5 things nobody prepares YOU for when your partner recovers from surgery

February 4 2015 | Guest post by LarraKyleen

5 things nobody prepares YOU for after your trans partners top surgery

I thought I knew what to expect when my partner went in for his top surgery. We had done hours of research, compiled lists, packed our bags, asked all the questions we could think of, and I was pretty sure that I was prepared for whatever the healing process would throw at us.

For the most part everything that occurred was expected, but boy did that week throw me some doozies that I never could have anticipated…

1.You cannot do it all by yourself (especially if you're smaller than your partner)

Alex and I had to travel five hours north for his surgery, so we elected to stay in a local hotel for the week following the procedure so that we could easily return for the two post-op visits (one the day after for a check-in and one a week later for drain and nipple dressing removal). While this was a very good choice for his physical comfort, the timing of his surgery meant that nobody else was able to come with us, so I was left doing all of his care by myself, which proved to be very physically taxing for someone who is 5'2" and sedentary at best.

2. You will have no personal time at all

I think that I spent less than an hour by myself for the entire week we were in the hotel, partially because Alex needed me almost constantly, but also because even when he didn't need me, I was afraid to leave him alone in case he did. We made it work, but it would have been a million times easier if I had had someone to help me.

3. You will, at some point, feel exasperated and/or frustrated with your partner, and that's okay

Having to spend every waking moment caring for the needs of another full grown (and usually very independent) adult would test the patience of a nun, and I assure you, I'm far from a nun. If, like myself, you don't have children or anyone else who depends on you for all of their personal needs, it's easy to get frustrated when someone else needs you constantly.

4. You will feel horribly guilty every time your partner is in pain, even if it's not your fault and there is nothing you can do about it

Every time I had to drive Alex anywhere the tiniest bump in the road would jostle his drains and make him wince and whimper in pain, and this is coming from a guy who will tough out the nastiest of migraines just because he doesn't like to take drugs. Each and every time this happened I felt so guilty. Once when I was helping him adjust himself in bed, I bumped his surgical drain, causing him to shout in pain, which resulted in me bursting into tears and locking myself in the bathroom for ten minutes.

5. All of the exhaustion and frustration will be worth it when your partner reaches a milestone in their recovery

In the week following Alex's recovery, I found myself celebrating things I never thought I would be excited about a grown man doing. "Baby! You put your shorts on by yourself!" "You ate a hot dog unassisted!" Even just watching Alex laugh after a particularly stressful day was such a joyful moment for me. Cherish those achievements, celebrate the little things, and remember that your partner is taking a huge step that requires immense bravery to become their most authentic self, and you will get through it together just fine.

I would love to hear from other Homies about what surprises their or their partner's recovery brought. What experiences did you find yourself celebrating or muddling through?

  1. Thank you for this post! I'm sending this to my partner for future reference – I'm hoping to have top surgery in the next couple years.

    3 agree
  2. #5 never really concretely happened for me (after partner tore his shoulder). We were living in constant misery and frustration for months, because recovery took much longer than anticipated. So he'd do something semi-normal, but then he'd be in outrageous amounts of pain. After nearly one major injury every winter that we've been together, I'm really praying this year breaks the cycle before it breaks us!

    • I certainly hope life brings you both health and a break from the pain! We were so blessed that Alex is a naturally fast healer, but readjusting to "normal" life was a challenge, especially since we both had to go immediately back to a full course load at school when we returned. You'll both be in our thoughts for happiness and good vibes in the future!

  3. All of this yes! I've been on both sides, first taking care of my husband after serious eye surgery (far more complicated than LASIK), and again as the patient when I had cancer. Best recommendation is to get help & accept help. We thought we could do it ourselves, but damn, it's hard!

    There are so many little things, from followup appointments to changing dressings go just making dinner. You're exhausted. Let friends & family help — but give them specific tasks if you can. I remember the 1st night after my husband's surgery when our parents were there & being busybodies. I got so frustrated, I finally yelled a them to get out. And that's so unlike me & we usually get along great. It was just so stressful. But the afterwards, we settled into some things like person X helps with appointments & person X helps with dinners, & that was super useful.

    Before my cancer surgery & treatment, we setup a whole system where ppl brought dinners, & that was a real lifesaver. Decide what you can outsource or give to someone else to do, bec. one partner is just not enough after major surgery.

    3 agree
  4. My husband is having pretty invasive surgery at some point this spring, so this could not have come at a better time. Thank you. Admittedly I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about how much it's going to throw off MY routine as well as his, which feels really selfish, but this post reminded me that that's part of the process, too. Surgery blows, even when the eventual results are completely necessary and worth it.

    4 agree
  5. When my husband had "bottom" surgery last year, we spent two+ weeks living out of a hotel. The two things I would most recommend (in addition to this great list!): Be prepared to advocate for your partner, tenaciously. Don't assume the nurses know best, especially with an unusual surgery. And if you can, choose an extended-stay hotel. I can't imagine spending two weeks living off of restaurant food and what I could prepare without a kitchen. People recovering from surgery need healthy food!

    9 agree
    • Absolutely! I was Alex's designated advocate and "keeper of information" from his first consult to his final follow-up because he gets easily overwhelmed and was obviously distracted by nervousness and pain.
      Also, I would definitely elect for a suite with a kitchen if we had it to do again. We got by ordering delivery and cooking in the hotel's microwave, but a kitchen would have made life much easier!

      2 agree
  6. This comes just as my husband is recovering from an Achilles tendon repair. It's definitely "minor" as far as surgeries go, but it still required that he be non-weight-bearing on his left leg, using crutches for a solid month. We live in a two-story house with a finished basement, and he spent the majority of his "elevate your leg for 20 hours a day" recovery period in the basement, trying to entertain himself by playing video games. And yeah, I definitely got frustrated with him, and then felt bad about myself. We are childfree by choice, and having him that dependent on me was stressful. He's usually the one who cooks dinner, and he's always at work for lunch, so having to suddenly prepare all of those meals was an abrupt change. I was also nervous to leave him alone, lest he fall down the stairs while trying to navigate on his crutches. I didn't think it would be a big deal, but it was.

    4 agree
  7. This is timely in advanced for me! I will need an organ transplant some time in the next decade or so, and even though it's not immediate right now, planning for the surgery feels very stressful.

    This reinforces my thought that my mom needs to be around whenever/wherever my surgery occurs, just to give my husband a break.

    Luckily, I'm tiny so it isn't too hard to help me up. But I am worried about being so incapacitated and a burden on my friends and family as I recover. Advanced planning ftw!

    1 agrees
  8. I was so lucky to have extensive help from my in-laws while my husband was recovering from cancer surgery/radiation this past summer. I addition to the great list above, here are some things I didn't expect:

    * I felt guilt for looking forward to the day when my in-laws would leave, even while I was so, so grateful beyond words that they were taking so much on themselves.
    * I cherished the little time we had alone together, even if it was while I was helping him shower or other personal matters.
    * Recovery is definitely not a linear process – I was so frustrated and felt almost hopeless every time my husband felt worse or was more limited than the day before, even when he was on a general upward trend

    4 agree
  9. I don't have any experience with nursing my husband after surgery, but I do have experience dealing with his chronic illness and a lot of it feels the same. Especially the first 3 points.

    4 agree
  10. Wait, did my husband secretly write this under a pen name and submit it?! I watched him go through all these things at the hospital with me last month (and in the weeks of non-linear recovery since then).

    3 agree
  11. The interesting thing about this article is that it was written specifically about top surgery recovery, but while I was reading it, I was like "No wait! I went through ALL of this while helping being with Aaron post-shark attack." I realized this must be a pretty universal experience.

    11 agree
  12. All of the above apply.
    Two weeks after I married my husband, he had to undergo lymphectomy surgery. If you know anyone who has had lymph nodes removed such as breast cancer survivors, you know that the lymph fluid just sortof builds up and has nowhere to go. I was around when his surgical site burst with lymph fluid (during newlywed sexy times! yikes!). So I got to help pack the wound. I was also around when the surgical site went septic, and I had to rush my barely-conscious husband to the emergency room.

    1 agrees
  13. So interesting to see this today; we just got home from my husband's pre-op appointment with the anaesthesiologist- his top surgery is in one week! He's going to stay overnight at the hospital, in a private room, so I'm hoping there is a reclining chair or something I can sleep in to stay with him. If not, I might hit up a friend who's 15 min away to crash at their place. I still have lots of questions, like- will he be able to go upstairs to sleep in bed, or should we set up something downstairs? How long will it take for him to be able to feed himself? Can he take a shower before he gets his drains out, or will sponge baths be in order? Will he be able to get in and out of bed with just some assistance, or do I need to find someone to help lift him? Should I get a bedpan? Should I ask for help from neighbors/friends with meal prep for the first couple of days that we are home? Or will I be able to be in the kitchen for 20 minutes while he's in the livingroom or upstairs?
    So exciting, but so nerve-wracking.

    1 agrees
    • Congrats to you both! Definitely make a list of these questions to ask your surgeon, as my answers are only from our experience and every recovery is different!
      For us, Alex was VERY uncomfortable walking anywhere, but stair were definitely worse. He was feeding himself about 4 days post op, but if he was very tired or his pain was high, he still required help up to a couple weeks post op. Our surgeon told us that Alex could shower with the drains, but it made him sore and nervous, so we stuck to sponge baths. Alex required help out of bed for about two weeks, but that will depend on pain levels. He did not, however, need a bed pan.
      Again, though, ask your surgeon all of your questions, as they may have different advice.
      Best of luck for a quick and easy recovery!

      2 agree
  14. This is coming at a super timely manner – my Fiance will have to have shoulder surgery very soon and he's a stubborn pain in the ass about taking drugs when he doesn't feel good on a regular basis.

    Thanks for posting this, will be bookmarking.

  15. As someone who is still on the road to recovery from spinal surgery let me add (of course I am seeing this from the side of the injured) there will be times when your partner is shitty/angry/upset. It's not your fault! Even if they are taking it out on you understand that it is not your fault. Major surgery and being so unbelievably limited afterwards sucks, really, really sucks. I felt like screaming and crying when I dropped my underwear whilst trying to dress myself and would have to call for my partner to pick it up for me. I was in hospital for a week, even then, I had to get my partner to do stuff for me because I could barley move. It sucked. If I wanted to watch a movie in the hospital I would get him to set up the laptop for me before he left because it was to heavy for me to move. It's a very stressful time emotionally even if the patient is coping very well (and according to all external observers I copped wonderfully yet it still sucks). As a side note, even when to you, your partner seems better, it does not mean they can do everything they used to. Recovery can take a long time. I look normal, I can walk again and sit in a chair and drive however there is still a lot I can't do but my partner doesn't seem to understand that because I can do so much more than when I was at my worst.

    6 agree
    • This! So much. I'm six months out from a rotator cuff repair but I'm still having a lot of difficulty (there is excess scar tissue building up, also known as a frozen joint) and it's terribly frustrating.

      I'm so lucky to live with my dad and that he's so understanding. I've had to have him hook my bra for me so many time recently. That reach behind the back is excruciating. But every time, I'm embarrassed and frustrated that I even have to ask. I know I've been snippy sometimes but it's hard not to fall into that occasionally. Understanding is so important.

      The frustration is also not helped by outwardly looking perfectly healed. I have three scars all less than an inch in length and they are all pretty faint. So there's that dissonance of "I look healed. Why can't it be back to normal yet?"

      1 agrees
      • Just a quick tip if you hadn't thought of it yet: You can put on your bra by hooking it in front of your stomach (that's how I learned it from the beginning). Just pass it around your back so that it's hanging upside down inside out behind your back and hook it under your breasts, then pull it around so that the cups are in front and pull the shoulder straps up. I dont know whether this is more managable, but you could try if you wanted to.

    • Oh wow, yes! This!
      When I had slipped a disk, I was poor and had no insurance, and I was in constant pain for 8 months, couldn't even walk for 4 of them (except trips to the bathroom crying and almost fainting). I had to ask my friends for help, and I HATE asking for help. Autonomous me needed someone to go shopping, cook, walk the dog, I couldn't even open the fucking blinds!

      I would love to tell you that this experience made me patient, loving and wise beyond my years. However, it was mostly the opposite. Being in pain, worries about finances and needing help made me short-tempered and unfair. I was really sad about that, thinking that, on top of needing help, I apparently was also a bad person!

      One time, when a friend came over to help with a few things, we ran out of topics to talk about, but I was in a lot of pain and needed distraction in order to keep myself together. I asked him to talk. Tell a random story, whatever. He said he couldn't think of anything. I said
      "Talk, just talk, or else I will start to cry from the pain and I don't want to."
      He said he was sorry and that his mind was blank.
      So I screamed at him to get the fuck out.

      That was one of the darkest times in my life, and I really am not proud of myself although I did change and it made me somewhat patient, loving and wise. This experience surely helped me to cope when I had my cesarean and a baby and was exhausted, however, I still snapped at my husband sometimes.

      So, what I want to say is:
      People in pain and maybe despair can be mean. Pain can be present constantly, even if it's invisible to you, and it certainly can break people. Please don't turn away from them and don't take it personally.

      5 agree
  16. Aaaand I just put out a request to friend for frozen meals for the week following my breast reduction. My husband is taking a week off work, but we have a toddler, and we're moving 10 days later. This was very very helpful for me!

  17. It's so good to hear people all have the same problems! I went through this when my husband has shoulder surgery and in return he has to care for me while recovering from back reconstruction surgery.
    Do ask for help! I wouldn't be walking today if it wasn't for the help of friends and family. I needed 24 he care for 3 months and everyone went through these motions watching me trying to walk and be as weak as a child. But it really does make you realise who the people are who care and matter in your life.
    There are many issues in which the person recovering goes through too, mainly fustration, but eventually you come out on top.
    Wish none of you have to go through surgery, and for you who have, get fixed soon

  18. This came at the perfect timing! My hubs and I are preparing for my third and most difficult endometriosis surgery… Hopefully it'll be the last and our solution to not being pregnant yet. And we will also be traveling out of the area (about 4 hrs) for the surgery. We opted to get a hotel room for the post-op since I won't be able to travel for long distances. I have tried to explain the difficult recovery process and luckily my parents will be with us the first night. But I have yet to fully explain how hard, and stressful, it will be for him during this journey.
    Thank you so much for letting me have one less worry by forwarding your article to him. Much Love!

  19. Thank you so much for this post. My husband had major surgery yesterday and I'm having way more trouble coping than I thought I would. I could not agree more about having help. My mother-in-law and I are both there with him as much as possible, but having someone else to take over when I need some time away is priceless.

    All of the comments about having a hotel post-op: thank you! I've really been wondering if driving back home (3 hours) for a week once he gets discharged from the hospital – and then driving BACK a week later to get his drains and feeding tube out – is really the best idea. I think we'll definitely try to find an extended stay hotel for that week, so we can stick close to the doctors.

    • So glad it could help! I hope everything went well for you! Staying close definitely calmed my nerves, especially when A had a pretty wicked allergic reaction to the surgical adhesives. I felt much better knowing that the hospital was close!

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