Recovery from Surgery

By John Hohn

If you haven’t had surgery, odds are you will at some time, especially if you are 65 or older. The Texas Heart Institute reports over 600,000 coronary bypass and heart valve surgeries are performed each year. Joint replacement surgeries are increasing also.

My number came up in 2015, just a couple months after my 76th birthday. I was walking our dog one sunny afternoon when suddenly I could barely make it back home for the pain in my chest. A quick check up, a few tests, and I was scheduled for a triple bypass.

I went into the surgery not knowing what to expect. The months that followed taught me a lot.

Recovery from major surgery can take months. Muscles that once worked just fine become sluggish and weak. Fatigue haunts every moment. If you are out of shape—overweight, drink too much, smoke (God forbid) or  are breathless after a flight of stairs—you’re in for a rough time. Nobody is going to go easy on you in the hospital. Caregivers get patients walking as soon as possible to prevent blood clots or an embolism. Recuperation is hard work.

Surgery to the upper body means you will be expected to raise yourself out of a sitting position without using your arms. Knee and hip replacement also will be limiting. If you are weary after light yard work or walking the aisles of the supermarket, you will have no reserve to contend with the shock to your system. Exhaustion will weigh you down all too quickly.

The fatigued patient also is an easy target for depression. You’ve had a brush with the grim reaper. You’re not going to live forever. Unfinished business and unresolved conflicts become indictments. You may feel you are letting down loved ones who depend on you. Fatigue can deprive you of the energy to keep these self-defeating thoughts at bay.

The worst thing you can do is surrender to the fatigue. “Do everything they tell you,” a friend wrote. I took his advice. I set goals. At first, I walked to my neighbor’s house and back, about 100 yards. Once I achieved that, I set a new destination and continued until I could walk for 25 to 30 minutes without getting tired. I kept challenging myself. It means finding the gumption every day.

There is a lot that you can do to speed your recovery and improve your enjoyment of life before surgery becomes necessary. Resolve to get into better physical condition. Join a gym. Get a trainer to help you. If that’s asking too much, at least walk for 30 minutes every day. Raise yourself out of your chair without using your arms. Climb stairs for the heck of it.

Maintaining vitality is caring for the spirit, every bit as important as staying in good physical shape. Read. Discuss your reading with others. Watch sports. Play board games. Listen to music. Put puzzles together. Dance. Meditate.

It may be a year or more before you feel like your old self. You will make it. Be as strong as you can at your age. Your spirit is ageless. Inspire it to be more vital than ever. Look for the ageless moments each day when you laugh, when you daydream, sing, and allow yourself to feel love for others and loved in return. You will recover more quickly and others around you will be happier as well.

John J. Hohn contributes regularly to web sites dedicated to writing and publishing. His website,, features book & drama reviews, autobiographical sketches, & social commentary. Hohn graduated with an English degree from St. John’s University, MN. He resides with his wife Melinda in Winston-Salem. He is the author of two novels and is co-founder of the 40+ Stage Company in Winston-Salem.


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