Resources

Preparing for Surgery

What to expect and how to prepare for before and after your surgery.

Woman with thought bubbles including items such as backpack, pills, creams and phone

If you’ve never had surgery before, it can feel like an overwhelming and scary experience to prepare for.

Luckily, the The Endometriosis Network Canada moderating team has been there and we’ve got some tips and tricks for you. Here is everything you need to know.

Preparing at home

Give your home a good clean before surgery so you can let yourself rest when you’re healing.

Mason jars filled with colourful liquids surrounded by fruits such as kiwi, raspberries, pears and grapefruit

If you won’t have anyone helping you when you come home, prepare some freezer meals that will be easy to warm up or prepare.

Buying frozen fruit and putting together pre-measured smoothie packs or freezing a batch of pureed soup are two easy and affordable options. Instant mashed potatoes or broth are also great, especially if your stomach is unsettled after surgery. If you have the budget, frozen dinners from your favourite grocery store can be nice if you don’t have the energy to prepare freezer meals yourself. Popsicles are a soothing snack if you have a sore throat from the breathing tube used during surgery.

TIP: Freezing pureed soup flat in freezer bags makes for quicker defrosting. You might be quite bloated after surgery so be prepared with comfortable clothing. If you don’t already have comfortable clothes at home, pick up some stretchy pants, a maxi dress, comfy jumpsuit or nightgown before surgery. Stretchy underwear or a few pairs sized up can also be more comfortable.   

Packing

brown duffle bag sitting on hardwood floor

Most laparoscopies are day surgeries, which means you won’t stay the night.

If you’re having a hysterectomy or you have any complications, you may end up staying a night or two. Being prepared and packing an overnight bag with a few essentials is a good idea. Things like a phone charger, headphones, a few of your favourite snacks and a book can come in handy if you end up staying the night. If you have a hard time sleeping with extra noise or lights, earplugs and an eye mask can help create a quieter, darker sleep environment. With COVID-19 protocols, you may end up staying alone so pack anything you think you might need to keep your mind occupied.

Before surgery: At the hospital

Every hospital seems to have different policies for letting loved ones stay with you while you’re waiting to get wheeled to the OR.

This is especially true now with COVID-19 protocols so to be sure, it’s best to call ahead of time. Some hospitals will have a locker for you to keep your clothes and in others you’ll have a little cubby. 

If you’re feeling anxious at the hospital, don’t put on a brave face. Let someone know how you’re feeling.

They should be able to give you something to help you relax before you get wheeled into the OR. Your surgery experience will be a lot better if you’re not crying or panicking as you go under.

After surgery: At the hospital 

Make sure you’ve urinated a few times and any pain and/or nausea you’re feeling is under control before you leave.

This is especially important if you have a longer ride home or to the place you are recovering at. A skinny pillow to put between you and the seat belt can make the ride more comfortable. A pail is also a good idea as some people are nauseated from the pain medications and/or anaesthesia.

A note on bowel movements:

A common issue that isn’t always covered on the discharge paperwork is chronic constipation. If possible, get a timeline from your surgeon of when to take a stool softener or laxative and next steps if that doesn’t work.

For example: If no bowel movement for ‘x’ number of days, take a laxative; and if no bowel movement for ‘x’ number of days, go to the hospital for help. If you’ve already had your pre-op you could ask when you’re being prepped for surgery. You may also want to ask about a timeline to follow if you’re unable to urinate after you’ve been discharged from the hospital. It’s best to ask these questions before surgery as you may not see your surgeon after.

See our tips for the Emergency Room

Surgery tip: putting your feet on a little stool can help with the first few bowel movements

Smoothies are easy to digest, and the fruit can help get your bowels going again. Some people take stool softeners after surgery which are a gentler alternative to laxatives. Any medication, whether over-the-counter or prescribed, should be cleared with a pharmacist or your doctor. Putting your feet up on a little stepping stool can help make the first few bowel movements a little easier and more comfortable. Try to stay relaxed and avoid straining. 

At home

Medications

Take your prescribed pain medications on a schedule. It’s easier to manage pain when you’re not playing catch up. If you’re alone and have trouble remembering, try setting reminders on your phone or another device. It can also be helpful to write down when you’ve taken your medications. Gravol or ginger capsules can be helpful if you’re feeling nauseated but it’s important to clear any medications or supplements with a pharmacist or your doctor. Keep in mind Gravol also comes in suppository form if you’re having trouble keeping food down.

Surgery Tip: Take your prescribed pin medications on a schedule. It’s easier to manage pain when you’re not playing catch up. If you’re alone and have trouble remembering, try setting reminders on your phone or other device.

Ice or heat? 

While you might be used to having your trusty heating pad on your belly, make sure you’re not applying any heat to your incision sites. Heat can interfere with how the stitches dissolve and increases blood flow, which increases bleeding. Heat can also be dangerous over incision sites as they are less sensitized, so the risk of burns is higher. Ice is better for your belly post op as it reduces inflammation but be sure to keep incision sites dry when applying ice packs.

The dreaded shoulder pain

Expect the first few days to be painful or uncomfortable. As the surgical gases used to inflate the abdomen leave the body, they will cause referred pain to the shoulders and diaphragm. Heat is great for the gas pain you’ll have in your shoulder. Some people may also find sipping on peppermint tea or taking Gas-X capsules helpful. The more you walk around the quicker the gas will dissipate. When you get up to walk, try holding a pillow against your belly to support your tender insides. 

Sleeping

Sleeping on a recliner the first few nights may be easier than a bed, especially if getting to your bedroom involves a set of stairs. After that, pillows supporting you, however you’re most comfortable, will be helpful. Sleeping propped up with pillows and a pillow or two under your knees is often the most comfortable. If you’re a side sleeper and can’t get comfortable on your back, try using a body pillow and a few other pillows to support your abdomen. 

Post op restrictions 

Post op restrictions can include no lifting over 5-10lbs, no baths, no swimming, no solo/partnered sex, no vaginal suppositories, no tampons, and no driving.

You may want to get a family member or friend to come over if you need to do any trash take out, grocery lugging, vacuuming, laundry basket lifting, scooping out a litter box or bedding changes. 

It is important to follow your post op instructions provided by your surgeon and to be cleared by your surgeon before engaging in any of the aforementioned activities. If recovering from a total hysterectomy (removal of uterus and cervix) it is extremely important to get cleared by your surgeon before any type of sex as orgasms can rip stitches in the vaginal vault where the cervix used to be. It is also important to avoid baths or swimming until your surgeon clears you as this can increase the risk of infection.

Healing

Excision typically takes longer to heal from compared to ablation or a purely diagnostic lap. The first 1-3 periods after surgery can be painful so don’t be alarmed if your first few periods are more painful than usual. If being treated for uterine problems, an open (laparotomy) hysterectomy will take longer to heal from than a laparoscopic hysterectomy. For excision, a lot of people find that they need 6-8 weeks off work, sometimes longer depending on the job they’re returning to.If you’re ever unsure about symptoms you’re experiencing after surgery, call your surgeon or your province/territory’s nurse line.

Surgery tip: what is done during surgery will determine healing time. Excision typically takes longer to heal from compared to ablation or a purely diagnostic lap.

Things like driving and housework are easy ways to overdo it. You may not feel pain, especially if you’re on pain medication but you will be doing damage internally. Let your body dictate how much you rest as everyone heals differently.

Remember, you only have one chance to heal properly so don’t overdo it.

While excision is the gold standard of treatment, it is not an instant cure. It often takes time for the body to learn how to not be in pain. A pelvic physiotherapist or an osteopath may be needed to retrain and relax pelvic muscles.

Learn more about pelvic health physiotherapy

Find support

Know we are here for you along the way!

Contact the The Endometriosis Network Canada support team at support@endometriosisnetwork.ca to learn more about the many avenues of support available to you, or explore our virtual support groups.

Download the Surgery Support information packages