Admittedly, this is a rather niche blog post. But I think it’s a necessary one. I have panic disorder and I recently had septoplasty surgery.
If you’re in the same boat, I have advice for you. What follows is my “if I could turn back time” wish list. I hope you find it useful as you prepare for your surgery and work toward reducing your anxiety about the procedure:
1. Ask your surgeon lots of questions. I didn’t find the proper balance between knowing and NOT knowing what I was getting myself into. At my final pre-op appointment, I should have asked questions about how long the recovery period would take, how much bleeding might occur after the surgery, and the nature of each post-op follow-up visit.
2. Avoid Google. Yes, you’ve probably already Googled “septoplasty anxiety” if you’ve found this blog post. But don’t dig too deeply. One of my biggest regrets was reading blog posts about septoplasty horror stories. It only amped me up and created more fear than necessary for what my surgeon advised me would be a safe and simple procedure.
Talking to your surgeon > looking at the big bad internet.
3. Practice breathing out of your mouth for a day prior to the surgery. If they pack your nose, you WILL have to spend at least 24 hours breathing exclusively out of your mouth. This is a pain in the ass for many reasons, but for those of us with anxiety issues, it can really disrupt what feels like the natural flow of breathing.
I kept hyperventilating when my nose was packed, which further revved up my nervous system, and led to a very high anxiety level. If you can learn to mouth breathe slowly and calmly before your procedure, you will be better prepared than I was.
4. Treat your body kindly in the week leading up to your surgery. General anesthesia knocked the crap out of me in a very pronounced way. For three days following my surgery, I shook like a leaf almost constantly. My nose and my head hurt, so I didn’t get much sleep, either. If I had prepared myself by getting a good night’s sleep for the week leading up to surgery, I feel like I’d have been better able to handle the post-op discomfort.
5. Buy a humidifier. You’ll need it. Or, schedule your surgery for a time of year that tends to be humid where you live. (Yeah. I scheduled mine for December and I’ve been hugging my humidifier ever since.)
6. Identify anything about the hospital environment that might be triggering, and work on de-sensitizing yourself to those triggers well in advance of your surgery. I hate hospitals, so even walking into the hospital made me feel anxious.
My other unanticipated surgery-day triggers included the following: wearing a hospital gown, having to relinquish all of my “safe items” to my husband in the waiting room, dealing with my uncomfortably empty stomach, getting the catheter inserted into my wrist, and anesthesiologists inserting vials into the catheter without telling me exactly what they were doing.
7. Prepare some post-op distractions. Do uncomfortable physiological sensations cause you to get very anxious or panic? After my surgery, I was in a recovery room for about an hour before they released me to a secondary recovery room where I could re-unite with both my husband and all of my belongings. I was a miserable post-anesthesia wreck: my nose was stuffed with painful packing, I was nauseous, and I could hardly feel my legs.
Two things that I was grateful to have: a pen (so I could mindlessly draw in an attempt to urge the time to roll by) and my iPad. Yes, the hospital had WiFi. Yes, I used Netflix to watch some mind-numbing sitcoms as the anesthesia wore off. It really helped to focus my attention on the external world (and not my body). I wish I’d had some sort of puzzle book, too. Something about working on simple word games tends to calm and focus my mind.
8. Plan to take some time off for recovery. I’d honestly expected that, three days after the surgery, I’d be blogging again and preparing for the classes I’m teaching in the spring semester. Oh, and celebrating the holidays.
Recovery definitely took some time. Do your best to tie up any loose ends at work before taking time off for your procedure. Then, allot yourself enough recovery time. Now, the definition of “enough” might vary from person to person, but I didn’t feel capable of doing anything work-related for at least a full week. I couldn’t work (which involves reading and writing, mostly) at my normal level of productivity until about two weeks after my surgery. You’ll feel better knowing you have a sizable window of time during which to recover, so plan ahead to make that happen.
It’s been one month since my surgery, and I don’t regret it. I do, however, regret not prepping myself to handle some of the anxiety-triggering experiences I’d encountered both pre- and post-op. Proper mental preparation can put you in a much better place than I!