What To Expect After A Laparoscopy

It can be a very emotional and frightening experience being told that you need surgery. Especially for something that a lot of people haven’t heard of before. I remember asking around and researching in the weeks before my first laparoscopy, not knowing what to expect or how much recovery time I would need. This is why I felt it was important to share the things I wish I had known before my surgery.

When You Wake Up In Recovery
Since I have had a general anaesthetic prior to my laparoscopy, I had a good understanding of how my body would react. When you first wake up after surgery, it takes a little while to completely come to, as you tend to fall in and out of sleep. The anaesthetic makes you very drowsy and by this time they would have some strong opioids like fentanyl, morphine or equivalent pumping through your system which also causes your body to slow down. After a while, the pain control medications will start wearing off and you will begin to feel the pain. I won’t try to sugarcoat this one, you will be in agony. As soon as you start feeling this, ask for some more pain relief!
By the time you get out of surgery and into the recovery ward, you are going to start getting an appetite back. Be careful though… If you make the mistake of eating too much too quickly, you will end up throwing it all back up into a sick bag (if the nurse gets there in time). My advice is to pack some things from home like a plain sandwich, banana, or a muesli bar. Otherwise ask the person taking you home if they would mind getting you something in the hospital or local cafe. You may still be sick depending how your body reacts to anaesthesia, but it’s better to have a banana return to the surface than hot oily chips, or worse… hospital food.

Discharge Lounge + Getting Home
Whilst it seems convenient to quickly pick up some medications before heading home, you will also pay a lot more than you would in a regular pharmacy. They usually give you a prescription before they discharge you so either get some at a nearby pharmacy, or on the way home to one you know isn’t expensive. After my first laparoscopy, I thought I would be fine to catch a train home. This is why you never take advice from anyone about how fast you will recover after surgery. By the time I got discharged and out the front door, I was completely exhausted and it was peak hour traffic. I live about 45 minutes from the hospital my surgeon operates at, but of course it took over an hour to get home in that traffic. $115 later, feeling absolutely horrible, I was finally home. After my second surgery, I had organised a friend to drive and stay over the first night. It was much easier knowing the car was close by, I could ask her to pull over if needed, and she wasn’t judging me for my sick bag when the motions got the better of me.

Managing At Home
Nobody seems to tell you how much pain you will be in, so here’s the truth… A LOT! You will also be very groggy and emotional. It is very important to check the instructions of your medications thoroughly before taking them as it can be pretty dangerous if you don’t. Set a reminder on your phone for your next dose and keep hydrated. It is best if you have someone who can stay with you for at least 3 days, and someone you are comfortable with seeing you naked because you’re going to need a lot of help. Getting on and off the couch/bed, going to the toilet, showering, are all going to require some assistance.

Gas Pain: I feel like this one was super underestimated and not explained well enough. If the pain you have in your abdomen isn't enough, there is also the gas pain. Not wind, or bubbly tummy kind of gas. The kind that radiates up to the right shoulder and below the clavicle. The best thing you can do for it is put a heat pack on the shoulder, it makes a huge difference to the intensity of the pain. I found tummy teas such as peppermint were helpful but the first few days I took some medications such as DeGas or Buscopan depending on the severity. This was recommended by my surgeon so be sure to check it is suitable for you to take.

Sleep: If you’re a tummy sleeper like me then it will be very hard for you to get a good night’s sleep for a while. You are mostly restricted to sleeping on your back and tilted to the side with pillows propping you up. Side sleeping is pretty painful as the abdomen will pull and cause pain at the wounds. I used a lot of pillows to try and keep myself in certain positions so avoid sleeping on my back. Be mindful of pressure injuries during this time, sleeping or resting on one part of the body isn’t good for the circulatory system.

Food: The first few days you are going to want snack food, not big meals, so it's a good idea to make sure you’ve done a grocery shop and prepared some meals to freeze and take out when you're hungry. Other ideas would be to get meals delivered from companies like Soulara or Hello Fresh. Marley spoon is a good idea if you have someone who is happy to cook for you.

Movement: After surgery it is best to rest for a few days and then begin gentle walks if you’re able to. Always go with someone as your head will be groggy from the anaesthetic for some time after surgery. After my second surgery I didn’t move much as I was in a lot more pain which resulted in a stage 1 pressure ulcer on my sacrum. You want to avoid these! They take a very long time to heal.

Constipation: General anaesthetic has a tendency to bind your bowels up along with all the pain medication you will be taking afterwards. It is a good idea to make sure you have foods with fibre in it the days before and after surgery. Fruit and vegetables are great for helping things along, as well as flaxseeds and prunes if can eat those. Ask your surgeon if it's okay to take mild laxatives if you are really struggling, but make sure to ask first as they may suggest not to especially if your bowels were operated on. I didn't pass a bowel motion for 10 days after the first surgery even with a good diet, so I had to take some mild laxatives for a few days. It also helps minimise the need to push since your abdomen is already going to be sore, even the smallest push to open your bowels can cause a lot of pain.

Sutures, Dressings + Scars: Once you are home, you should check on the dressings every few hours to make sure no additional blood or oozing of any sort comes through. If this does happen then call your doctor immediately and follow their instructions. The dressings should be left on for a few days to protect the wounds. Underneath there is usually some steri strips which are small pieces of surgical tape to pull the suture line close together. Leave these on until they fall off themselves which is generally around the 7-10 day mark. I replaced my dressings with some I got from the chemist to continue protecting the wound for an additional week after surgery, it helps with the clothes rubbing on the wound. You will have a follow up appointment to remove the sutures by week two post op. Once they have completely healed, it is a good idea to massage a natural cream over the wound. Stimulating blood flow to the area promotes healing and assists with cell production.

It’s Okay To Ask For Help
I struggled quite a lot after both my surgeries with getting back to doing things for myself and feeling like a person again. Did you know that anaesthesia takes up to three weeks to completely leave the body? During this time you will be emotionally vulnerable and overwhelmed. You may cry or get angry for no reason, and that’s okay. It takes a while to feel like you’re back to normal, just give yourself time. Is important to have someone come and see you every couple of days if you live alone or your partner works. I would highly recommend someone being with you for the first few days.

Photo credit to Imani Clovis on Unsplash