Operation Belly Button

I know that both when I started to seriously consider having umbilical hernia surgery, and then once I had committed to it, I found medical articles helpful but more so personal testimony of others who have had it done.  It is just a week since my operation, and I intend to periodically update this blog with my progress and thoughts for next few months at least.

I had been waiting 18 years to get my umbilical hernia fixed.  I had previously raised the matter with four different GPs at three different practices (having moved addresses) on each occasion I was advised that unless it was providing me with significant/constant/acute pain I should learn to live with it.  This was all the persuading I needed not to pursue further (not being a fan of hospitals) and like many people there was no shortage of distractions with work and family life to push this away into a corner and forget about.

If you are reading this blog you are likely either to also be suffering with a hernia or perhaps making enquiries on behalf of someone who is.  You will therefore know that especially after any length of time there is both discomfort and at time pain.  For me it was especially acute if I had eaten a large meal or was standing for anytime including any activity which required standing.  During the last couple of years when I had put additional weight – already being overweight – the pain was constant albeit low level and it impacted everything which I did.

It was in January 2017 when I resolved to address the problem.  My first objective was to lose weight to ease my pain but also I knew it would be a requirement for any surgery, and I expected it to be a factor in determining how long I might have to wait.  You can read about my success at weight loss Here:

Several weeks later I met with a very sympathetic and encouraging nurse at my practice.  She was clearly surprised by the size of my hernia and troubled by the time it had taken to resolve the problem.  A GP was asked to examine me and she expressed concern at my condition especially when I explained that I had been in constant pain, to be honest In  was told off too.  There followed referral to Consultant, an examination by surgeon, I was added to a “3 month waiting list” but with a cancellation I was operated on at the end of May 2017.

I was very anxious about having this procedure done.  However, I was in constant pain and the condition was impacting all aspects of my life now and affecting my personal confidence.  Having lost several stone in weight I was now also anxious to further increase my physical activity – and this was simply not possible with the hernia.  At the time of writing I do not yet know what the result of the surgery looks like with scarring and belly contour but it was no picture of beauty beforehand.  In time I will look to add some photos and perhaps my thoughts on the physical outcome.

There is little point in sharing the information given as the answers were specific to me and my circumstances but it might be helpful to note the questions I asked the surgeon:

  1. How long will surgery last?
  2. Will I have to stay in overnight?
  3. When can I drive again?
  4. Is there a special diet to follow?
  5. Are there any exercises I should do?
  6. How do I clean myself, and will I need dressing changed?
  7. If applicable don’t forget to ask for a sick certificate for work.

The single best piece of advice given to me, and which I  have stuck to, is to listen to your body.  Yes it is important to rest, to take painkillers, to keep wound clean, regular use of ice for comfort and reduce swelling, and drink plenty but move as much as you can but only what your body allows you to comfortably do.  In my experience the first 48 hours were the most painful and I was largely confined to bedroom – if anything to protect myself from the love and attention of my kids and dogs.  Each day after this period I was consciously more mobile, spent more time downstairs and prepared a few meals etc.

At the time of first writing this blog it is almost a week since surgery.  I am getting up at 5am to feed dogs, I eat breakfast and return to bed for a couple of hours before spending day downstairs watching movies and using the laptop.  I go to bed each evening at about 7pm to read and still cannot sleep on my side or in fact lying down.  I am only having to take painkillers in morning and before sleep otherwise I use ice occasionally during the day.  I clean around the wound each day with alcohol wipe and fresh adhesive dressing to keep it clean – I expect the soluble stitches will dissolve in another week or so.  But importantly the wound is dry and offers no pain.

On the instruction of nurse pre-operation assessment I had stopped taking supplements a week before the operation except for a bran supplement.  You may know that constipation often follows general anesthetic and so I considered that surgery on my stomach would make this an uncomfortable combination.  It was 3 days before I was able to go to the toilet, and probably 5 days before I could place any pressure to assist (although of course you should never force toilet out especially with a hernia related weakness).  I can’t say whether or not the bran supplement helped but I intend to continue to use for next few weeks until pain-free.

Below is a summary of my diary for the first week:

Day of operation:

After extended surgery time – I  went into surgery at 8.30am and woke up on the ward a little after 12.40pm – I was discharged (I had been told to expect to be in hospital overnight).  The procedure went well according to nursing staff but pain was high, and any movement impossible.  I actually fell asleep quickly and deeply in sitting position, no doubt helped by the drugs flowing around my system.

Day 1 (Recovery)

A lot of standing pain today, movement possible but need to plan in advance what you are going to do and how – no rolling possible!  Coughing is really painful and very scary – I have to brace my stomach hard and do my best to stifle.

Day 2

Pain on par with yesterday – which was expected.  I did carefully venture downstairs to eat with the family, managing to sit in armchair for a couple of hours.  I have taken to wearing a supportive vest during the day – it means I don’t have to keep a hand over the wound and it is excellent at keeping the ice pack in place.  I do take it off at night as I want to encourage muscles to recover too.

Day 3:

Up at 5am for the dogs.  A first step towards normal routine.  I have also resumed taking my supplements today.  Pain at rest much better this morning, and pain with mobility improving.  I can manage stairs so will regularly join family at meal times as much as possible.  Today I was able to go to the toilet for the first time since surgery.

Day 4:
Pain is much diminished today.  Still taking regular pain killers but level is a low constant, and little affected by movement.  Mobility much improved, can now shuffle up and down bed, and slowly roll but still can’t lie on side.

Day 5:

I did need painkiller to get up but since then no standing pain.  It does hurt when I move but it is important that I do keep moving to build up my core.  But no painkillers during day is a good sign.  I have changed dressing and cleaned wound.  It’s not pretty, and won’t attempt to describe, but it is in great condition.  Not going to get too excited one way or the other about aesthetics until healing complete and swelling gone but importantly it looks healthy.

Day 6:

Feeling pretty good.  Boosted by first weigh in for 3 weeks and have lost 7lb, and you’ll see I’m 55% of weight loss target met (on the App which is 2-3 weeks behind start of my programme).  Pain wise I’m where I was yesterday but delighted I was able to stick with pain killers only morning and last evening.

Week 1:

Pain management is good – coping well with just painkillers at start and end of day. Today has been first full day without ice packs and only now (4pm) can I feel tenderness, and mobility continues to improve.  If I’m conscious of what I’m doing and take my time pain is marginal but cannot stretch and stomach muscles cannot be tensed (although last couple of days they have gone into little spasms which I assume is healing).I’m cleaning the wound each day with alcohol wipes but I’m really pleased with progress – it is dry and “sound”.  This morning I did remove one of the sterile strips covering cut – no problems and I could clean a bit more. I hope to get into the shower on Friday….still don’t know if there is a belly button!

Week 2:

I have been without any pain relief for 3 days – although this did include Sunday lunch with 2 glasses of red wine.  I do feel some discomfort if I over-reach or bend too long but I would compare with how you might feel after an extended workout.  The wound is healing really well – and yes no belly button.  There is some tenderness – akin to how you feel after a burn – but bruising disappearing as quickly as it showed up.  After shower I’m cleaning with alcohol wipe and in the evening applying cocoa butter to soothe but also help skin conditioning.  I have just started to be able to lie flat at night, there is some pain lying on sides (my normal position) but otherwise all good.  I’m looking at the exercise bike and weights but not bold enough yet, feel like all discomfort needs to go first.  I’m planning on re-starting exercise in a couple of weeks.

1 Month:

Not sure whether it’s lethargy or just anxiety but not yet re-started my exercise regime (I did undertake another medical routine see my blog post!).  Otherwise I am experiencing no pain or other problems, I did notice the later appearance of some external bruising but that disappeared within a few days.  I’m coming to terms with the loss of my belly button, and very pleased with the emerging shape of my belly as it recovers – I’m shortly getting a tattoo to cover the scar area.  I’m continuing with the regular application of cocoa butter but otherwise I’m not taking any additional care.  I’m so pleased I did this, first time in years I have been pain free and looking better too.

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