Getting ready for it… part II

And continuing the same thoughts, but for the surgery part of the question…

Depending on the surgical solution chosen, there are slightly different approaches to getting ready aligned along common themes.

Talk with the surgeon about what you’re eating, drinking and taking as supplements to ensure that you, and he, understand the implications to your coagulation factors. If you won’t be seeing him well before the surgery, put a call through to your GP. If he can’t see you, talk to the nice folks at HealthLink. And if all else fails, call the Cross.

Put on weight. ‘Bulking up’ will serve you well for the next year. Unfortunately the diagnosis-to-surgery timelines are usually so tight in these instances (hooray! for a responsive health care system!) that getting the optimal amount added to your existing body mass can be really difficult. But try.

Get flexible, get strong. Yoga, tai chi. Weight training for your upper body. Work on the neck and shoulders, and your forearms and hands. Why?

The surgery will involve cutting into targeted muscles in your neck. Make sure the rest of them are strong to speed the healing process, and to ease the discomfort after surgery. Its amazing how heavy your head actually is. And, depending on the surgical option (radical neck dissection) they may need to move a couple of nerves out of the way. Just touching and moving ‘bruises’ nerves. This interference may affect the way they behave for some time. For instance, the surgical team needed to move my ‘spinal accessory’ nerve out of the way, and then allow it to move back into place. The challenge then created was that I lost control of my right shoulder musculature, allowing the shoulder to ‘roll forward’. Good, strong shoulder muscles going in make the roll less pronounced, and should make it easier to straighten out over a shorter period of time. I still have problems with mine 16 months later; there is a numbness (area is reducing slowly, but definitely get smaller all the time), and I often need to consciously remind myself to stand up straight and square my shoulders. I should have done the weight training before the surgery. Damn.

You will need strong hands and forearms just to do things after the surgery. And, if you are going for the forearm flap option, your left arm (or whichever) needs to be in good shape. A strong hand will make things easier while the arm is splinted, and then while it is healing. The right arm and hand will need to compensate…

Aerobics; make sure the heart and lungs are in good shape. This could be as simple as starting a walking program, something that you’ll want to follow up with after the surgery, as well.
Put together the hospital kit. You are going to be in there for 10 days plus. What are you going to do with your time? But be aware that you are going to have a bit of a problem focusing, so don’t count on being able to read highly technical manuals. Crossword puzzles and sudoku will help you to bring your brain back… Reading of any kind is always good. I deliberately took my drawing pad and travelling watercolour kit to help me assess the impact of the shoulder issue; I can still draw/paint, though at first there was some major muscle fatigue. At this point, however, I must admit that my handwriting has seriously deteriorated, and that my signature is inconsistent. In an earlier era, I would suggest submitting several samples of your signature to your bank… just in case.

Buy pajamas (several sets) and at least one good terry cloth robe. Hanging around in hospital gowns is humiliating at best. Hanging around in your underwear is just being ornery, exhibitionist, and rude. Slippers; good slippers. And not those ones with no backing for the heel. I never owned slippers until this; I’m very glad that my wife thought to get me some.

Put together the home care kit. Lay in a good supply of Boost or Ensure. Soups, stews, chilis, etc. are going to become a short term staple in your diet. At one point I would have suggested getting your hands on a juicer, but we’ve discovered that it is less expensive, and more efficient to buy stuff, unless your are going to be making some really exotic blends. A good blender will serve just a s well, and better perhaps as it will be able make you ‘smoothies’. By the way, we picked up one of those Magic Bullet blenders; its great for what you’ll need in the short term. And remember to have the nurses set you up with home care visits from the public health nurse. Now the visiting nurse will make sure you’ve got the dressings (Adaptic) to deal with the forearm, and all of those good things. All you really need to cope with are things like the mucking gloves to cover the forearm flap wound when you shower and bathe, lots of good videos to watch, and books to read… and the self discipline to stop from getting hooked on the daytime ‘soaps’. We also used this episode as an excuse to buy a new couch for our family room/lounging area. We deliberately bought a big couch, which we refer to as the ‘cuddle couch’, rather than one of those La-z-boy style chair to prevent me from becoming isolated. If you have to share a couch, you are more prone to maintaining physical contact with your partner… something which you both need. A ‘special chair’ just for you frames the mindset that allows you drift away from your family, pushing them out to arm’s length, and encouraging them to start thinking of you in the third person.
Does this help at all?

One thought on “Getting ready for it… part II

  1. Thanks so much for the blog, Bruce…my dad has been reading too and it has been so helpful to him. And Congrats on the 2 babies on the way. Cindy

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