What they don’t show you on TV

Today’s post is about how surgery is shown on TV and in films versus the realities. And how that perception can mean you’re in for a huge shock when you have an operation in real life. Surgery recovery is different for everyone, but it’s certainly very different to how it looks on Casualty!

It’s all blue lights flashing, being seen immediately and running down corridors with a patient on a bed. There’s the tense music and drama of the overhead scene in an operating theatre. Whilst sexy, brooding doctors heroically slice and dice.

Recovery is a brief montage that flips from patients laid covered in tubes to them bravely walking through physio, brows furrowed and swiftly back to normal.

This isn’t what it’s like in real life.

I mean, I get it! Of course things are dramatised and only the most exciting or entertaining parts are shown and have to fit within time limits. But it’s interesting just how far from the truth the scenes we see are. From movies to medical dramas to the fly on the wall real life medical shows, the thing I think that is the most lacking is the waiting, the boredom, the time it all takes.

Sam Cleasby surgery blogger

My experience of surgery and recovery

I’ve had 8 surgeries for things related to Ulcerative Colitis. From my experiences, it’s hard to relate to what you see on TV. And it’s not something we really talk about so it’s important to think about what expectations people have when they go into hospital for surgery.

Firstly the waiting times, in the medical dramas patients seem to go from diagnosis to surgery in a matter of hours. Most ops are planned in and you are waiting weeks or months for a surgery date. Even when it’s an emergency, it still takes a lot of time!

But the one that gives the most false expectations is about recovering from surgery. I remember a couple of days after surgery saying to Timm whilst I was crying and off my face of pain killers that I just wanted a montage of recovery and to be all better!

It takes time!

It takes time, so much time to recover from an operation. Just having a general anaesthetic is a huge amount of pressure on your body and takes months to be out of your system properly. My hair always falls out by the handful in the weeks after surgery and this is to do with the GA.

All the medication can really effect you, not just physically but mentally too. Confusion is really common after surgery and something that isn’t really discussed. Doctors and nurses tell me how common it is for patients to be extremely confused and even be delusional after surgery. Especially if they get infections. This is a big subject and I’ll be doing a separate blog post on it.

hand with cannulas in it and wires and tubes in the high dependency unit in hospital

Boredom

It’s so boring. Of course, TV shows don’t want to show the boring parts and as viewers we don’t want to see the boring parts! But man, it’s dull! Being unable to do all the usual things and having to so much time in bed or sat down is dull. It can be really hard to concentrate too. Just reading a book or watching films is really hard so the usual ways you relax can be out of reach in the early days.

And then the weeks that follow are a balancing act of moving about enough to keep your body ticking over. Keeping your muscles happy and lungs and breathing a-ok and not doing too much that you will harm your recovery. After abdominal surgery I’ve been told to lift nothing heavier than a kettle… it’s amazing how much in life is heavier than a kettle! It can be so frustrating to not be able to do all the things you usually would.

And the tiredness!!!! No one explains just how tiring it is, how your body is using so much energy in healing. A 10 minute conversation results in a 20 minute nap! I am unbelievably exhausted at the minute, and listening to my body is key. The body is hard at work even when just sat still, so tiredness is to be expected after any surgery.

Obviously I have no medical training and can only go on my own experiences. But it got me thinking about how we can better prepare people for surgery to combat all the things we’ve seen in the media? And I suppose for me it is speaking about it honestly and openly here on my blog.

Tell me about your experiences of surgery and how they compare with TV and film, you story might just help someone else struggling right now.

✌🏽& ❤️

Sam xx

7 replies
  1. Kat
    Kat says:

    I had a laparoscopy done last year and it took me nearly 4 weeks to get back to work, next I’m having a hysterectomy due to endometriosis and Adenomyosis and as scared shitless as I am of the actual surgery it’s the recovery part that has me most freaked out. I’m thinking my iPad is gonna be my best friend along with drugs and a heat pack

    Reply
  2. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    The initial 24 hours are just horrendous for me. The boredom, the flowtron boots that don’t let you sleep and always feel hot and awful. I am a ‘chucker’, so I invariably vomit almost constantly for the first 1 – 3 days and the pain that results from all that muscle tension only adds to the misery. Trying to rest with an IV in a spot that means you can’t hold your arm in a normal position and some of the medication they put into the IV really hurts.
    I had restorative breast surgery years ago and it took about 6 months for it not to feel like my breasts weren’t going to fall off my chest when I leant forward!

    Reply
    • Janet Crowther
      Janet Crowther says:

      I had a full hysterectomy a few months ago and the recovery wasn’t as bad as I imagined, was only in hospital 2 nights. I slept in a recliner chair for first week but after that wasn’t too bad at all, Good luck

      Reply
  3. Dave Pawson
    Dave Pawson says:

    Odd comparison, but agree whole heartedly. Op 29 April (resited stoma). Hospital memories?
    Confusion, lack of sleep (darned heart monitors), weak as a kitten, shaking, and TUBES. I hate tubes in me. “Start walking” says the physio. OK… given a frame (and I needed it). Don’t forget the appendages / tubes. Getting a wash in the morning was a major achievement. That first cup of tea? Heaven. Eating! Even small portions! 21lb lost in 3 weeks. Don’t use the stomach muscles. How to get off the CT scanner ‘bed’? Learned the ‘roll off’ technique? Should I beg to be sent home? I was wrong last time and suffered. I AM BORED. Sore ass from all that sitting in plastic chairs, legs like jelly, walking like a 90 year old. Bent over so as not to stretch the stitches. Took me about 7 days to become institutionalised. Highlight of the day? Mealtimes, visiting, meds.
    The heaven when at last I am free of those tubes! Improving in baby steps, almost without realising it. I can walk to the bathroom easily! Yah! I can taste the food! My hand is steady enough to write legibly in my diary! Keep a record of your meds, if you don’t no one will. When to ask for pain relief, addiction at the back of your mind.
    Finally the drive home, every pothole bouncing your innards! A cushion clutched to my stomach. The silence of home after the noise of the ward. A chance to sleep… until woken at silly o’clock.
    Things get better. The first walk round the block, first bike ride (to see someone worse off than me), sitting in the garden feeling the sun, eating a good meal. Incremental but measurable progress.
    Unwanted side note. It’s all slower as you age Sam.

    Reply
  4. Carly Stateman
    Carly Stateman says:

    My last surgery in January I went in as an emergency but took 24 hours to actually get surgical team to assess me, once they assessed me and told me i needed surgery it was about an hour from then when I got taken down. My surgery lasted 5 and a half hours and was in hospital 5 and a half weeks recovering, still recovering now

    Reply
  5. Matthew Price
    Matthew Price says:

    The resident pictured here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0004w2q/surgeons-at-the-edge-of-life-series-2-5-getting-better

    Was due to operate on me, but due to a seizure two days before she didn’t. She did, however, keep checking on my progress as a 2-hour adhesion repair turned into a 6-hour resection just past my duodenum that didn’t appear on any imaging.

    I was seriously ill for the four days post-surgery. When she next came onto the ward a few days later I was up and walking about, She was so happy she ran over and hugged my wife.

    Reply
  6. Laura
    Laura says:

    Excellent spot-on post and comments. My husband needs surgery for a rare abdominal hernia–Spigelian. Talk about wait times. He’s been complaining about gut pain for about 15 months, and has had various tests. All the doctors were clueless but when it finally stuck out, and could be felt (3 weeks ago) an ultrasound revealed the dangerous condition. It will be over a month before he meets with a surgeon, and then who knows how long to schedule the operation. I just hope we don’t have to go to the ER, which is the pits.
    Hospitals are very germy. Tests on the curtains have revealed bacteria and virsuses having a party. When I had my sigmoid colon resected, I was told to throw out the non-slip socks they gave us, and not to put them on the bed after walking the halls. Why? MERSA. And MERSA can spread in the laundry so don’t take them home! C. difficile infections can be fatal and in the US, the CDC does not require hospitals in all states to reveal infection rates yet.
    So yes, we all want to get home as soon as possibles.
    In the US, they are beginning to build single patient rooms to cut down on the spread of infections–something that should have started years ago. It might be boring but at least one might get more sleep and not have to deal with the noisy visitors of the other patients.
    So let’s try to keep open wounds as sterile as possible and make sure caregivers wash their hands before touching you, and that they change their gloves between patients! Healing without hospital-acquired infections is hard enough.

    Reply

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