Procedural Anxiety

Procedure anxiety

Have you ever had to have a procedure done at the hospital and thought, “No big deal! People do this every day!”? Or are you like me, getting ready for yet another procedure and thinking, “Okay people get blood clots or become paralyzed forever or die on the table, I don’t want to do this!”

As someone who has pretty intense anxiety just from existing, when it’s time to have surgery, I get really nervous. I make myself sick thinking of everything that can go wrong and have a hard time focusing on the millions that have gone right. I’m having another surgery next month and I had myself so worked up about it that I contemplated cancelling it. I’ve waited years to finally have this procedure that will give me my life back for a few years, and now that it’s here, I’m too nervous to go through with it.

The surgery I’m having isn’t that big of a deal. I have degenerative disc disease that was first an issue when I was 21 years old. It’s always worsening, always progressing, but this procedure helps me have a few more good years. When it gets bad again, I have to have the procedure again.

I’m having a laminotomy, hemilaminectomy, decompression of the nerve roots, partial facetectomy, foraminotomy and excision of the herniated intervertebral discs. Fancy words for remove the bone, go in and pull out damaged discs and the pieces of disc that have creeped out, broken off, calcified to my spine, all of that weird stuff.

It sounds intense, but in the spinal surgery world it’s a pretty minimal procedure. Since I have that large piece that has attached to the vertebrae above where it belongs and calcified, they have to go in at an angle. This means my *window* in my bone may have to be a door, my 2 inch incision has to be larger to accommodate the angle, and there’s a greater chance they will tear the sac my spinal fluid is in. All because that one piece decided it was running away from home and turned into a bad egg when it got there.

Normally, I’m not nervous before procedures. I had a total hysterectomy last year and never needed so much as a Tylenol after. I’ve been put under more times than I can count, endless injections, manipulations, anything they could do to take some of this pain from me. This time, however, I’m nervous. The possibility that the paralysis in my leg could be permanent. The possibility that it could get worse. I’ve gotten so used to things being cut and dry that this “we’ll see when we get in there” and “we won’t know until you wake up” has me on edge. So, I’ve been searching for ways to calm my nerves.

I’ve started reading success stories. ONLY success stories. Hearing people tell how they got their life back, their functionality back, their will to go on back; that helps me so much. Reading stories about how long people with the same condition were pain free after has given me new life! The thought of being pain-free brings me to happy tears.

I’ve also been using some techniques I learned in therapy for my regular crippling anxiety. I’m not generalizing; no always, never, etc. Redirecting my thoughts, breathing techniques that I call Lamaze for life, and writing my thoughts and fears down on paper. These have helped so I’m at least not cancelling my appointment, but I still have the anxiety about it in my chest and throat.

Wake up during surgery

My biggest fear is waking up during the procedure, called anesthetic awareness, but not being able to let someone know I’m awake. It may seem irrational but I made the mistake of stumbling across a thread of people who have had this happen and it has haunted me ever since. Just writing it out is bothering me.

Luckily, I did some more research and it seems more likely to occur under light anesthesia and even when it does happen, the pain meds are still working. It’s very rare for both to fail.

I know writing out my fears like this is helpful for me but maybe not helpful to others who are reading it so I want you to take something away from all of this. If you have fears, talk to your surgeon or anesthesiologist. Don’t feel like your fears are silly or irrational. Let someone know so they can come back to you with stats and facts to calm your nerves. Don’t be afraid to seek counseling if your fears or anxiety make it difficult for you to have a procedure. Make a list of everything positive that will happen in your life once your procedure is finished. Will you have less pain? More energy? Be able to do things you couldn’t before? Let yourself see, on paper, how it will positively effect your life.

Talk to your doctor or anesthesiologist

Chronic pain and illness puts a damper on your life. Don’t let fear hold you back from improvement in your quality of life. If you have any ideas or tips on how to calm procedural anxiety, please leave them in the comments! I am willing to try anything to calm this fear. Thanks!!!

The Guilt

You wake up in the morning, feeling like you’ve been hit by a semi, but there is so much to do today. You want, need, to lay in bed, but who will get the kids ready for school? Who will pick up the house? Who will get the groceries and take care of the pets?

Today, not you. But while you’re laying in bed healing your body, you can’t sleep because you feel like everyone picking up your slack is angry at you. You’re not actually getting rest because you imagine them heavy sighing and silently cursing you while they do all the things you usually take care of. We all do it and it’s not a healthy way to live.
The first thing you should do is have a sit down conversation with the people you depend on. The ones who hold up your end of things when you’re down and out. Get their honest feelings and opinions about it because everyone should have a voice. You need to let them know what you are and are not capable of when you need a rest day.

Personally, on my very bad days, I can get up to get the kids off the bus and I can make dinner. Other than that I am fairly useless. My husband and I have a very good understanding between us of what I need when my body is screaming for rest. He doesn’t like to see me in pain any more than I like being in pain. We understand that pushing myself will make that pain worse so I stay in bed and let my body heal. We talked about this when it started getting bad so now we both know what to expect on those days.

Communication really is key. It can feel embarrassing, overwhelming, like you’re accepting defeat, but if you were throwing up with the stomach flu would they question you staying in bed? Chances are they’d lock you in there and bring you crackers and ginger ale. Being sick isn’t always acute and this sickness may be a forever thing so it needs to be talked about. Clearing the air early on will save you a lot of stress down the road and help to establish each others needs and boundaries.

Even when I am in tears from pain, I go get my kids off the bus. I need that for me. I usually need a nap after but seeing them after school is our thing and they depend on that piece of normalcy when, usually, it’s the only normalcy we have. They can climb into bed with me and work on homework, read, watch a movie together, or just talk about their day. Then after I’ve rested I get up and make dinner because that’s important to me. My husband works long days and the least I can do for him is have dinner for him when he gets home. And bonus, it makes me feel like I’ve done something normal and human that day so we both win.

Don’t think people aren’t willing to offer you help. Sometimes, all it takes is a little education on something they don’t entirely understand. Knowing how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally on your bad days will give them a better indicator and a little direction as to what you need from them on those days. I lived with the guilt for way longer than I care to admit but once I started taking my husband to appointments he understood what I was dealing with. When I pushed myself to do more than my body could handle we were both miserable and it was no way to live. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t wait until your body gives out from needing rest so desperately that you’re feeling too guilty to allow it. You are worth so much more than the guilt you carry leads you to believe.