Experience Hurts — When Avoidance Means You Were Paying Attention

There’s an ongoing debate about whether or not experience is the best teacher. There are lots of lessons I’d rather not learn by going through it. Lots. But sometimes, it is true that until we experience a specific challenge, there’s no way to predict how well we’ll handle it (emotionally and physically).

Even though it’s been six years since I had my first shoulder surgery, I remember it well. Too well…all because I didn’t do too well and it was my fault. I had this assumption that since I’d observed other people getting operated on, watched their smooth recoveries, that mine would follow this same pattern. Wrong.

Enduring a difficult recovery is no fun but realizing much of the pain could have been avoided makes it even harder to take. In retrospect, I did experience a learning curve (after the fact) and what I discovered was 1) I should have addressed the stress in my life at that time and 2) better understood there were some simple practical preparations I should have made.

Today, some years later (on this side of surgery), I know a lot more. Still, when I talk with women, many are approaching medical procedures just like I did six years ago. Now I share my experience (what I did right – what I did wrong) to spare them a trip to “life’s woodshed.”

If you’re curious about some simple ways to make yourself strong for surgery…Dr.Christopher Foetisch, orthopedic surgeon, offers some terrific recommendations to prepare for a surgical procedure of any kind.

The most effective pre-surgical steps patients can take encompass readying both the mind and body.


– Stress, depression and anxiety prior to surgery all have been linked to poor recovery after surgery.

Note also that elevated levels of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone, negatively affect wound healing. High cortisol levels dampen the immune response. As a result, this imbalance can delay healing while increasing the risk for wound problems such as post-surgical infections.

– Any surgical procedure places an increased demand on the body. As a result, protein and calorie needs are increased 20-50 percent over normal requirements.

Without enough dietary protein, the body must break down muscle and organ tissue that can impair the immune system and deplete energy and strength needed for recovery.

– Exercise has a clearly demonstrated a positive effect on surgical outcomes.

According to a 2005 report from the Journal of Gerontology, wounds heal 25 percent faster in those patients who exercised three weeks before surgery compared to those who maintained their normal routines.

Additionally, exercise improves circulation and strength that lead to increased mobility after surgery.

HOW WE THINK: Making Your Mental Expectations Work for You

– Individuals need to embrace a “can do” attitude.

Those patients who are invested in their own recovery typically do extremely well relative to those who are apprehensive or anxious prior to surgery.

– The power of positive thinking does go a long way.

Most often, if an individual thinks she will do well, she does. Flip side, when a person anticipates struggling or frets about experiencing potential problems after surgery, that individual’s recovery will be much tougher.

– Adopt reasonable expectations.

Getting well takes time and patients must be willing to commit both emotionally and physically to the recovery process to create the best environment for healing strong.

WHAT TO DO: Simple Measures for Positive Results

– Make sure to eat a balanced diet that has adequate protein intake.

– Exercise for a minimum of three weeks before surgery.

– Avoid pre-surgical stress and anxiety or consider delaying an elective procedure until the intense season has passed or can be managed more easily.

– Ask yourself self-check questions regarding your overall attitude toward the surgical procedure and your willingness to be committed fully to the recovery process.


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