Sunday, November 13, 2016

Unplanned Vacation

Posted by: Joely Sue Burkhart
I posted on my blog recently about some upcoming surgery scheduled for the end of this month.  I've never had any kind of major medical procedure, other than natural childbirth.  So I'm a bit freaked out and trying to plan for recovery. I've delivered 3 kids, but it was a "natural" recovery - not from an illness or medical issue.  How long will I be in pain?  How much help will I need? How quickly will I bounce back? I have no idea!

I've stocked the freezer with easy-to-heat meals for the family, like meatballs, meatloaf, and shepherd's pie.  I'm scrambling at the Evil Day Job to get as much done as possible since I'll be out the rest of the year.  I'm going through my paperbacks and Kindle to line up some great reads.  I've got several knitting and crochet projects planned.  I *hope* to be able to write at least after a few weeks, but this year has already been a bust.

So maybe... 2016 is supposed to be an unplanned vacation for my writer-self too.  Maybe I need to use December as recovery in more ways than one.

It's been a difficult year.  In the twenty-plus years I've worked for this company, I've *never* hit my out-of-pocket max on our health insurance, until this year.  Between Middle's ACL reconstruction, That Man's double MRI, and now my hysterectomy, I'm sure our medical insurance will be glad for the year to roll over too.  Publishing has been rough.  Writing has been rough.  Add in politics, and I'm afraid we're in for another few rollercoaster years. It's made me stop and think about what I write. What I want to say. Who I want to be, both as a writer and a person.

I'll have lots of time to think in December.  And plan.

The only other times I've been off work this long (4-6 weeks) was after having each kid, and I wouldn't call getting up every 2-3 hours with a newborn much of a vacation.  Hopefully I'll recover quickly on the physical side, and can use the rest of my leave to really plan out a great 2017.

Next year will call for action on all fronts.  I need to be rested and prepared.

Any pointers for recovering from surgery?  Any favorite freezer meals?  Or better yet, any pointers on how to get teenagers to help out more?  I'd love to hear it!


  1. Sending good thoughts! Sounds like you're as prepared as anyone can be...wishing you a quick recovery.

  2. I haven't had a hyst, but I did have ovarian cyst surgery years ago and used to work as a Labor & Delivery nurse so I'm pretty familiar with obstetrical surgery. If you are having a vaginal hyst rather than an abdominal one, it really shouldn't be that bad. Recovery times are relatively quick and pain is usually pretty minimal. You might need heavier pain pills for a few days but after that it should improve quickly. The main thing is that you will be very tired. Most people underestimate how tired they will be after surgery and are then surprised at the amount of napping that they need for a few weeks afterward.

    As for menopause, all I can say is don't hesitate if you have bad symptoms, get the estrogen patch! I've been on it for about 4 years now and it was a lifesaver. My hot flashes are now tapering off and I think I'm going to be weaning off the patch completely this year (fingers crossed that my symptoms don't come back!).

    1. Thank you, JenM! It's supposed to be vaginal, robotic assisted, so hopefully a quick recovery.

  3. So long as you have lots of good books to read you'll be fine. Take care, rest up, listen to your body and don't push yourself too hard too soon.

    Best wishes!

    1. Thank you, Janni! I definitely intend to read a lot!

  4. No tips - but lots of good healing vibes and joining you in hoping for a better year in 2017!

  5. Here's what I've come to learn after going through the assorted surgeries I've had. And given that one of those surgeries was in fact a hysterectomy and the removal of my ovaries, here's what I know from my experience.

    First of all: are your ovaries also coming out? Because to the best of my knowledge, it was the removal of my ovaries that triggered my being surgically menopausal, not the removal of my uterus. If you aren't also losing the ovaries, it might be easier on you than it was on me.

    But if you are expecting surgically induced menopause after this procedure, then yes, if you haven't already, you should have a conversation with your doctor about how to handle that. Estrogen patches were not an option for me, due to my cancer history. What helped me finally pull my hot flashes down from "miserable" to "mild nuisance" was adding periodic tofu to my diet (I have a meal involving tofu every couple of weeks), and also taking the OTC supplement Estroven, specifically the NightTime/Sleep Cool version in a blue box that comes with melatonin in it and black cohosh.

    For my various surgeries (breast cancer ones, thyroid removals, the hysterectomy), I found overall that the initial wave of recovery would take me about a week. That'd be the "take time off from work and spend a lot of time sleeping and dealing with the painkillers" time. After that, I was able to return to work, but often with the caveat that my system had less energy than I thought it did. My usual commutes involve a lot of walking, and I found I had to scale down to taking the two-bus version of my commute rather than the one-bus version.

    All of which leads me to this: you will recover mentally faster than you will physically, if you're anything like me. You'll start getting bored from having to lay around. That's okay. But you also need to be careful not to overdo it.

    _Particularly_ if your pain tolerance is anything like mine. I have a _real_ bad habit of trying to ignore when I'm in pain up until it gets to the point of me being in tears and cranky. Try very hard not to let yourself to get to that point. It is okay, vital even, to acknowledge when you're in pain. It is okay, vital even, to be able to actually say to your loved ones "I'm feeling miserable right now and I really need your help with X so that I can go take a nap".

    I was very grateful that my day job is one that has a liberal "work from home" policy, so when I had my hysterectomy, I had a solid week when I was officially Off From Work, and for a couple of weeks after that I actually worked from home so as to spare myself the physical exertion of the commute. That actually let me occupy my mind and gave my body a chance to keep rebuilding its strength.

    Your medical care team will probably be very, very cautious about prescribing you painkillers. But those painkillers are there for a reason. Use them as prescribed. It is _okay_ to say to yourself "yes, goddammit, I am hurting and I need this Percocet/Vicodin/whatever they give you, it does not mean I am a weak person for having to medicate myself to deal with my pain". (And yeah, I had trouble with this, too.)

    If you run through your prescribed course of painkillers, and you still feel like you need them, do not hesitate to explain that to your doctor.

    Email me or talk to me on social media in DM/PM if you like, and you want to get more details on my experiences. I'll be happy to share more with you if you need it.

    Good luck and good healing to you!

    1. Angela, thank you so much! I am losing my ovaries too so expecting menopause to set in quickly. My GYN has already said no estrogen at my age but we'll have other options to pursue if the symptons get too bad. I'm hoping the family will help out and I'm so thankful that I'll have at least 4 weeks off from work. Huge help!

    2. You are very welcome and okay yeah, if you're looking at surgical menopause, be prepared for it to hit you like a sledgehammer.

      I tried assorted ways to add a moderate amount of soy to my diet, which did help noticeably, though eventually I did back off of using soy milk in my tea and eating soy-based yogurt. As long as I have a meal that involves tofu every couple of weeks, maybe every week and a half, I'm good. Fortunately, downtown Seattle does have a number of Thai and Chinese and Japanese restaurants that have tasty things made of tofu. :)

      I also find that having miso soup with my breakfast does help as well since that's a little bit of soy in the diet every morning, and, miso is also tasty and soothing especially on a cold day.

      And the Estroven regularly helps as well. Estroven comes in different types so you might investigate and get your doctor's approval as to which of them might be useful for your needs.

      Be prepared also for your metabolism to shift. I have gotten heavier, which is frustrating, and I do have a harder time losing weight now. So you may need to make dietary and/or exercise changes in your daily routines to account for this.

    3. And oh yeah one other thing: if you drink alcohol at all you may find that certain forms of alcohol make you hot-flashy. I am not a heavy drinker but I do like hard cider, and maybe some Baileys with a bit of cake-flavored vodka in it on weekends. I have determined that certain brands of alcohol seem to be more prone to induce hot-flashy feelings in me than others, so I have had to be careful with that. Lighter ciders seem to treat me better, like pear cider.

      If you don't actually drink alcohol then it's all good!

  6. And oh yes here are the relevant blog posts I did when I had my hysterectomy in 2013:

    From these I will also note that if you have a chance, you may want to put serious thought into cutting your hair short. It will make taking care of it _significantly_ easier during your recovery.

    Also, the pillow for your lap if you have any pets that are inclined to laps. :D

  7. I've only had gall bladder surgery but can tell you - don't be brave about refusing the pain pills. There's nothing to be gained about being in pain. If it hurts, take the drugs and make a note when you took them so you don't double-dip by mistake.
    Will be sending healing wishes your way for a fast and safe recovery!


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