This is going to be my story of an out of the blue medical emergency and how I planned a post-surgery nutrition plan to try and recover as best as I could. If you’ve gone through a surgery, are about to or know someone that has hopefully some of this info will help get you on the right road to recovery
What Went Down Before Needing Post-Surgery Nutrition
It was clear crisp autumn morning.. well not really it was late January and I was at the YMCA where I do personal training on a Sunday morning. I’d been feeling as fit as ever lately and had got back into some Olympic lifting and more time playing hockey so feeling relatively fit and strong.
Basically, almost exactly at 12 noon, I started feeling this weird stomach cramp. I had had breakfast but it had been a little while before so I thought it might be related to hunger. I went down to the break room where I had a breakfast bowl that has some oats, nuts and berries. Hoping this would make me feel alright I went back upstairs but the discomfort was getting worse.
I’m not saying I’m superhuman but it takes a lot for me to not be able to work. I figure as long as I can stand I can still be working if needed. I honestly don’t recall ever missing a day of work from sickness ever. That’s not to say I’ve been 100% but you just make do. This time, it was around 1pm and I felt like I had to get out of there or it was going to get messy. I was supposed to be done at 3pm but just told the people I work with something is not right and not sure what the hell it is so I need to leave.
Out Of The Blue
Driving home the pain in my stomach was getting worse and it felt different than other stomach discomfort. It had the feeling like it would get better if I threw up, and that’s what happened as I had to pull my car over as other drivers had to go around watching what they assumed was the aftermath of a rough night out or a bad morning of Taco Bell.
Hoping that the reverse peristalsis (fancy word for vomiting) would ease the pain was unsuccessful. Something was not right and for probably the 3rd time in my life I drove to the hospital at the University of Western Ontario nearby. I’ve been to hospitals before but for things like stitches or broken body parts.
It’s not that I feel I’m too tough or above getting checked out it’s just that I feel I’ve always managed to make due with whatever pain or discomfort I’ve had. As I waited in the waiting room the pain was actually becoming unbearable and I found myself hunched over in the seat. After what felt like forever, I was taken through but was in so much pain I was lying on the floor in the room next to the bed. While getting examined they gave me some morphine and thought it was related to a stomach flu which had been going around. They told me to keep an eye on it and sent me on my merry way.
More Than A Stomach Flu!
At this point, I had been incommunicado with family and my Golden Girls fan club so people were wondering what the hell was up. I was staying at my parents, got home and shared what happened. At this point, I’m doped up on morphine so feeling not too bad pain wise. On a 1-10 scale, I was about Snoop Dogg on 4/20.
When this wore off the pain came back like a ton of bricks. I felt like I was getting stabbed in the abdomen and was pretty much in the fetal position on the floor. Thankfully my parents were around and drove me back to the hospital. I live in Canada and we have amazing health care but that doesn’t mean the wait times in hospitals aren’t ridiculous. I’ve experienced a lot of pain through all the contact sports I’ve played. I’ve been knocked out, dislocated, cut, bruised and rocked head on by guys in football and hockey but this was unlike anything I’ve ever felt.
I honestly felt like I was dying
I wasn’t sure what was happening and ended up lying in the bathroom (don’t ask me to explain I was pretty incoherent at this point) At this point I’m wondering If this is a legit problem or that I really can’t handle something like a stomach flu. They finally get me in and at this point i can barely talk and apparently as asking people to knock me out because I couldn’t handle the pain. I don’t remember who I saw or talked to until they said they were taking me in for a CAT scan to see what was up.
What The Cat Scan Found
This I remember pretty vividly. When I get back from the scan a doctor is telling me I have some form of large intestine obstruction and that I need surgery immediately. Part of me was relieved to know it was an actual problem and wasn’t in my head but then he started explaining if it had become too worse they would have to take a large part of my colon out and then I’d be looking at some real problems, now and in the future.
What had happened was a part of my large intestine has some built up scar tissue which was basically choking the organ and restricting blood flow. The scar tissue was just a random occurrence that they said might have been a birth defect and for some reason decided to show its ugly head now, like Donald Trump. If this goes on too long there is a lack of blood flow and you’re looking at organ shut down. These are the times I’m glad I’m in a city and near hospitals. If I was way out of town or on a long haul flight I could have been really, really screwed.
They started prepping me for the surgery and explaining the process but at this point I was having trouble taking it all in or processing what they were saying. Since I was in their care the organ shut down thing wasn’t going to be an issue but if the damage was pretty bad I could be looking at a colostomy bag and a pretty altered lifestyle.
So before I know it I’m being wheeled in for emergency surgery and looking up at the anesthesiologist (yes I had to look up how to spell that)
Waking Up From Surgery
I’ve been pretty fortunate with medical issues and the thought of having to go under scared the crap out of me. I’ve never had to do that before but it happened so quickly I really didn’t have time to process it. It’s a bizarre feeling as you’re looking at that mask and then next thing you know you’re waking up in a bed in another room. There’s a Kim Kardashian joke in there somewhere but I can’t narrow it down..
I was looking around for Toto and Aunty Em but the first thing I recall is that the pain was completely gone. Part of that would be from the surgery and then from whatever was hooked up to my arm going into my blood stream.
I saw my family who was now understanding why the hell I hadn’t been texting them back that day and then was told the surgery had gone better than expected. What they had performed is called a laparotomy where my abdomen was cut right open so they could have better access to the large intestine. They then found where the blockage was and explained to me that the large intestine was basically being “choked” and not like Jordon Spieth just did at the Masters. Too soon….?
The damaged part was cut out, then it was reattached and I was sewn up from the outside and inside with some internal dissolving stitches. I had a nice incision mark on my abs which I will be saying was from breaking up a biker fight.
Chicks dig scars remember…
The Road To Recovery
Like I said, I’ve never really been in a hospital before and have always been able to not be knocked off my feet from any injury or illness. But here I was now hooked up to an I.V for electrolytes, pain medication as well as being hooked up to oxygen and a catheter. This was pretty jarring for me and even with the pain medication I could barely even sit up and walking was out of the question.
I had zero appetite and if you’ve seen hospital food before I was probably better off not being hungry.. After a few days, I was able to move around more in the bed and I actually felt ok to start standing up. I’m pretty stubborn by nature so wanted to do more than seemed possible so started to walk around the room with the aid of the i.v stand. I then began to take walks down the hall and then all around the floor.
Here’s a video of me walking on the first day:
Fortunately, I was in pretty decent shape before this so I believe my ability to recover might be a bit better than the average person. I was supposed to be in the hospital for up to 10 days but was able to leave after 5.
The doctors were pretty surprised with my process of recovery which is encouraging but following a laparotomy you can’t touch anything over 5 pounds for at least 8 weeks. That was going to be pretty tough considering my line of work involves helping people lift things up and put them back down…
Also, hockey would be out of the question too which really sucked as I felt I was playing better than I had in years. There wasn’t much shared in the way of nutrition which isn’t totally surprising as there remains a real lack of focus on the benefits and healing power of food within the medical community. I took on my recovery process like it was an assignment as I like to have something to work towards.
I wanted to dial in my nutrition as much as possible and since I had a pretty limited appetite things would be pretty liquid and softer based for the first little while. I looked at the following for the best healing.
1. Bone Broth/stock
I wanted to include a lot of anti-inflammatory foods and broth/stock is high on the list as well as with its ability to heal. Broth is very important in:
- Healing the lining of the gut
- Inhibits infection
- Reduce joint pain and inflammation
- Promotes strong healthy bones
- Promotes healthy hair and nail growth
Even though I don’t need to look like Beyonce that last one is still important I guess….
The main thing is you can see that the things broth helps with are pretty descriptive of what you want to heal after a surgery. I’ve written a lot more about the benefits of bone broth if you want to learn more or learn how to make the best stuff possible. In my case, I made sure to make some homemade soups that had a base of broth and that included other healing ingredients like:
- Herbs and spices
- Parsley & cilantro
I made sure to have this a few times a day and early on was having it quite often.
When you are sick or injured or healing your protein requirements are going to be higher than average. Protein does a lot of things besides build muscle, it’s important in the creation of hormones and immune system function. But that role of repairing and helping recovery is pretty imperative in the healing process. It helps repair tissue which in my case was my abdomen which was cut right down the middle.
Protein requirements for people can vary depending on things like activity level, age, amount of lean muscle etc.. In the case of injured people you are wanting to shoot for around 1.5 grams of protein per kg or 0.7 grams per pound. This is going to help to heal wounds and rebuild lost or damaged tissue.
I had a lot of crap going through my body during and after surgery from anesthesia to painkillers to that horrible drywall they call “hospital food”. I wanted to keep my water intake up to help flush out toxins and help in the cleansing process. Water does a lot of things including:
- Maintains a balance of body fluids
- helps in digestion
- transports nutrients through the body
- helps balance body temperature.
And in the post surgery case helps to rid toxins. Our body fluids help transport waste in and out of the cells and the kidneys do a great job of getting rid of toxins PROVIDED they get enough water. The best indicator is going to be urine color and odor. You are looking for a straw like color without any odor. Please note I didn’t use the Canadian spelling of colour and odour..
When the urine is dark and strong smelling it means you’re looking at dehydration, this is because the kidneys are now trapping extra fluids for critical body functions.
For your water intake, you will want to drink half your body weight in ounces each day.
Not only was I full of these chemicals and pain killers but to add insult to injury I got a bladder infection which is apparently pretty common after this type of ordeal. Either way, THAT sucked too. I’m kind of hesitant of the whole antibiotic things because I know that they not only kill bad bacteria but also the good bacteria in the gut. An unhealthy microbiome can lead to overall all poor health, trouble with digestion and as we’re learning, even more issues with mental health and overall well-being.
2/3rds of the neurotransmitters our body produces that regulate things like mood are actually made in the gut and we’re now learning how our gut is like our 2nd brain (or in Kim Kardashians case, her first..)
Killing off this good gut bugs was troubling but I made sure to take a probiotic after and consumed a whole lot of kombucha which if you’re unaware of is a fermented tea drink rich in probiotics to promote gut health. Click that link on kombucha to learn more about it.
Other good probiotic foods include pickled foods, sauerkraut, kimchee and kefir.
Where I’m At Now
I’ll be honest, this whole thing sucked. It was not pleasant to not be able to walk for days and barely be even able to sit up. I again thank my previous level of fitness that got me up walking sooner than later and was out of the hospital in half the time.
I wasn’t able to be back at work for almost a month due to the fact I couldn’t lift over 5 pounds and I work in a gym. Not an ideal situation. I wasn’t supposed to touch a weight for 2 months which I was pretty good with but around 6 weeks in I started doing some super light range of motion exercises on machines just to get the muscles moving a bit.
I might write a whole blog on the post surgery exercise I focussed on but my strength did come back pretty quick. At 2 months I was back to regular workouts, not 100% but not too shabby. I started skating and even was able to back playing in a full hockey game after 2 months. I didn’t think I would be playing at all for the rest of the season and I had this crazy idea that my goal was to be able to play at the 3-month point and was happy to surpass that goal.
I used for inspiration a few pro hockey players including Steven Stamkos and Erik Karlsson who were able to return in an extraordinary early amount of time within the same season. Stamkos broke his leg and Karlsson tore his knee to hell.
I also admired WWE wrestler John Cena who has had countless injuries and always returned in half the amount of time. He dedicated himself to rehab and rebuilding.
Post-Surgery Nutrition Summary:
O.K, if you’ve come out of any form of surgery here’s a quick breakdown of what you want to be doing:
- Focus on liquids early on that are nutrient dense. You won’t be feeling too hungry so the denser the liquid nutrition the better. Focus on soups and broth, protein shakes and green smoothies (click on that for some good recipes)
- After the first 3-4 days, or depending how you’re feeling, start having softer whole foods such as plain yogurt with berries, oatmeal is great and even stews (again that have the bone broth) and eggs.
- When you start eating solid food it’s a no brainer to keep things as clean as possible
- Protein requirements are going to be around 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight
- Water intake needs to be high to flush out the toxins from painkillers and the surgery. Aim to drink half you body weight in ounces of water each day.
- Take a probiotic supplement to help counter the negative effects of antibiotics if you were on them and include probiotic rich foods such as Kombucha, kimchee, kefir, pickles and sauerkraut
If I can help in anyway if you’re in the same boat just leave a comment here or even better write to me at [email protected]