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Thursday, August 20, 2015

post-operative recovery

Earlier this week I had surgery. Abdominal laparoscopy, admitted and discharged the same day. Now, I have had many friends and family undergo surgery before, from planned operations to emergency C-sections, and this was my first time. My second time with anaesthesia, due to a fractured coccyx when I was 15, but my first surgery.

Whilst spending a lot of time in bed, I have been thinking about the different tips and tricks for making hospital experiences better, for speeding recovery, for coping with post-op nausea, and so on. I'd love to hear your responses, especially if you have any more tips to add, so please comment below.

When you first go into hospital, a tip I was told early on is to wear the gown. I was told I could bring in my own pjs, robe, slippers, to wear in bed and around the ward before and after surgery, though I did have to wear the proper hospital attire during the op. But I was told, wear the gown when in hospital. Why? Well, funny thing about medics -- they're human. If a patient (or client) is dressed like a patient, a human tendency is to treat them with more kindness. If a patient looks more independent because they are dressed in their own gear, some nursing staff and doctors may hold a subconscious prejudice and treat the patient with less respect. I'm not saying this applies to everybody. I have met some outstanding nursing staff, especially during my recent stay, but there it is. Humans are human. We're all sinners, we all mess up, so don't get up tight about it but work the knowledge to your advantage and wear the gown. At the very least, if you puke or pee or bleed on yourself, there's less laundry to take home!

Dealing with nausea is the next big thing. I've now had two experiences with anaesthesia. Both produced extreme nausea. I had to have an anti-sickness injected into my bum after the first two IV treatments wore off, because I had such trouble keeping even the smallest amount of fluids in my stomach. I recommend some essential oils in this case. Now, what you can get away with may depend on a few variables -- shared ward versus private room, the area of your operation, meds you've been given and all. If you are at all in doubt, leave off the oils or ask medical staff. With other people around, it is best to stick to the most benign of essential oils, avoiding potential airborne allergic response.

Lemon and peppermint essential oils
are my top recommendations. Both are astringent, and very common scents with which most people are fine. A little bottle of oils under the nose can help greatly with nausea and headaches. Peppermint is cooling, too, and one drop on a disposable wet wipe rubbed over the back, inner arms, or feet can help significantly with the sudden feelings of heat that can suddenly rush over the body during post-anaesthesia sickness.

Operations that require the abdomen to be inflated with gas can result in wind. Lemon and peppermint dropped onto a disposable wet wipe will help with the bodily odors in the room, from you or from other people in a shared ward. A small amount of diluted peppermint applied gently to the lower abdomen or back (provided this is not near the site of incision) can help dispel trapped wind. Catnip, spearmint, and fennel seed oils are also good for this.

If and when fluids can be taken by mouth, sips of peppermint or Digestivi-tea, aka Tummy Tea, are a good idea. When I woke from anesthesia, my mouth tasted foul. It tasted like plastic, like metal, like the worst morning breath. Sips of water merely took on that same flavor. Even swirling a little mint tea around my mouth and spitting it back out helped greatly to dispel that nauseating flavor while wetting my mouth, even when I couldn't swallow the tea for fear of vomiting again. A fellow patient the next bed over was grateful to be given some Digestivi-tea by my mum who was with me in hospital.

I brought my herbal tea as loose leaf, in little zippy bags, and brought a basket mug strainer with me. Various herbal stores sell such strainers. These are brilliant as you simply pop one over a mug, add the tea to the basket, pour in hot water, and then remove the basket once the tea is infused. Very little fuss or mess for a single mug of tea. You can also buy empty disposable tea bags to fill with your own blends. I find, however, that small coffee filters are cheaper than boxes of press'n'fill tea bags. If you want the ease of disposable bags, add a couple of teaspoons of your herbal tea to the center of a small coffee filter circle, bunch together at the top, and tie closed with a small length of thread. Very easy to make and take in to hospital all ready to use.

Get yourself an IV bag of fluids, too. This was a tip from my mum, who is an operation veteran now. The more fluids you can get passing through your body, the more quickly you will flush out the strongest after effects of the anaethesia. You'll feel better for it, too, plus your skin will be craving all the moisture it can get from inside and outside to facilitate healing. The cannula was left in but I was taken off the IV whilst still in recovery, before even being returned to the ward. I later requested a new bag of IV fluids when I started vomiting. Even if you are not losing fluids by mouth as I did, you will likely find that you feel stronger, less headachey, and better all round if you manage to convince your carers to get you some IV fluids.

Hospitals can be dry places, and the oxygen mask I was given during surgery felt very drying. My throat has been extremely sore and my nose has been blowing out red in the mornings. A few simple things will help with this. A little Rapha salve or Sunshine salve applied up the nose will feel a bit slimy at first but really helps soothe dry mucous membranes. Saline nasal irrigation is very good, too. If you have not tried it, I highly recommend that you do. NeilMed brand makes handy sachets of saline mix to add to water, as well as selling a few different styles of irrigation tools. I prefer the squeezy bottle best. It is a soft bottle with a straw, and the water pressure is fully controlled by the squeeze of my own hand. Nothing is as soothing to a dry nose as saline irrigation. Take along some hard sweets or lozenges to suck on after the operation, too, for your throat. Anything that sounds good and doesn't irritate your stomach will do. Once you can drink, marshmallow root tea is mucilagenic and wonderfully soothing to a sore throat. It doesn't have much flavor to it and so blends well with peppermint or Digestivi-tea, or even other herbs and black tea.

Compression knee socks are brilliant. In the UK, the NHS provides toeless compression socks that go up to the knee for wearing in bed. These are much like flight socks that you can purchase for wearing on airplanes. They help to improve circulation and decrease the risk of blood clots. To my mind, it doesn't really matter what the hospital visit was for or why you're in bed -- you want these compression socks. Even if you've just had a baby in the comfort of your own home, merely not moving around as much as usual means your circulation is reduced. Exercises in bed, when possible, are great to do. Wiggle and flap the feet around, massage the calves, do whatever leg moves you are able and comfortable to perform, and get thee some compression socks! Seriously brilliant things. I've been a few days in bed at home now and I'm still wearing mine off and on. I'm not able to walk much so these socks are really helping to prevent the restless legs that I've had in the past when on bed rest.

Following on the same thread of thought, when you are on bed rest and not moving around much, it's not just blood that slows down. Digestion slows down, too. Drink your Digestivi-tea. Consume acidophilus daily, if possible. (If you are on antibiotics, it may be best to avoid acidophilus so that you don't diminish the efficacy of the meds. Depending on your meds and dose, talk to your care team about having acidophilus if you are at all uncertain.) If I have a tender tummy I like to break open a capsule of acidophilus and mix it into yogurt or apple sauce so that I can eat it slowly. Also, focus on soft foods. Banana, apple sauce, avocado, jelly/jello, cooked oatmeal, rice, scrambled egg, custard, lentil and vegetable dahl, soft cooked vegetable soups, bone stocks. Consume healthy fats. Keep the gut moving gently. After having a baby or experiencing surgery of any kind near the abdominal area, it is awful to find oneself a bit backed up, either constipated or merely with heavy, large stools. Take it gently. Use the bathroom when you feel the urge to void, don't hold it in. And drink fluids steadily throughout the day.

Now, chances are you have some bruising in places and some wounds in others. How you care for these wounds will vary, so I cannot advise you much. Talk to your doctors and nurses. They are there to help. That said, I can tell you what I am doing right now for my own bruises and wounds, and why.

The back of my left hand is where the cannula was put in. Normally I bruise like a peach. Other times I've had a cannula inserted, the entire back of my hand became purpled with bruising. It is a testament to my fabulous nurses this go around that I have no discoloration at all! However, it is still a little sore, and slightly more swollen than my other hand. I am applying an Arnica-plus salve, containing arnica with comfrey and St John's wort herb, to the back of my left hand.

The laparoscopy was done with two incisions, one into my belly button and one in the left side of my lower abdomen. Dissolving stitches hold the small wounds closed and I was allowed to rinse in the shower and remove the dressings only 24 hours later. Nothing compared to a C-section wound, for example. I am applying Rapha herbal antiseptic salve to the areas. I am not applying salve directly over the incision wound at this early stage, please note, as the wounds travel deep into my abdomen. I am smearing the Rapha salve all around the wounds, near but not directly on them, and all over the bruising around the wound site. Whilst arnica is fabulous for healing bruised soreness and for breaking up discoloration, I am aware that it does this in part by increasing the movement of the blood. Even on such narrow wounds, I do not want to increase the chance of reopening a flow of fresh bleeding by using too much arnica. I am trusting the comfrey in the Rapha salve to help heal the bruising in this early stage. Once the stitches have fully dissolved, I will begin applying Rapha salve directly over the wounds, and will feel more comfortable about applying arnica to any remaining bruised color on my belly.

One more tip, and this is something you never have to worry about forgetting to pack -- instant serotonin boosting. Simply raise your arms over your head in a victorious V for a few minutes. Studies have shown that even when the emotions are not feeling great, perhaps even downright depressive, the levels of serotonin in the brain are still increased in response to power poses made in the body. You may be feeling utterly vile, but if you can arrange your body in a power pose for just 2 minutes you can powerfully impact your overall well-being. Serotonin is a neuromediator that plays a key role in regulating mood, appetite, pain perception, GI function, and healthy sleep -- all of which are pretty important to your recovery. Low levels of serotonin are linked to depression, constipation, inability to sleep, and so on. Keep those serotonin levels at a healthy high! You can't overdo it with a power pose. There is no overload you can give your brain by thrusting your arms up in a V, by sitting with wide legs and a confident stance, by standing with hands on hips and shoulders relaxed and squared. But if your stress levels are reduced and your recovery aided by such a simple trick, why the heck not?! Get those arms up. Boost your serotonin.

Do you have any tips for post-operative recovery? What different things might you suggest doing or bringing into hospital? How would you go about treating surgical wounds with natural remedies?

Monday, August 3, 2015


I did a silly thing yesterday. I let myself get sunburnt. OW. I'm paying for it today. Usually, I'm quite good about keeping lathered up and all, but this is the first summer I've been on venlafaxine (medication I currently need) and I totally forget that it heightens my sensitivity to the sun triple-fold. And I'm a white lily to begin with.

Yesterday we went to the beach. Beautiful, beautiful day. Nope, we enjoyed it all so much that no pics were taken, but much fun was had by all, including mama falling asleep face down on the beach. I wore my hat faithfully all day, even keeping it over my head while I slept, but the back of my legs and a patch in the middle of my back where I didn't apply sunscreen well enough got...rather toasty. I haven't been sunburnt in years. Years, I tell you!

Get out of the sun.
Once your skin is burned, it is damaged and extra sensitive. Cover up. Get in the shade. Wear your hat. Stay indoors or in the shade as much as possible until the burn has healed. Wear long, loose clothing that won't chafe or stick to the burned skin, and keep cool for a few days.

Cool it down.
Run yourself a herbal bath. Tie up a bath tea bag containing a handful each of lavender, chamomile, calendula, comfrey, and two handfuls of black tea leaves. The herbs will help cool and heal the burn and the tannins in the black tea will help your skin color brown a little as it heals instead of merely peeling off back to pale white.

Keep the bath cool, as cool as you can stand it, and immerse yourself for as long as you can manage. 45 minutes to an hour is best for bad sunburns, at least once a day for the next several days. If you have access to fresh aloe vera plant or a bottle of dye-free aloe gel, add that to the bath, too. As the burn begins to heal, once it is cool to the touch at normal room temperature (out of the bath) like the rest of your skin, also add a cup of apple cider vinegar (ACV) to help restore the pH of your skin.

If the burn is in such a place as you cannot immerse it easily in a bath or large bowl, such as your face, neck and shoulders, brew a tea from the same herbs as above. Let the tea cool, soak a soft cloth in it, and apply as a damp poultice to the burn. Do not cover with cling film as you might do with other poultices, however. Keep the area cooling, allow the skin to breathe, and rewet the cloth every 10 or so minutes.

If you must keep moving, maybe travelling or working and can't soak in a tub as often as you might like, keep a spray bottle of water handy. Add a few drops of lavender, geranium and rose hip seed essential oils for healing and soothing, and some shelf-stable aloe vera juice or gel. Shake it up and spray over the burned skin regularly. The evaporation will help to cool the surface of the skin. Follow up with moisturizing.

Moisturize. You can use cocoa butter, whipped body lotion or blender lotion, salve, infused oils, or whatever your preference, but keep that skin moisturized. Reapply throughout the day. Burned skin is extra dry and your chances of a peeling sunburn increase greatly if you allow it to fully dry off like the rest of your healthy skin. Don't cover the burn with anything that prevents airflow (clingfilm, as I heard someone suggest once for sunburn!) as your natural body heat won't do the burn any favors with that trapped heat. But do keep moisturized, lubed, oiled. Today I am loving Sunshine Salve (what we call calendula + lavender salve) and a comfrey-infused olive oil for my sunburned legs.

Hydrate. Lastly, drink water. I know it's obvious but we tend to forget these things at times. Within the first 24 hours after experiencing a sunburn, increase your daily 2 quarts (8 cups) of pure water to 3 or even 4 quarts. You'll pee lots but just do it. Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it must have moisture from within as well as from without in order to heal best. You are less likely to peel and more likely to tan if you plump up your skin with moisture in all ways. Plus, most of us don't really drink enough water when we've been playing in the sun, anyway, so a little extra is probably needed even without the burn.

If in the sun you begin to feel cool, get up and move around. Don't put on a cover -- move around. Your body temperature ought to return to normal, providing a change in weather isn't the obvious cause. An early sign of burning skin on a sunny day is the irregularity of body temperature. Get moving, get cooled in water, drink fluids, and reapply sun screen.

(If the body does not quickly return to feeling normal temperatures but still feels chilled in warm weather, seek treatment for heat stroke. Bundle yourself into a cool bath, as much as you might feel too cold already, and make the appropriate calls to a professional for further advice.)

ways to use lavender flowers

If you were to ask me what is my favorite herb, I would have a really, really difficult time choosing just one. Lavender does come high up on the list, though. While we use lavender essential oil in our home for many things, here are a few ideas focused only on using dried lavender flowers. You can wildcraft or grow and harvest the flowers yourself, or purchase from a reliable company. Be sure that the flowers are a lovely purple color when dried -- or if white lavender, then a proper white color. Greying flowers will be old, and so not nearly as beneficial to use. They should be strongly fragrant, too.

Lavender and Oatstraw Tea is a surprisingly delightful drink. I prefer this hot, before bed as an alternative to chamomile. The tea is strongly fragrant, a strong floral scent with a small pungent bite that other flowers generally do not offer. Lavender is a nervine relaxant, helping to soothe the nervous system thereby holding the potential to calm headaches and muscle soreness. However, lavender is best used in smaller quantities. Large amounts of lavender can result in a stimulating effect, which might run entirely opposite to the desired result! Oatstraw pairs well with lavender as a nervine tonic, one which helps to rebuild and maintain the healthy pathways of the nervous system, and also because it has a very mild taste, faintly grassy and not much else. Oatstraw is also high in calcium which when consumed at bed time can help promote sound sleep.

Mix together 1 part each lavender flowers and cut oatstraw and toss together. Add a squeeze of lime and a spoonful of honey if desired. Alternatively, 1/2 a part of spearmint added to the blend makes a fresh tasting bed time tea. Pour a cup of boiling water over 1 Tb mixed herbs and steep for 5 minutes before drinking.

Lavender is also a diaphoretic herb, meaning that it promotes sweating. When ill and running a damp fever, promoting sweating can often help the body to flush out the problems with that high heat and the fever can come to a breaking point more quickly. Lavender and oastraw tea is wonderful for this. Avoid the cooling peppermint when treating a sweating fever this way, but add 1 part yarrow leaves and flowers to the blend for extra diaphoretic action. Wrap up warmly, keep the feet covered in several pairs of socks, and sip the tea regularly for a few hours. I have been able to "break" a fever in myself and others quite successfully this way.

(However, common sense does apply, so if the fever persists or runs extra high, breathing or pulse are compromised in any way, or if the individual displays signs of unresponsiveness, please pursue professional medical help. Also, be careful when using lavender to treat illness in small children, and be aware that high fevers in little ones can more quickly cause brain damage. Pursue outside help if you are at all uncertain or symptoms get worse or do not improve.)

Bathing in lavender is...mmm. If you haven't tried it, do it now! You can mix up the lavender flowers as you like. Here are my favorite bath tricks.

Soothing bath: One handful lavender flowers + one of chamomile flowers + several rose heads or a handful of dried rose petals. Add a cupful of epsom salts for good measure.

Mentally restoring bath: great for mamas who can't just go to bed yet, and are putting off a few evening chores now that the kids are in bed! One handful lavender flowers + 1/2 handful rosemary + one orange sliced into rounds. Add 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, too.

Tie up the herbs into a large tea bag. You can use old cheesecloth, thin cotton, muslin washable tea bags. Or, as I do, you can visit the local paint shop and buy some nylon mesh bags made for the filter part of a spray paint gun! Really. These bags are wonderful! They are reusable over and over and over, and a little elastic band tied at the top makes a huge bath tea bag that steeps well and cleans easily. I don't like to let the herbs all float around in my baths. I know it looks pretty, but I'm far too pragmatic for that sort of thing. It all gets in my way and then there's cleaning it out afterwards before the tub can be drained... I like to relax in my tub, pull the plug, and walk away without further chores waiting in there once I'm clean.

Sunshine Salve

My son and I recently made up a large batch of this for his teachers at the end of the school year. So easy, so lovely, smells gorgeous, and is good for everything summer related, pretty much. Make up a herbal oil using equal parts of lavender and calendula flowers, and then set it into a salve with beeswax. We put ours into plastic deodorant tubes for hands-free application. Sunshine Salve is buttery yellow from the calendula, with just the right amount of lavender fragrance not to be overpowering. Apply it to chapped skin, sunburn or sun rash, bug bites, and bumps and scrapes that happen during summer play.

Lavender and Rice or Wheat Bag

Muscle aches and pains are all fixed with a rice bag. Oh, what would I do without mine? If you are handy with a machine, you can sew a pocket of any size you like, providing the fabric is purely fabric (no metal or elastic), and then fill with dry rice. Or, upcycle an old muslin or cotton swaddling blanket. Fill the middle of the blanket square with several cups of dry rice, and then tie a secure knot in the gathered corners to keep the rice inside.

Wheat can be used instead of rice. Be sure to use only dry, uncooked whole grains. Mix in several handfuls of lavender flowers for sweet scent each time the bag is warmed.

To use your bag, pop it in the microwave for a minute or two. The time will depend on the size of your bag. My favorite long rice bag that I use each month during period cramps takes 2 1/2 minutes on high in the microwave. So long as you keep the bag dry, you can reuse it over and over for months, even years.

Lavender Clothes Sachets

No new trick, this habit goes back generations. But good ideas last. Use any little cloth bag you like -- muslin tea bags, pretty cloth gift bags, a pair of old tights or stockings with knots tied in the open ends -- and fill with lavender flowers. Stuff these little sachets into your drawers of clothes, especially the ones that are not in frequent use, such as winter sweaters, to keep moths and bugs away. The sweet fragrance when you lift the lid on your sweater box in autumn is merely a side benefit.

Other insect-repellant herbs can be used in the same way. Consider rosemary, cedar, pine, cinnamon, wormwood, cloves. These sachets will last quite a while but can also be freshened up with a few drops of essential oils.

Lavender Vanilla Sugar

Pop several tablespoons of lavender flowers + a vanilla bean scored in half lengthwise into a pint jar not quite full of sugar, white or brown, powdered or granulated. Shake daily for 4 weeks. The fragrance you will get from the sugar when you finally lift the lid will blow your top off! Amazing! Wow your friends at the next tea party you host with this breath of summer life.

Alternatively, make yourself an infused honey with the same ingredients. Heat the honey and herbs in a crock pot on low for 24 hours, strain, and store.