Anxiety before any type of medical procedure is no joke. I’ve seen some of the biggest, badass, tough guys cringe when they find out the need to have a surgical procedure.
While I don’t profess to be the biggest, badass, toughest guy on the planet, I do know that a recent surgical procedure had me beside myself with anxiety. Here is an account of that and some tips to help you should you be in the position of needing a procedure done.
My surgical procedure is elective and routine, however that doesn’t mean that anxiety is any less intense. That fears are any less real. Any time our body is going to be subjected to surgery, there’s nothing “easy” about it.
For someone who’s only history of surgery was wisdom teeth extraction, this is a whole new ballgame. Oh and by the way, that whole wisdom teeth procedure was no walk in the park either, but at the time I was not keenly aware of my traumatic past like I am now.
The following is an overview of my activities and feelings leading up to procedure, and also immediately following (or when I’m coherent enough to type afterwards).
- 12:00 Day before. – T minus 24 hours before I head off to the surgical center. I am now on my lunch at work and going for a walk outside.
- This is nothing unusual, as I often enjoy going for walks when it’s nice out, especially in the fall when it’s cooler. The sunshine, cool breeze, and fresh oxygen relaxes me and helps me enjoy the moment for what it is. The hustle and bustle of people walking around town, cars driving by, the hotdog vendor barking his daily specials, it’s all about living in the here and now.
- The remainder of the work day is spent being busy, which is good so that my mind is focused on my tasks and not able to wander off and dissociate as often it normally might.
- 5:00pm – Evening before the procedure. I got home from work and went for a walk again. Listening to some music for awhile and then I decided I’d rather take in what nature was sharing with me. So the rest of my walk spent in similar fashion as my lunch time excursion.
- So far so good, I haven’t been dwelling too much on what’s coming, thank goodness.
- 7:00pm – Decided to create a short video, on mindful breathing techniques that I use to help me calm down, or stay calm and ease anxiety. Sharing what helps me will hopefully help others, and it gives me a chance to dive into some editing and keep my mind occupied on something productive and beneficial for myself and others.
- Midnight – Time to pack it in. After doing some writing and editing that Breathing video, and talking to a friend earlier, I’m pretty wiped out. Laying in bed trying to fall asleep I can see thoughts in my head and I can feel anxiety starting to creep it’s way in. So I decide to put on some music and try to clear my mind.
- Morning – Wake up and immediately hop over to my keyboard, (I won’t be doing any hopping for awhile after this procedure). I finish up writing a post that will go up later this coming week.
- I watch some TV, check out Twitter, do some breathing, and try to work through but not dwell on the flashback that happened around 10am. It’s the first time I’ve had one of those in quite awhile, months really. It figures though, just when I need a flashback the least, but I will persevere. I have too.
- Noon – Time to head out, survive, and conquer this procedure.
Well, I made it through and as of the time of writing this I am resting over the weekend and following the instructions the doctors and nurses gave me.
After checking in I was in the waiting area for a good 20 minutes or so. The anxiety began to sky rocket, so I sat in the chair and began doing my breathing. Feeling my feet on the floor and my hands on the arm rest. I counted each breathe on the inhale, hold, and exhale.
Normally I would be listening to my heavy metal, but for something like this I resorted to a quiet, relaxing, inspirational playlist. It consisted of a handful of old hymns and quiet ballads that I just put on repeat.
They called me back and right away the nurses did all they could to make me feel at ease. They were kind, gentle, non-judgmental, and made me feel as relaxed as possible. There was no rush and no pressure to move any faster than I was ready to.
I let them know well ahead of time that I have PTSD due to being an abuse survivor. I asked them to please put that in my charts and let the staff know. Thankfully they were happy to do so. I cannot stress enough the importance of doing that.
Nothing should be off the table when it comes our ability to feel safe and comforted during a traumatic experience.
- Don’t let your pride get in the way.
- Don’t let your insecurities get in the way.
Just because your friends or coworkers have told you that it’s “no big deal”, or “you’ll be just fine”, makes no difference. It doesn’t matter how others handle it, it’s about how YOU are able to handle it.
Don’t let your fear of “being a bother” or “not wanting others to give you any special treatment” get in the way of your peace of mind. Whether your procedure is elective or necessary, you have the right to ask for whatever you need to make you feel at ease.
The nurse started the IV when I gave her the OK. She let me listen to my music while she did so, and allowed me to continue listening during the wait time before I was to head back to operating room. She also checked in on me regularly before going back and asking me if I was OK and if I needed anything.
When the anesthetists came in to speak with me, they explained very thoroughly what they would do and assured me that I wouldn’t feel a thing. They told me how the medicine’s would work and how long I would be asleep. They also assured me that I would never be left alone and the same staff that started would be there at the end.
Here comes the really vulnerable part…as I sat there with the IV in my hand, sitting in the chair waiting for my turn, I was texting a friend who said they were thinking of me and praying for me. At that very moment I began to feel so overwhelmed with emotion that tears started trickled down my face.
I felt alone, wishing someone was there with me, but I was at least able to feel some peace inside that others were thinking of me and supporting me. It felt good to connect and let those feelings out, if even only for a minute or two.
As it turns out the doctor and nurses were right, I didn’t feel a thing and woke up with a nurse by my side while I came too and got my bearings. While laying there in recovery, I felt a quiet peace come over me and a feeling of “I made it!”
I’ve put together 10 easy things that you can do to help you handle this experience.
- Ask questions. I know it may seem like “duh, of course I’ll ask questions”, but no question is too small or large to ask ahead of time. Ask as much as necessary so you feel comfortable in what’s involved pre, during, and post procedure.
- Let the staff know ahead of time that you are anxious about the procedure. If you have PTSD or any mental health condition that you suffer from, share that with them and be sure they put it in your chart.
- Set up a playlist of songs, podcasts or sermons that will help you stay calm. Bring a book or a Kindle, with a good charge so you can read while you wait and are in recovery. Whatever works for you to help focus on relaxing and easing your anxiety.
- Don’t try and be a “tough guy”, or hide your emotions for fear of being ridiculed. The medical staff sees countless people every day for all types of reasons, and each person is unique. There’s likely nothing you can do or say that they haven’t already seen anyway.
- Dress comfortably. This isn’t a fashion show and you aren’t there to impress anyone. This is about you being comfortable.
- Make sure that the person(s) who will be driving you to and also back home, knows your situation and will be compassionate. They’ll be there at the appointed times and have an idea of what care is needed on the ride home and immediately after.
- Make sure your room has everything you need when you get home. The last thing you need is to be making a bed, shuffling through DVD’s, or searching for a charging cord for your devices when you are in recovery.
- Let family members and friends know that you will need time to recover and rest. Having unexpected guests drop by is likely not a good idea. If you have people that can bring meals over for you and your family, that will help ease some stress as well. Just be sure to set it up beforehand so you know who will be coming by and when.
- Have a support system in place. Let friends, and family know you may need to reach out and talk while you are recouping. Use social media to reach out for support too. Whatever you have gone through, there’s likely been someone who’s experienced it as well.
- Lastly, don’t rush through recovery or try to get back on your feet too soon. Listen to what your doctors and nurses tell you. Your body has just been through a traumatic experience, and needs time to heal.
In the end, being proactive and doing some simple planning can make all the difference in helping you survive, thrive, and conquer a medical procedure.
Photo: Getty Images