You only have one chance to recover well after surgery, so make it count!
The most important thing to heal well after surgery is to listen to your body. Take everything easy and slow, and your recovery will be a smooth one.
1. Have a support system in place, then use them!
Before your surgery, you’ll want to identify some friends, family, and/or trained professionals who can help facilitate the smoothest and quickest recovery. This can mean different things for different folks: it could mean the people who will be by your side physically for the first few days, it could mean loved ones you call after surgery for a pick-me-up. You may feel excited, nervous, full of energy, in pain, or simply totally wiped — it’s helpful to share how you’re feeling with others to have the most positive experience. Of course, physically supporting you is just as important: if you need help reaching something, for example, ask for help instead of stretching out for it. They are there to help you!
(If you don’t have a support system who can help take care of you post-op, contact the LGBTQ center of wherever your surgeon is located to see if there are support resources available to you. Places like the New Beginnings Retreat Center in Florida offer an on-property nurse, transportation to and from all doctor’s appointments, food, lodging, and much more, allowing you to focus more on your recovery without worry.)
2. Let yourself sleep the first couple days.
Everyone recovers differently. Following your surgery, your body will need time to heal, and it does this when you are relaxing and sleeping. When you’re feeling groggy or sleepy, listen to your body, lay down on a bed or a pillow fort or wherever you’re most comfortable, and rest. If you’re taking any painkillers, you may be extra tired. Allow yourself to doze in and out of the day if you need to.
3. When you are able, stretch your legs a bit outside — just don’t overdo it.
You may be dealing with a serious case of cabin fever, so when you are feeling physically up to it, try to go for a walk outside or ask someone to take you for a drive around town. It’ll help get the blood flowing and clear your mind a little without being too much of a strain on your body as you recover.
4. Snacks, snacks, snacks.
You may not have much of an appetite for the first couple days post-op. If you’ve had top surgery, for example, the bandages wrapped around your chest might make you not feel much like eating. Or, with any surgery, painkillers can sometimes cause you to feel uneasy or not hungry. Don’t plan on eating regular-sized meals and instead try to snack throughout the day to keep your energy up. Some folks say that after surgery they eat as if they have a cold: tons of fluids like soups, maybe some fruit, yogurt, or bread. Plus, these things are easy to prepare beforehand or take no prep at all so you won’t have to move too much.
5. When you have a full appetite, eat right.
Try to eat meals high in protein like meats and beans, as protein is essential to your body’s healing process. Vitamin C, B12, and iron are also important with healing and boosting your immune system, so fruits, fish, and eggs are also good to eat. Also, tons of folks have some digestive issues from the stress of surgery and from pain medication, so try to incorporate more fiber in your diet. 🙂 Pro-tip: avoid sugary foods when recovering because the sugar will fluctuate your blood sugar levels and leave you even more fatigued.
If you have questions about your diet post-op, talk with your doctor.
6. Netflix is great, but keep your mind busy, too.
So it’s day three and you’re done binge-watching Parks and Recreation and Sense8… now what? Try board games, drawing or painting, crossword puzzles, or other fun tasks that keep your mind and hands busy without straining your body.
7. Avoid heavy lifting and exercise a few extra weeks more than your surgeon recommends.
We get it — you might hate bedrest and can’t wait to get in the gym, ride your bike, or go for a run. In the present moment, we get how frustrating it could be to have to wait to get back to your normal routine, but for the long term, being extra cautious means less chance to injure yourself, cause worsened scarring, or create other lasting complications. Your surgeon and the type of gender-conforming surgery you’ve had will affect how long you may have to wait.
(If you work a job that requires heavy lifting, talk to your doctor about getting an additional note for your employer or, if it’s safe to do so, you might choose to talk to your employer about your recovery directly.)