Each individual is unique
Some people are excited and positive the whole time and have nothing but a great experience throughout each step of the process, from the moment they arrange the surgery to the moment they look at the mirror afterwards, with an easy recovery and instant happiness for the result. However, this is rare and usually a patient will have one or more (or all!) of the feelings, emotions and experiences we are about to talk about below.
Before the Surgery
In the lead up to plastic and cosmetic surgery you might feel nervous, apprehensive, anxious and may question several times if you are making the right decision. You should understand your motivation behind wanting surgery and consider speaking with a surgeon, psychologist or your local GP to identify if your reasons for having surgery are justified and reasonable, and also to ensure you have realistic expectations. Identifying and clarifying the result you want and making sure your surgeon understands your goals is confident he/she can achieve it is essential. Feeling comfortable and having faith in your surgeon is paramount, as is clear communication. This will help you feel more confident in your decision and what lays ahead. Dr Sandercoe says, “The patient needs to be in tune with their surgeon. No matter how great the surgeon’s reputation is, if the patient does not feel that they can ask questions and get sensible answers, the down side of plastic surgery can be tough to swallow.”
Right before the surgery there is a big possibility you might feel scared, overwhelmed and worried about what lies ahead. The enormity of what you have signed up for might suddenly hit you and your body starts to run on adrenaline to cope with the event.
After the Surgery
Right after the surgery when you wake up, you will probably feel relief. Relief that the surgery is over, that you are awake, and excited about checking out your results. Although this will probably be side by side with a little apprehension about what your results look like. Sometimes you might also be in some pain or discomfort. Whilst most plastic surgeons will ensure you are comfortable when you wake up from surgery, sometimes there is pain and along with this comes uncertainty and stress, wondering if it was worth it and often feelings of “what have I done?”.
Seeing Your New Self for the First Time
It is always a little confronting seeing a different you in the mirror. Or looking down and seeing a huge incision or bruising, swelling, blood, scarring and any other results of the surgery. You need to remember that it often takes time for results to be fully noticeable or evident. Bruising and swelling can take days, weeks or even months to fully subside. Scars can take even longer to settle down. You need to be prepared for your physical restrictions and restlessness associated with a period of recovery. This will help you to relax, and understand it’s all part of the process. Dr Sandercoe adds, “One of the most important things a surgeon can do is set expectations. For instance, I tell my tummy tuck & facelift patients that if they do not hate me in the first week for making them too tight, then by 6 months they will be unimpressed with the results. It helps patients understand that some discomfort is necessary for the results they want in the long run.”
Remember that what you see in the mirror an hour after surgery will be different to what you see a day after surgery, three days after, a week after and then a month afterwards. Sometimes, you might freak out a little or be shocked with what you see in the mirror. A period of adjustment might be necessary. Even when you want the change it might not prepare you for actually seeing the change in your body. In this period you might feel self-doubt, uncertainty and even panic about your results. Dr Sandercoe says, “There needs to be clear communication about the known process of development of results. For instance the ‘drop & fluff’ that gets referred to with implants, and an expected timeline. Difficult tuberous breasts can take a year for the implant to cause a change in shape, whereas reclaiming volume in the post breastfeeding mum can be almost immediate.”
Post Surgical Depression
It is not uncommon to even feel depressed. Undergoing a major surgery with anaesthesia which can make you feel tired, drained, overwhelmed and lead to feelings of sadness or regret. Most post surgical pain medications are considered depressants and slow the body down which can also contribute to an overall feeling of despair.
In fact, more people experience this than you think. When you’re feeling physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, and still have a road of recovery in front of you, you can reach a point where it all seems hopeless and you can’t deal with it all.
It’s important at this stage to draw on your support network. And you should be prepared. Dr Sandercoe stresses, “There needs to be a pre-arranged plan for post operative care. The worst thing for a patient is not knowing the plan. Even if it is as simple as “I will see you at 7:30am tomorrow on my way to Hospital X”. It means that the patient & hospital staff know what the plan is. Patients knowing what the pain control plan is also helps enormously.”
Hopefully, you’ve set yourself up to have everything you need to make the recovery easier. Simple things like books and magazines, your laptop, healthy snack food, your phone and comfortable, cosy clothing all contribute to making you feel better. Call a friend or family member and ask them to bring you anything you might have forgotten. Drink lots of water! Importantly, talk to your surgeon and see if there’s anything they can do to make you more comfortable, especially if you are in pain. Follow their instructions and try to have patience and trust in the process. They might change your medications or be able to arrange for you to talk to someone who can help sort through your feelings.
There is a generally identifiable cycle with plastic and cosmetic surgery. The first week after surgery can often be an emotional rollercoaster. You are dealing with low energy, pain, discomfort and physical change. The second week you might start to “nit-pick” your body and its changes and wonder whether everything is as it should be. After that you start to feel more comfortable and might start to show off your changes. After a few weeks you start to feel joy and happiness and relief that everything is starting to look and feel as it should. But remember, it might take months before everything is completely back to it’s “new normal”.
Dr Sandercoe says, “There are physiological reasons that people get ‘post surgical blues’. Tummy tuck patients often have a bad first day, a better 2nd day and then a dip on the third day as they get up and start trying to do things. Patients need to accept that the first week will have more rough days than good days, but by week 3 the balance should have turned. Complex or long surgery can have prolonged recoveries.”
Taking all the time you need for recovery is really important. You can’t rush yourself through the process or you might do some serious and long lasting physical, and mental, damage. Don’t be too hard on yourself or your body. Be prepared for what to expect immediately after surgery, a week after surgery and a few weeks after surgery. Remember, you are not alone. There are several closed and secret facebook groups we can refer you to for support, and if you feel you would like to become a part of a supportive, informative network of people going through the same thing as you, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put you in touch.
Dr Gavin Sandercoe is a Specialist Plastic Surgeon based in Sydney. He is a highly qualified and experienced surgeon with a real reputation for listening to his patients and making sure they feel supported and nurtured every step of their journey. For more information on Dr Sandercoe click here, or phone him directly on 1300 112 358 to arrange a consult.