causing so much discomfort). Walking will help get your bowels moving (a mile stone towards going home). Walking will exhaust you and help you sleep better (we all know how valuable good sleep is in a hospital). Walking will give you something to do (really, what else do you have to do?). I asked my nurse for a path to walk and a goal for how often I should walk that path. Walking also gives your kids and loved ones something to do with you in the hospital.
Wearing the Hospital Gown – It took me two days to figure out that you need to pull the gown up so that you don’t sit on it when you sit down. It doesn’t seem very modest, but if you sit on the gown you’ll end up choking yourself when you scoot back in the bed (ask me how I know).
By my second day in the hospital I was flirting with the idea of wearing my own clothes, but realized that it made much more sense for me to wear that cumbersome (and hideous) hospital gown. You can get a fresh gown that someone else launders as often as you need. Any stains won’t occur on your own clothes. The gown is easier to put on and remove with your IV.
When you start walking, ask your family or nurse to check your back before you go traipsing through the halls of the hospital sharing more than you meant to with strangers (ask me how I know). I also found that wrapping a lightweight blanket over my shoulders for my walks helped keep me warm, covered my backside and maintained my dignity.
Ask for Postpartum Underwear – I woke up from my surgery naked as a jaybird under that hospital gown. While that makes sense after surgery, it made me uncomfortable. Walking around in that gown (that flaps open with a mind of its own) required underwear to maintain my dignity. I didn’t have underwear at home that would comfortably fit on my bloated abdomen or incisions. When I mentioned this to the nurse, she immediately brought me postpartum underwear that perfectly addressed my abdominal issues (and covered my issues! Thank goodness, since I walked around one time not knowing that the back of the gown was open!).
Sleep with Your Legs Bent – We all know that sleep is critical to the healing process., but finding a comfortable sleeping position was difficult after my surgery. I found that sleeping with my legs bent at the knee took the pressure off my abdomen and was the most comfortable position for me.
Pamper Your Lower Back – By the third day my lower back was aching as much as my abdomen was hurting. I’d been walking and moving hunched over and that had strained my lower back. Be purposeful in taking care of your back because you have enough pain to deal with in your abdomen.
Ask for a Recliner – I found that sitting and sleeping in a recliner helped immensely. It was able to get up and out of the recliner much more easily when I needed to get up. The recliner also supported my lower back better than the soft bed. I spent days three and four in the recliner and that was enough to relieve much of the pain in my back.
Talk with Your Nurse – You need to let your nurse know what is challenging or painful for you so that she or he can help you. The first three days I spent in the hospital I was so cold that my teeth were always chattering.I finally mentioned it to the nurse and she brought me two gloriously heated blankets. Those heated blankets kept me warm so my body could use energy to heal rather than shiver.
I was almost in tears on my third night in the hospital (and that’s not like me). I couldn’t get enough sleep because I had to get up to go to the bathroom every 45 minutes to empty my bladder. I finally said something to my nurse. She was able to reduce the amount of IV fluids I was receiving at night so that it didn’t go through me so quickly (I think the IV fluid standard is for a 6’5″ 350 lb. man not a much smaller woman) so that I was able to sleep for several hours.
When my lower back began bothering me, I mentioned it to my nurse and she immediately brought me a glorious (yes, just as glorious as the heated blankets) heating pad. A small pump runs warm water through the heating pad. The sound of the pump was like listening to a rain storm and made it much easier to sleep. The warmth of the heating pad relaxed my sore back muscles and also seemed to relax my abdomen so that I was able to sleep flat on my back in the bed for the first time in four nights. Simply mentioning my challenges to my nurse resulted in solutions that I didn’t even know existed.
Use This Thingy – I don’t know what it’s called, but use it when your nurse gives it to you. Ask your nurse how often you should be using it and then be conscientious about making it happen. It will help prevent you from developing pneumonia and I actually felt better when I used it consistently. Again, what else do you really have to do when you’re sitting there in the hospital?
Dealing with a Drainage Tube and Bulb – Because of the complexity of my surgery, I woke up with a drain tube and bulb coming out of my abdomen and it remained in for five days. If it isn’t already, ask your nurse to pin the bulb to the inside of your gown. The first several times I got up, the bulb just hung down from my abdomen. Once the anesthesia began to wear off, that pressure was physically (and psychologically) uncomfortable. My nurse simply pinned the bulb to the inside of my gown so that it didn’t pull on my abdomen.
When you bathe or change your gown, pin the bulb to the band of your underwear. This helps support it until you can repin it to your gown.
If you notice the bulb is mostly full, let your nurse know. You want that bulb and drain to remove extra fluids (for medical reasons and) because that pressure will be uncomfortable.
These 12 tips made my recovery just a bit easier and more dignified. Recovering from having surgery is tough enough, anything that can make it easier can make a huge difference. If you’re a member of the appendectomy and abdominal surgery club, what practical tips for recovering from an appendectomy do you have? Be sure to check out my Tips for Recovering from an Appendectomy at Home.
More emergency tips:
Once you get home after your surgery, you’ll want to check out these Tips for Recovering from an Appendectomy at Home.
Tips on how to organize medical files so you can keep track of critical information.
Make and keep a DIY Journal for Your Medical Treatment Notes for yourself or a friend.
A free printable DIY Personal Emergency Contact Checklist, just in case you ever need the information.