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What to expect after surgery – Ogden Clinic provided source, Standard-Examiner 1/16/2015

(Standard-Examiner) OGDEN - The Centers for Disease Control reports there are 51.4 million surgeries performed each year in the United States.

Before undergoing the knife, many patients feel they are well informed about the procedure and they are relieved when it’s over. But what about post-surgery? How many people realize they’re going to be tired, weak, in pain, will have limited function and may even become depressed?

An article published in Harvard Magazine states when people are healthy, they tend to think of their bodies as somehow intact. Major surgery can shatter that image, and with it, the concept of self-sustaining health. The feelings of mortality, loss, and of vulnerability can be profound.

Dr. Wade B. Larsen, a general surgeon at Tanner Clinic said it’s very typical for people to feel fatigued and have a poor appetite, be in pain and to generally just not feel like themselves for six to eight weeks after surgery.

“The reason for this is the very complex physiology that accompanies the stress of surgery,” he said. “My observation is that in our society today where we expect things right now and the marketing of many surgical procedures as less painful or even painless has caused an unrealistic expectation for what really takes our bodies six to eight weeks to do on their own. There are entire chapters in surgical text books discussing the complexity of healing.”

Dr. Sheila Garvey, a general surgeon at Ogden Clinic, also said major surgery can take up to a year for a person to fully recover. That’s because being cut open and having something removed or replaced is extremely invasive to your body and it takes time for things to return back to normal.

Scott Wesche, clinic manager and physical therapist for Stewart Rehabilitation at McKay-Dee Hospital, said every patient is different.

“We come to the surgical table, so to speak, with different and unique body systems. Some are older with a health condition that slows the healing process,” he said. “Some have had past injuries or surgeries which change the time needed to recover.”

Dr. Jeffrey D. Harrison, an orthopedic surgeon at Calton-Harrison Clinic and head team physician for Women’s Alpine for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, said typically connective tissue takes up to six weeks to heal, followed by another six weeks to get your strength and motion back.

“So with most surgeries, patients will not be recovered for a minimum of three months,” he said. “Most patients are recovered in six to nine months, although, especially in bigger surgeries, it make take (up to a year) to get back their full strength.”

There is also another common condition after surgery that many people may not be aware of — postoperative depression. Larsen said some people can even become clinically depressed after a surgical procedure. The reasons are many and can include pain, narcotic medications and a family history of anxiety and depression.

“There are numerous scientific studies looking at this. Some types of surgery are more commonly associated with this phenomenon,” Larsen said. “Coronary artery bypass, a type of open heart surgery, is one common example. Elderly patients commonly become confused and agitated after surgery and this is a temporary problem.”

Other types of surgery that commonly result in depressed patients include hip replacement surgery, brain surgery and bariatric surgery, according to

Wesche said there are many reasons for being depressed after surgery.

“Individuals may be depressed because they are unable to function normally. This is temporary,” he said. “Pain can be a reason for depression after surgery, so pain management is important.”

Wesche also said not being able to exercise after surgery may cause depression. And medication side effects can also influence our moods.

“It is very normal for someone to be emotional and depressed after surgery, and even prior,” Garvey said. “If you are having major surgery, you should be scared, and won’t and shouldn’t feel good afterwards. The best way to deal with this would be to know as much as one can prior to their surgery and not have unrealistic expectations of a speedy recovery. Talk to your doctor and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Harrison said many of his patients are extremely active in sports or exercise routines and undergoing surgery can cause them to lose their normal release of endorphins, or the feel-good chemicals released in the brain. Being taken out of this routine causes the endorphins to decrease, leading to a higher risk of depression. He said because of this, he encourages his patients to get back to their normal routines as soon as possible, but to modify them so they don’t have a setback.

It’s also very important to be well informed if you’re facing surgery. Ask questions, and don’t leave until you’re satisfied with the answers. Don’t just ask questions about the surgery itself, but ask your doctor what to expect once you get home, how long it will take to feel better, when you can resume your normal activities, and how to deal with any emotional issues.

And before you stop taking any kind of medication, ask your doctor for help.

“Each person is different in terms of how long and even what type of pain medication they are taking after surgery,” Larsen said. “Since we are all different, perception of pain is unique for each of us. The safest way to stop taking pain medication depends on how long the individual has been taking it. For long-term use more than two or so weeks, increase the time interval between doses over several days until you don’t need meds anymore.”