A Vegan Experience of Surgery & Recovery: I had chest reconstruction surgery on August 22nd 2017. For Vegan Mofo 2017, I will be writing about my experience preparing for surgery and my ongoing recovery.
As a trans person, I’ve spent a huge part of my life thinking about surgery. I thought about breast reductions as soon as I started to develop at the age of just 8/9 years old. It was a thought that continued through my teenage and adult years. As soon as everything in my trans puzzle clicked into place nearly three years ago, top surgery was the first thing I knew I needed. I knew I wanted it before I decided on my pronouns, my name change and way before I was certain on testosterone. So it really has felt like something that has been on my mind for a lifetime, particularly the last few years when I have been desperate to access treatment I needed.
Despite surgery dominating my thoughts for so long, I don’t think I ever felt truly prepared for it. As soon as I got my date I started to panic. I had never had surgery before, I’d never had any form of anaesthetic, I have never had any dental work, not even fillings. Surgery was an entirely new experience for me and I was absolutely terrified. There were never any fears that it was the wrong decision for me (though of course those fears are completely normal and valid, many folk have them) but the thought of my cheery surgeon happily slicing into me, relying on some random person to keep me alive for the procedure and just the unknown of what was going to happen and when was a lot for me to take in.
I don’t think you can really prepare yourself for that. I came to that conclusion while I was crapping myself over it, and thought about what I COULD prepare for. What could I put in place to make the whole event and my 2 months recovery easier? Aside from the terror of the actual surgery, what was I concerned about? Here was my list:
So let’s go through this eh?
Oh money. Goddamn money. I’m not a money motivated person as long as I’m able to get by…so having to be so aware of my finances and budget to not only fund surgery but also recovery has been thoroughly depressing.
So what did I have to take into consideration? The main thing was sick pay. I’m lucky, I work and have access to sick pay. However, I knew I wouldn’t be on full pay for my entire recovery. I prioritised getting this all figured out as soon as I had my surgery date. I sat down with my employer to work out exactly when I was getting paid what. I’m glad I did this as it turned out I was entitled to far less full pay than expected, only 2.7 weeks of the 8 I would be off.
Luckily for me, I have fairly low outgoings because I don’t pay much rent and I earn enough that a drop down to half pay isn’t the end of the world. I knew that my outgoings may increase during this period of sickness because I wouldn’t be able to cook meals from scratch, I would need to rely on paying for some taxi’s, I would have travel expenses to/from appointments across the country and also I knew I was gonna get bored, and when you get bored you can end up buying stuff that you wouldn’t usually buy (chocolate, ice cream, cakes, board games…).
I thought about what I could do to save ahead for this. Could I cut down on certain things to save cash? Could I stagger my spends and start buying things I’d need during recovery little by little in the lead up to surgery? Did I need to ask for financial help? For me and my situation, the answer was yes to all three. I lived off dried lentils that had been kicking about in my cupboard for years, free food from work, endless peanut butter sandwiches. I started thinking about convenience foods I’d need during recovery and buying one or two things each week and I also set up a Go Fund Me to help me pay for surgery and for all the expenses that followed. It was boring and difficult, especially asking for help (which I will get into on another post) but doing what I could beforehand took a lot of the stress off during the recovery process.
I guess the main piece of advice to take from this is to not think about this last minute. Even if there’s only so much you can do in advance, it’s far easier to face these things when you are expecting them. What you don’t need is a shock a few weeks after a major operation.
I read up a lot about what would keep me comfy post op and came across lots of advice. Pillows, blankets, long bendy straws, grabby sticks, shoe horns, slip on shoes etc. I bought nearly all of it vin a panic. It cost a lot of money and I actually didn’t make use of many of the suggestions. So here are my recommendations.
Pillows & Blankets!
These have been a life saver for me recovering from this specific surgery. You’re going to spend so much of your time resting and sleeping, so why not kit yourself out? You can never have too many soft fluffy blankets or pillows so you will continue to make use of them after surgery too.
I 100% recommend getting hold of a V Pillow in particular. It really helped me keep propped up after surgery and made sleeping on my back so much easier. It also helped me a lot with the back pain I had post surgery, I took this thing everywhere with me and when I forgot to bring it home from a friends house, I really missed it.
Pajamas & Comfy Clothes
You’re not gonna be putting effort into your appearance for a while, so time to get down with comfy pajamas. If you have the funds, treat yourself to something fun that will make you feel happy wearing post surgery.
I got some cute pajamas with breakfast foods on, and my favourite? Unicorn crop top of course!
I had to wait a few weeks before I could wear this but now I look awesome every single day! Life goals! They go amazingly well with my Pusheen Unicorn Slippers. These are an essential item.
I also got myself a pair of nice soft baggy trousers for lounging around the house. I wear them constantly. Also if you’re having top surgery you’ll need to wear button shirts or zip up hoodies for the first week – two weeks, so make sure you have a few. You don’t need to get a completely new wardrobe, you can wear the same shirt a few times before washing because you’re gonna stink not being able to shower anyway so whatever.
Though speaking of hygiene
You need baby wipes because you can’t shower. And when you finally manage to poop through all the anaesthetic and morphine that has bunged you up, those special wet wipes for wiping your arse are SUPER convenient.
Of course this will depend on what type of surgery you have, but it needs thinking about. What is going to restrict you and what can you do to help with this?
For me, I had incisions across my chest, so I couldn’t lift my arms, couldn’t bend down far and I couldn’t carry anything. I was essentially T Rexed.
To help with this, I placed everything I would need within my hands reach, so belly level! This went for everything in the place I was staying, so medication on shelves, phone chargers, my tablet, food in the fridge, plates and cups left on kitchen counters for me etc.
You won’t be able to properly prepare food for a while, wash dishes, clothes, do housework and such. So what will you plan for this? Can you stay with a friend who will look after you, do you have folk who can pop in and offer support? Are you on your own? Well ditch the chores and get in some easy to prepare foods and a load of disposable plates, cups and cutlery.
Also are you travelling after recovery? Do you need help carrying bags? Do you need to book assistance for public transport?
In the lead up to surgery, you may need to stop taking certain medication. Check with your surgeon.
I didn’t, I needed to make sure that I kept on top of my meds, especially my antidepressants because I am terrible when it comes to remembering to take them. The last thing I needed was for my mental health to drop around this time.
I got pretty itchy in my bandages post surgery, so antihistamines were a nice relief, make sure to stock up!
I was instructed to take Arnica in the lead up to surgery. I also decided to take Bromelain (good for healing), Vitamin C and Vitamin D. I healed really well and pretty fast, so I would recommend these. Though Vegan Vitamin D tastes like arse and I never want to have it again.
FIBRE AND LAXATIVES
Trust me. I will go into the gory details later but do whatever you can to help yourself shit.
Increase your fruit and veg intake the week before surgery, get a load of prunes in, get some baby fruit smoothies in for your hospital stay (Such as Ella’s Kitchen – these also help you swallow all the meds and supplements you need) and take the damn laxatives. No ifs. No butts (lol). Trust me.
I will be doing a big post on easy foods I bought in for post surgery and of course there will be recipes throughout Mofo. But spend time planning on what you’re going to eat. It’s a great distraction and something worth preparing.
Also check in with the hospital to make sure they are aware of your dietary needs. Ask to see their vegan options. If they don’t reassure you, get together some food that you can eat during your stay. Soft foods are best, so soya puddings, jelly, brownies/cakes, flapjacks, smoothies, flavoured milk etc.
I’m planning to write some of my own recommendations but get thinking about how you’re going to keep busy.
Any TV series you need to catch up on? Books you’ve been dying to read? Also think about low impact stuff, mindless games that will keep you occupied but require very little brain power – anaesthetic can keep you unfocussed for a while.
So there you have it. Whilst there is only so much you can do to emotionally prepare for surgery (especially if this is your first experience of it) there are plenty of things you can do ahead to make recovery as comfortable and easy as possible. Hopefully this will make some of the preparation a little less stressful.
My brain is officially fried from writing all this, so until next time folks