As I prepared for my upcoming surgery, I did what a lot of people would do I turned to the world wide web for some information on what to expect. Other than medical references and sources written by doctors, I couldn't really find much information from athletes who have had this type of surgery and naturally, I was mostly interested in when other athletes returned to activity and training. So although this blog entry will likely will lost on most people, I hope that any athletes out there who are scheduled for umbilical hernia surgery, will find it reassuring or somewhat helpful with their journey.
My symptoms: despite being told I have had an umbilical hernia since my son was born, 16yrs ago, I wasn't always symptomatic. I was having more and more indigestion and aching at times which I chalked up to what I was eating. Then two years ago I got really sick while running a stage race in Europe with extreme stomach pains, nausea and loss of appetite. My symptoms were actually felt more around my upper abdominal/diaphram area, so I never even considered it would have been coming from my bellybutton region.
I followed up with my doctor when I got back and he had an intern who didn't think much of it. So I went to a naturopath, thinking it may be food related. I had a blood test done that tests 100 common foods to see how your body reacts and if certain foods can cause inflammation. The result was interesting and mostly reflected dairy, beef, mushrooms and few other odd food items that were recommended I avoid to help reduce the inflammation in my guts. Done.
Fast forward two years, to 2017 and the same thing occurred, during the same race, at about the same time, only this time it was twice as bad. When I returned to Canada I started to get some tests done which lead me to a specialist who diagnosed an umbilical hernia and referred me for surgery. 3months from the time I returned home, I was lying in the operating room about to undergo Umbilical Hernia Surgery.
SURGERY PREP: pretty uneventful. I have had a total of 7 surgeries in my life and as far as the actually surgery goes, this was by far one of the easiest. Having said that, this is based on the fact that I am comparing it to far worse procedures, so anyone who is having this for their first abdominal surgery, may think otherwise. I had to fast overnight, went into the hospital and had 1hr of prep, which consisted of conscious sedation, IV, and surgical tools. The nurse also went over all of my personal information and what to expect.
SURGERY: The surgery took 30-45min, I believe. I don't remember a thing. Waking up after conscious sedation was so much nicer than general anesthetic. I had an incision under my bellybutton and an incision inside me where they repaired the hernia. This basically means they stuffed back anything that was poking out of the hole and stitched me back up. I did not have any mesh inserted and was left with a large gauze on my belly, stuffed with padding and I was, for the most part, quite comfortable.
POST-SURGERY: My husband drove me home and I took my pain medication for the first day (a total of 3 pills) because I was strongly encouraged by the doctor and nurses, however it made me feel gross. I woke up on the second day feeling really sick, so I threw them out. My stomach was really swollen, which I wasn't expecting... I looked like I was 4 months pregnant. The hardest part was sleeping because I had to sleep upright and on my back for the first 3-4 nights and just getting up and down, as any action that engaged my core was very painful. I walked hunched over for the first 3 days and my back ached for a week as a result of that.
- For the first day, I didn't budge from the couch. I was loopy from the meds and sore. I slept on and off.
- Day two, I was back on the couch and still quite sore, walking very slowly but decided to get some fresh air and attempt to walk to the mail box. What normally takes me 5min, took me over 20min and I paid for it. Crashed the rest of the day.
- Day three I showered, changed my dressings, drove my son to school, ran a very slow errand in the morning and was back on the couch all day.
- Day four I started to feel better and move a little easier and managed to go to my son's jazz christmas concert from 7pm to 9:30pm and was fairly comfortable, but tuckered by the time I got home.
- Day five I was pretty tired from the night before and vegged out for the most part, however we had an early family christmas dinner that night and I was totally fine to attend that. Moving around was getting easier.
- Day six, I stayed home and rested and had friends visit me. My girlfriend Sarah even took me for a pedicure - it was so nice!
- Day seven was the turning point. I took off my gauze and just keep the steri stripes on my incision, ran errands with Sarah (a.k.a. christmas shopping) and she opened every door for me, carried all my bags and basically did all the things I couldn't do. I went for a walk with my friend Karen for about 30min in our neighbourhood and just felt a bit of pulling, but it was pretty awesome!
- I was able to walk around and carry on somewhat normally, however I couldn't push, pull or lift anything heavy. I also didn't feel as though I could run or cycle or do any activity other than walking.
- I was getting antsy. My husband might even say cranky ;) I definitley was feeling more back to normal and starting to think about running, skiing and getting back to yoga and the gym. My stomach was still a bit swollen and my bellybutton looks like it's still "out" a little bit. I am trying not to overthink it and trust it is normal. I ran from the line up in the grocery store to get something I forgot and the next day my stomach was sore. Not sure if it was from that or something else I did. Despite feeling super lazy, I am going to give it one more week until I try running. I am reading controversial guidelines on the web and think I am better safe than sorry. I have already invested into being a sloth for 3 weeks. I think this 4th week will whiz by.
- I spent the weekend at my brothers in Revelstoke painting and I did some light snow shovelling. I was careful not to overdo it but did enough that I felt like I was pushing it just a week bit.
- When I got home, I hit the trails for a 4km run/hike that took me approx. 45min with elevation. I took it super easy on the downhills as those felt the most unstable. I also did a light yoga class that night and modified anything that was too stretchy for my mid section or weight baring. It felt great.
- The next day I felt awesome which I took as a great sign, but i rested as to not to overdo it.
- Wednesday I went out again for a fun and this time I just went out for 35min on the trails. Kept it light, but ran a lot more of it and put in some steep hiking sections.
- Thursday I went on a flat 7km run and felt almost back to normal. 40min
What bothers me is any strenuous lifting or intense core work, like heavy snow shovelling or sanding wood.
- went to yoga and could do 85% of the class.
- ran 7km flat again on Tuesday and did my first tempo run on Wednesday. Felt a bit tight, but overall pretty normal.
- tried snowboarding on Saturday for 1/2 a day and it was great.
- ran my first long run at the end of week 5/ what I consider the start of week 6. It was 1:45hr on the snowy trails and I didn't even think of my incision once. Felt 100% normal, so I went snowboarding in the afternoon for half a day with my family.
I have no regrets in taking 4 weeks completely off and allowing my body the full rest it needed. Weeks five & six were a gradual return to running, mixed with hiking and listening to my body and spacing out these workouts. Overall, for anyone who is quite active and has to have this procedure, you should take the advice of your doctor, however I hope my little breakdown provides some confidence and reassurance in your own recovery/return to activity.