What does recovering from surgery feel like?

My sister recently got her tonsils take out as an adult (she was 19) and said it was extremely painful. I felt so bad for her! I always thought getting your tonsils taken out wasn’t a big deal and it just felt a little bit sore or tender, but I’ve heard some people say it’s worse than child birth!

The only surgery I’ve ever had was a growth removed from my neck with a scalpel when I was 14 years old. The recovery wasn’t painful at all, I think there may have been a faint ache for a couple hours or something but I’d rate it far below burning myself with a soldering iron. :eek:

Are pretty much all surgeries where there is a substantial amount of tissue cut excruciating to recover from? Or are some recoveries pretty much painless or not much of a big deal as far as suffering goes?

I don’t think there is any one answer and there are a lot of factors such as the location of the surgery, the skill of the surgeon, your particular pain tolerance that will affect the pain level and recovery time. For instance, I had all four wisdom teeth and one other tooth removed at once and felt no pain, but others have said it was very painful just getting one removed.

I’ve had surgery times:

Emergency appendectomy
Inguinal hernia
“Lumpectomy” (yes, males get breast cancer - the only significant differences are the size of the colored bits and the amount of fat).

Once you figure out that pushing the button gets you some fun drugs, it is almost tolerable :smiley:

I’ve had my tonsils out as an adult and given birth without drugs, and the tonsils were a far more painful recovery particularly after a week or so. I had this explained as the pain nerves were sliced when the tonsils were removed and the pain came back once the nerves grew back (interested to know whether this is true or not). Childbirth was more painful at the time, but I was only tender for 24 hours so so, and pretty comfortable the moment she was out.

I’ve not had any other surgery to compare to, but my friends who had c sections said their recovery wasn’t particularly painful.

As others have said, the kind of surgery really matters. I’ve had a c-section, and while it was a four-inch slice through my abdominal wall, it is a direct slice and doesn’t pull any layers away from each other, if that makes sense. After the first 48 hours I was only sore. I’d take a c-section recovery over the kind of labor I was having before it any day.

Probably a good example of how different operations can be is kidney donation. It’s a pretty minor version for the recipient, who gets one or two small, straightforward incisions. It’s a big deal pain-wise for the donor though, because the kidneys have to be removed from their membranes and stuff.

I may be a bad choice to answer this, because I’m apparently kind of freakish. I had a below-knee amputation two years ago in which I had NO pain at any time, and I was NOT on a morphine drip or anything on the level of percocet or vicodin. The only time it hurt was when I fell a couple of weeks after in PT and landed on it, busting one stitch open.

Cardiac Bypass Surgery here. The docs managed the pain quite well, I think. What I wasn’t expecting was how debilitated I was afterward. I felt like an infant for days after. Took some time to get over that.

I’ve had two inguinal hernia repairs - one on each side, about four years apart. Different surgeons did each one.

The second was far less painful than the first, and I don’t really know why. The first time I had sharp, shooting pains under the incision for a week or so if I didn’t move very carefully. The second time was really no big deal - a dull ache and a bit of stiffness, but that was it. I got off the painkillers almost immediately because the constipation they induced was far more irritating than the pain they were supposedly killing.

So… even for seemingly-identical procedures on the same person, there’s quite a bit of variance.

I had surgery that cut me from the tip my my breastbone to slightly below my navel. It—hurt, but not nearly as much as I’d prepared myself for for. Ten years later, I still very glad I had it. It saved my life.

Surgery for clavicle repair. Lots of screws and Meccano involved. 4 inch scar

4pm ish. Outside operating theatre, shitting myself at the thought of surgery. A very nice nurse points at the picture of sheep on the ceiling and asks me to count them while she does something with a needle in my hand. One sheeeeeeeepp…
7.30pm. Awake.
(sleeps again)
Strange room. (it’s a ward. I can’t remember the recovery room)
(sleeps again)
Wife beside me.
(sleeps again)
Arm in sling
(sleeps again)
wife lets me know I’ve missed dinner
(sleeps again)

feeling slightly nauseous. Room is rotating anti-clockwise at around 2rpm.
Nurse sticks something in my ear. thermometer or earwax radar perhaps.
Offers me tea and toast. I accept her kind offer.
(sleeps again)

Tea and toast arrives. Wife helps me with toast
Vomits first mouthfull of toast. Aimed contents successfully at barf bucket.
Nurse offers me something for the nausea. Stabs me in the thigh with needle the size of a ball point pen. Surprisingly no pain and it was fun to watch. And I usually hate needles.
Room slows to 1rpm.
tea and toast successfully ingested.
(sleeps again)

Pain. in surprising quantities from shoulder. Same nurse gives me a bottle of painkiller through the drip thing that I’ve got in my hand. I hadn’t noticed that before. (I notice from my chart that at no time have I been given Morphine)
(sleeps again)

Needs bathroom. Not too badly. I don’t want to use my buzzer as I think that the nurses probably have genuinely sick people to deal with, so I’ll ask the next time one of them visits to stick something in my ear. When she arrives, she helps me stand up. I go to the loo, deciding to sit down as the bog has no horizon for reference. I return towards bed when…
OHFRAKTHATHURT!!! The nurse has found some sort of stuck on electrode on my back that they left on after surgery. She removed it quickly along with some back hair. That really nipped.

It’s about midnight now. Halfway down my upper arm is numb, along with an area from my clavicle down to most of my upper left breast. I’m feeling like I’ve got four or five beers in my system. Cheap foreign beers at that. I pity the nation that has to refer to these evil ales as domestic.
(sleeps again)

6.30am ish, thermometer in ear again. Diziness level down to about one beer, but it was a good beer. Equivalent to organic real ale from the Black Isle, matured in Scotch whisky casks and left to mature in my cupboard for six months. 9.7% ABV. A good feeling.
(sleeps again)

8am ish. Breakfast. Not too bad. One of the nurses offers to help me shave, but I let him know I’m happy enough with a beard. He is kind enough to help me wash though.
(sleeps again)

10am. Physio gives me this wonderful ice pack which is replenished from an insulated ice flask at the side of my bed. Cold, but oh so comfortable. I get a book, and doze between pages.

Lunchtime. Roast beef, roast spuds, gravy and brussel sprouts. I look longingly at the sprouts. They have been boiling all morning, are white and the size of marbles. To me they look lovely, and I want to taste their mushy goodness. I realised then that I must be drugged or mentally off centre, as i have never eaten a sprout in my life, and I don’t intend to.

After lunch, I have been fed, well rested and I’m able to move around. The feelings of drunkenness have past. Some oral painkillers are keeping the pain away, and the numbness in the skin around my shoulder starts to retreat.

24 hours later and I’m feeling normal again.
TL : DR - awake, asleep, awake, drugged, pain recedes, recovers…

I recently had surgery on my trigeminal nerve, which involved cutting a hole in the side of my skull to get to it – it was almost brain surgery. I had no pain from the surgical wound on the side of my head (the operation was to stop the pain of trigeminal neuralgia), but I did spend the next week in hospital. For the first six days I couldn’t eat or drink: I was vomitting at first, but mostly it was just lack of appetite, where I really could not get much down my throat, apart from water to take the pills I was given. for some of the time I was on a drip to get some fluid into my system. Then on the seventh day I had two normal meals, and the next day I went home. I was a bit overweight before the operation, and I lost about 6 kilos from this involuntary diet – but I would not recommend this as a weight-loss method.

I had the sweat glands removed from both my armpits, about 12 years apart. The first time, on the left arm, I was 20 or so, and I honestly don’t remember the recovery. The second time, on my right arm (I’m right-handed) I was 32 and since that was just a couple years ago, I remember that recovery sucked and took forever.

The stitches kept popping and I had to keep going to the doc to have him fix it. It burned and ached for a long time. My arm got weak from not being used much. The scar isn’t really that bad but I seem to have permanent numbness in the skin on my tricep.

Having your armpits cut open is stupid and annoying! I’d venture to guess that a cut anywhere that you’re moving the skin around a lot just to move your body is annoying. I’m surprised a c-section wasn’t that annoying for Sattua (it’s hard not to use your abdomen), but maybe it’s more fun to have a baby than to lose your sweat glands. The good news is I no longer get painful infected sweat glands under my arms.

I think the biggest differences in the recoveries of the two surgeries were that 1) I was younger. Not like I’m an old lady now, but still. 2) I live alone now. I had to do stuff with my bum arm that I coulda had other people do for me back then. 3) It was my right arm instead of my left and it’s hard to not use your dominant arm.

Yep, it definitely varies a lot.

Some surgeons use more regional anaesthetic (such as a nerve block) and less general. I had my rotator cuff done that way a couple years ago and it was surprisingly easy to recover. I went home in a few hours, and only used painkillers a couple days.

Coming out of general anaesthetic can feel pretty crummy all over, as opposed to pain where the wound is.

One of the most pleasant surprises was how little pain I had after having the bottom three vertebrae in my neck fused. Truly, the bizarre complicated exhausting dreams I had the first few nights were worse than physical pain.

I had a fairly accessible tumor removed from my neck under just local anaesthetic once. The surgeon was happy to try it this way though he said patients rarely are. Unfortunately I sprayed somebody assisting him with blood, but it wasn’t my fault. I went home soon after and started taking pain meds, expecting the pain to start when the local completely wore off, but it turned out I never really had any pain worth treating. I could have gone to work, and would have if I hadn’t taken opiates.

It just varies.

Since there isn’t a single factual answer, let’s move this to IMHO from General Questions.

samclem, moderator, who had his tonsils out at 5 years old and it hurt worse than any pain I’ve had since. 65 years ago.

Eesh! Adult tonsillectomy is awful. I had mine out at around 22, and recovery was like having my throat burned for two weeks.

By comparison, having a spinal disk in my neck replaced with an artificial implant was a walk in the park. I woke up in recovery, and it was pretty much “you can get dressed and go home now.” But a lumbar spinal fusion was wicked, involving four days in the hospital and a projected 12-18 month recovery.

Some strange things:

I had heart surgery (aortic valve replacement and quadruple bypass) in August of 2012. I had the surgery on a Monday morning; was in the OR for six hours. I was vaguely conscious at night, and I remember the nighttime nurse. The following morning I spent some time just passively watching the things around me, maybe napping now and then.

And then someone mentioned the fact that it was Wednesday. I corrected her, saying that my surgery was Monday morning, so it’s now Tuesday afternoon. She confirmed that my surgery was Monday, but now it was Wednesday. So basically I wasn’t really conscious until Tuesday night. I LOST AN ENTIRE DAY.

I counted seven incisions from the surgery; the main one was 10 inches long. There were no stitches; everything was held together with glue.

Still in the ICU, they told me that coughing was good exercise for my lungs, so I decided that singing would be even better. So I decided to sing all the songs, in order, from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. I went through *Oklahoma! *and *Carousel, *and halfway through *South Pacific *when I finally fell asleep. The strange thing was, nobody complained or told me to shut up. People would briefly peak into my area, then leave. And I wasn’t singing quietly either.

The painkiller I was on was Percocet. It did a good job of masking the pain, but it had a strange side-effect: it made me very paranoid. I started questioning whether they performed the right kind of surgery on me. When I got to my private room, I questioned who was paying for it and I questioned the strange tv channels I was getting. Then I saw a show about Hitler, and how his extended family had all sorts of mental diseases. I concluded from this that Hitler was alive, and he knew where I was, and I was too weak to fight back. When I told the nurse, she had me put on Tramadol, which was WONDERFUL.

You haven’t experienced all that life has to offer, until you’re on a diet that’s low-fat, low-salt, low-carbs, low-sugar and low-protein.

A word to the wise: If you’re not supposed to get out of bed, don’t try. I was so tired of being in bed, I just wanted to stand up. It took me a good ten minutes to pull myself up, and as soon as my legs went over the side of the bed, an alarm went on, and people rushed into the room to see whether I’d fallen out of bed. So they locked the bed (I figured out the code in about three minutes) and put a “FALL RISK” band on my wrist (I still have it).

My greatest post-surgical event was the first time I could poop. They kept asking me whether I had pooped, and I felt like a complete failure. Then one day, I think it was day 5, when I finally produced a small turd. There was so much excitement. We were all chanting: “Poop at last, poop at last, thank God almighty, poop at last!”

I’ve had:

  1. lingual frenectomy with a local anesthetic and no pain meds of any kind afterward. That was extremely painful for several days. I was 17, I think, and it made me cry. Probably the worst pain I have had.

  2. All four wisdom teeth cut out. Painful, but tolerable with appropriate meds and heat/ice packs.

  3. D&C to remove uterine polyps and excess tissue. Pretty sucky, but I was able to go to a movie that night and back to work in three days.

  4. Microdiscectomy for a nasty ruptured disk in my lower back. I felt better leaving the hospital than I did going in. The worst part was having so many restrictions on what I could do when I felt like I could do a lot more. I think I had a very small spinal fluid leak that caused some dizziness, but that was the worst of it. I only took my pain meds recreationally because I was bored.

  5. Lap-band (laparoscopic gastric band placement). The medical gas that they blow you up with to do laparoscopic surgery really sucks! I had what I called my “sweater vest of pain.” Referred pain from the gas on my diaphragm caused terrible aching in my shoulders, plus it hurt to breathe deeply. I went back to work after five days, but would have preferred a whole week.

  6. I’m planning to donate a kidney soon if pass the rest of the tests. I’ll probably start a thread on that. I think it will be unpleasant.

I’ve had three surgeries, if you count the removal of wisdom teeth. That was when I was 18; it wasn’t too bad, and it probably would have been better if I’d followed instructions and refrained from smoking. The second was a thyroidectomy when I was 32. Surgical recovery wasn’t bad for that one; I don’t remember a lot of pain once I was out of the hospital. The third, when I was 38, was a chevron bunionectomy, where the surgeon took a wedge out of my first metatarsal joint and pinned it back together with a metal spike. That one took eight solid weeks of recovery and I will never, ever have it done again, even though my left foot is now just as bad as my right one ever was.

I’ve also given birth twice. The beauty of childbirth pain is that it’s fairly short-lived and it produces something that’s designed to take your mind off the experience.

I’ve never had too many issues with post-surgical pain. I usually don’t need the amount of pain medication I’ve been prescribed.

But I’m always really tired after surgery. On the surface, that seems wrong - surgery happens while you’re “asleep” so you’d think you’d feel rested. But I’ve heard that surgery is actually a pretty extreme physical exertion for your body even if you’re unconscious during it - it’s the equivalent of a hard work-out in terms of the energy your body uses.

The other thing I’ve often experienced is memory problems from the anesthesia. I used to have a blackout in my memory that would extend from about an hour before surgery to some time afterwards. But for some reason once I realized this, the blackout became much less severe. I guess once I started expecting it, it somehow overrode the blackout effect and now I remember everything before the surgery - I can even remember being wheeled into the operating room for my last two surgeries. But what I still have is problems with my post-surgery memories - for several hours afterwards I can be fully awake and engage in lucid conversations with people but I won’t remember anything more than a few random snatches of this later on. I’ve told people this and warned them there’s no point in having a conversation with me during this time because we’ll have to have the same conversation again the next day.

How odd… in addition to my c-section, those are exactly the surgeries I’ve had. The first two gave me just soreness as long as I was careful not to stress the incision sites (and there was no way to stress the wisdom tooth incisions). My D&C was completely pain free, for which I am extremely grateful.