Heading into surgery of any kind can be daunting. Here is the basic idea for how to create a plan for yourself so that you make it through the before, during, and after with less overwhelm and anxiety and a greater sense of support within yourself and from others.
(Be sure to read “The Most Basic” below if you have less than a week before your surgery.)
A. Make a written plan for the day of your surgery. This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Simply ask your doctor or nurse what will happen when you arrive. Perhaps you will:
- check in at the front desk
- wait in the waiting room until you are called
- be called into the surgery prep area where you will change your clothes, etc.
- wait there until you are wheeled into the operating room and anesthetized
- receive the surgery
- wake up in the recovery room
- either: be released as an outpatient, or: recover in a hospital room
B. Your plan will likely be different depending on what kind of surgery you are receiving, and at what kind of facility you are receiving it. Whatever your basic plan looks like, now take a moment to put each step above into one of the following four parts:
Part One: The day-of at home and arriving at the office (This can extend to the day before, or whenever it is you begin your fasting for the surgery.)
Part Two: Pre-Surgery
Part Three: The Surgery
Part Four: Recovery
C. Now take some time to set an intention for each of these four parts. Your intentions can be anything you want but here are a few suggestions . . .
Part One: I will prepare myself for this surgery with a calm, steady love for myself. “Love for myself” is what I will repeat to myself as I drive to the office or hospital, as I check in at the front desk, as I wait in the waiting room to be called. All fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, rage, sorrow, etc. are welcome to be with me, but I will maintain my primary focus on “Love for myself. I love myself.”
Part Two: As the medical preparations begin, I will let my fear and anxiety express themselves through tears, trembling, or other reasonable means. I will practice letting these feelings “wash through” me. I will imagine these feelings flowing out of me in a river, out through my feet, falling into the earth below me. I will imagine my deep love for myself filling up all of the space left as fear and anxiety flow out. I will let my breath move in and out of my body.
Part Three: While your conscious mind will not be aware during the surgery, your subconscious mind will still be active (remember, they don’t kill you, they just knock you unconscious). You can seed your subconscious with whatever constructive thoughts or feelings you want for this part of the experience. Perhaps you want to focus on sending love to your practitioners – the surgeon, the anesthetist, the nurses, and all other helpers in the room during your surgery. Perhaps you want to send more love to yourself. Perhaps you want to send love to your family or friends or others who are waiting for you during this time.
Part Four: It’s become somewhat of a maxim that recovery begins before the surgery. All of the work you have done through the first parts of this will help your recovery, but it is wise to set an intention for your recovery well before it begins. Perhaps some good ideas are, “I will allow myself to rest deeply in order to heal deeply,” instead of feeling like you need to entertain visitors or family when they visit you. Sometimes surgeries are not successful in the way that everyone had hoped. Keep in mind that regardless of whether your surgery “succeeded” or not, you still need to recover fully from it – especially if you have more treatments or procedures ahead of you. So perhaps, “Regardless of outcome, I allow myself to heal fully.” You can also add a thought for the emotional wake that can come with a less-than-ideal outcome, “In my grief, I allow myself to heal fully.” Remember, these are just some ideas, you can create your own or tailor what is here to better suit your personality and your situation.
D. Once you have decided what you will focus on during the stages of your surgery and recovery, now the real work begins. I recommend taking at least one week for each Part in order to imagine the Part. For example, Part One: imagine yourself beginning your fast, waking up, getting into the car, getting out of the car, walking into the building, greeting the receptionist, giving your name, sitting in the waiting room. And as your imagination creates these moments in your head, repeat your intention to yourself. As you imagine beginning your fast, say to yourself, “I love myself. I have deep love for myself.” And keep repeating it (or whatever other intention you have chosen) as you imagine your way through Part One. Practice this every day for one week. It will start to seem boring and like you have memorized a script at some point, so boring that you may not want to do it on your last couple of days. This is good – it means you have gotten the intention deep into your mind. This is what you want. Please finish all days.
In the second week, follow the same process for Part Two. Then the same thing for Parts Three and Four in the third and fourth weeks. You should finish just a day or two before your actual surgery. Once you have finished, as you are heading into your surgery day, you can write down your intentions for each part of the surgery on a piece of paper and carry it with you to remind yourself of them as you go through each part of the surgery.
THE MOST BASIC
If you have less than four days before your surgery, you will have only a little time to practice setting your intentions. In this case, I suggest you choose one single intention to carry you through the before and during, and one intention to begin your recovery. Still take time to imagine your way through each portion of the surgery but keep your intention simple and to the point. With less time to prepare, you will have better success if you are able to focus your attention on one simple intention.
If you do this process, either the long version or the short version, I think you will find that you will feel calmer, more present, and less agitated as you go through your surgery. It will also help you to be able to encounter any unexpected changes to the plan or the process as they arise, without feeling overwhelmed. Hopefully it will help you think more clearly and be more present to yourself as you go through it.
No matter what kind of surgery you are facing, abdominal or other, these steps can help you create a more constructive experience in a stressful time.
To learn more about how you can help your belly recover, see my programs.
- Isabel Spradlin is a Registered Nurse (RN), Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), and abdominal adhesion specialist in Portland, OR. She specializes in educating people about manual treatment (massage) for abdominal pain and dysfunction, especially when it is adhesion related. Please see the "Programs" page to see her offerings.