Hi everyone- Happy Friday! I hope you’re all having a great week and for those who celebrate Christmas, I hope you are gearing up for the holiday next week.
As some of you know, I underwent surgery last week for an inguinal hernia repair. It was something I had been dealing with for about 10 years and I thought what better time to have it repaired and recover, than over the holidays and before we head to Europe in January. As I started my research to find information on the surgery and recovery for inguinal hernia repair, specifically for women, I realized there was nothing out there. So, I’ve decided to share my personal story and experience with inguinal hernia repair for those who may want to hear how I’ve handled the surgery and recovery.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
As I mentioned, I’ve had the inguinal hernia for about 10 years- I first noticed it at cheerleading practice my freshmen year of college. I asked someone what it was and they diagnosed me with a hernia- pretty scientific I know. It came and went for a few years. It would bulge out and then go back in- bulge out, then go back in. It was always very small and didn’t cause me pain- it was more of something that was just a little uncomfortable.
My junior year of college I finally went to see a surgeon in Hawaii. He examined me, confirmed it was a hernia and then told me that I could wait to have surgery until after I graduated. I agreed and went on my merry way. After that appointment, I really didn’t have any symptoms until about a year ago- so 6-7 years later. I had honestly forgotten that I even had a hernia and I thought it had went away forever (I then found out that they never really go away or heal).
About a year ago I noticed the bulge again and also an intense pressure that came with it. It would give me pain for a few days at most, and then disappear for weeks or months at a time. I actually thought it might have been an issue with my ovaries or reproductive system because of the location and the fact that the pain and pressure usually occurred after intercourse or after a very long, hard run.
I went to see my gynecologist for a check-up and had an ultrasound done just to make sure everything was ok. All clear!My uterus was healthy and happy- no issues there. I told the GYN that I had a hernia in the past and she immediately concurred that it was the cause of the pain and pressure and recommended that I have surgery- especially before childbirth.
That conversation is what eventually lead me to meet with a product manager here at my work. You see, I work for a medical device company that actually produces and sells a hernia repair graft. The graft is made of pig intestine (the official name is Biodesign), but the cool part about the product is that is completely reabsorbs into your own tissue leaving no trace of anything synthetic or permanent. Seems like a pretty cool product right? I was hoping that if I had to have the hernia repair, that the surgeon might choose to use this product over a synthetic mesh which is the other common practice for hernia repair.
After meeting with the product manager here at work and explaining my condition, I asked him for a few physician recommendations. I wanted someone who was going to take into consideration the fact that I am young, a female (these aren’t super common among women), a competitive athlete and someone who wanted kids soon (taking into account the literal weight of pregnancy). He recommended a physician in Miami, FL who is the best, but after telling him that I probably wasn’t going to travel to FL for surgery, he recommended a physician in Indianapolis that he had worked with in the past who was a great surgeon and who was very well versed in hernia repairs.
MEETING WITH THE SURGEON
I scheduled a meeting with the surgeon and Wil and I met with him along with our list of questions. He was very polite and answered everything we asked. I asked him what type of surgery he would suggest for my case- laparoscopic or open and he gave me the pros and cons of each- he recommended laparoscopic for me. I asked him if I could get pregnant after the repair and if that would give me an issue and he said it shouldn’t. I asked him if I would be able to run, bike, swim, lift and do all my activities eventually after the surgery and he said yes.
I asked him what product he would most likely use and he told me that it depends on the size of the hernia and they actually can’t tell that until they’re in there during surgery, but that for my case and location of the hernia, he would most likely use a polypropylene mesh and not the Biodesign product. I asked him what the recovery was like and he said it was simple- no activity for two weeks and no lifting anything over 25 pounds for four weeks. He assured me that this is a super easy, very common procedure (750,000 hernia repairs annually in the US) and I would be back to normal in no time.
Considering what I went through recovery wise with my FAI surgery, I thought this would be a piece of cake. Wil and I discussed the options and decided that having the surgery was the best solution and it was best to have it done now. We scheduled it for December 11th which was about four weeks away.
Over those four weeks I went through many ups and downs in terms of feeling at ease with the decision to have surgery. I kept thinking, “Is this overkill? I really don’t have a lot of pain all the time with the hernia so do I absolutely need the surgery?”. And then I would think, “Yes. Do it now before you have kids. You don’t want any complications with it during pregnancy- better to do it now while you have the money and time”.
Wil and I discussed it a lot and I kept going back and forth. I tried and tried to find information online, but without much luck. I found one YouTube channel of a professional basketball player who had hernia repair (open, not laparoscopic) and he provided some insight into his recovery and some exercises for recovery. I googled everything with female + hernia + hernia surgery + female athlete which literally turned up no results. That’s when I posted about the surgery on Facebook and found that a few women I knew had actually had the surgery, but none of them had had it before they had kids (one did, but she didn’t remember much about it since she was younger when the surgery took place). This wasn’t very reassuring either. At the end of the day, I decided that the hernia would not repair itself. Hernia’s don’t go away totally and they don’t repair themselves. Knowing that, I decided to go ahead with the surgery and embrace it.
The day before the surgery I started getting a sore throat, a head cold and a stuffy nose. We had been in Dallas a few days before for the American Open and the time spent on the plane and with people who had germs all over the place, I was in for getting some sort of cold. I woke up the morning of the surgery feeling awful. I told Wil I wondered if they would even do surgery because I couldn’t breath and my throat was hurting so bad. We assumed they would tell us if they didn’t want to do surgery because I didn’t feel well.
The surgery was done at IU Health in Indianapolis, specifically at the Simon Cancer Center. The facility was very nice and the people were very kind. We got there, got checked in and I got settled into the pre-op room. I took a pregnancy test which is standard before surgery, got into my robe and waited for the nurses to come in.
I am terrified of needles. I hate them. I can look at them and work with them day-in and day-out in my profession, but the second I think about it going into my vein, I get anxious, my blood pressure rises and I want to cry. Luckily, the anesthesiologist was very kind and he numbed my hand beforehand. The IV needle freaks me out more than the surgery itself- weird, I know. The anesthesiologist mentioned that since I had a cold they would give me a breathing treatment of Albuterol during surgery, to help with my cold.
I was pretty nauseous from the anesthesia after my FAI surgery and I had told the surgeon this. The anesthesiologist put this little round patch sticker on the back of my head near my ear which is supposed to help with nausea thank you Mr. anesthesiologist, thank you. We somehow got onto the conversation of epidural, his wife giving birth and how his wife was pregnant. He was extremely nice and I was happy to have him as someone taking care of me. Wil liked him so much he said he wanted to hang out with him sometime.
The two surgery nurses came in and were also very kind. I asked if they had ever experienced an inguinal hernia repair for a female and one of them said that his girlfriend (who had been a collegiate swimmer at IU) had actually had the surgery a few months prior. I enjoyed talking to them and they made a few jokes which helped ease my nerves. The surgeon came in and marked my right side with a permanent marker and I asked him a few recovery questions- one of which he had probably never been asked. I asked him when we could be intimate again (and when I said “we” I meant Wil and I- Wil made a joke about this and the surgery nurses thought it was hilarious) and when I could get a bikini wax- hey, these are two very important things for a female to know!
I gave Wil a hug, and a kiss and was on my way to the OR. I laid on the table and they put a warm blanket on me that felt fantastic. I remember making a joke about how I shaved my legs just for the procedure and then it got fuzzy and I was out.
I woke up in the post-op room which is dimly lit and very quiet. I was shivering and my teeth were chattering- a symptom of the anesthesia and something I experienced after my last procedure. I was in my robe and had a lot of blankets on top of me. I asked why my eyes were oily because it almost seemed like I had blurred vision and the nurse said they put something in your eyes to help them from getting dried out.
I got back to my pre-op room and rested until I was ready to get my clothes on. I couldn’t bend over, lean over, sit up or do much. I felt super groggy and Wil had to completely dress me and put on my socks and boots. See, I look really groggy…but I am smiling!
One thing that surprised me was that the surgeon never came to talk to me after the surgery. Maybe because they assume you won’t remember any of it anyway, but that struck me as odd. He did come and talk to Wil and said that everything went well and that the hernia wasn’t actually any of my intestine, rather a sac of fluid that kept filling up. He told Wil that we should call for a follow-up appointment in four-six weeks.
The next few days were pretty much the same in terms of what I did. I slept a lot, did minimal movement and tried my best not to cough, laugh, strain, sneeze, roll over, sit-up or anything else that would require me to use my core (which sucks by the way). I got outside on Thursday or Friday (I don’t remember) and Wil walked me down the block very, very slowly so I could get some fresh air and see the sunshine- it felt great to get out! My husband is so good to me too- such a great care-taker 😉
I knew that I wouldn’t have much of an appetite due to the pain killers so I had prepped some homemade chicken broth and my paleo chili the day before surgery. I ended up eating broth most of the day and then supplemented with chili, baby food and lots of water and some coconut water. The first thing I ate after my surgery was a smoothie which is so weird if you know me. I usually don’t like smoothies, but for some reason it sounded really good to me-probably because my throat was very sore. Wil made me a smoothie with coconut milk, raspberries, strawberries and I don’t even know what else, but it was tasty.
One thing I struggled with was the gas from the surgery. My first day home wasn’t very bad, but for some reason the next couple of days my stomach ballooned. I’m guessing it was a combination of the gas they used to inflate my tissue for the surgery, retaining water since I was hardly moving, swelling from the surgery itself and maybe some fluid from the surgery. See, I look pregnant with the amount of gas that was in my belly!
I have a few other pictures that are a lot worse, but I will spare you and myself the embarrassment.
So, today marks day 9 of recovery for me. I went back to work on Wednesday which was exactly one week post-op. Honestly, it was a little too soon (I was exhausted by 3pm and not making any sense), but I’m glad to have gotten back on a routine and drive and get out of the house. I stopped taking my pain meds on Monday (5 days post-op) and resorted too some ibuprofen on Tuesday and Wednesday. No pain meds yesterday or today either. See, I am a happy camper!
I’d like to give a few tips for anyone going through inguinal hernia repair- especially if you’re a female:
- Take a stool softener with every pain pill you take: Trust me, just do it. I didn’t do this with my first surgery and I did with this one and it was a blessing! I had a bowel movement two days after surgery and I didn’t have to push. I know it’s TMI, but believe me, you won’t want to push (and you shouldn’t).
- Get two ice packs and rotate them: I rotated between two clay ice packs and kept them on my belly for a few days after the surgery. The cooling helps with the pain and will help with swelling.
- Make nourishing, non-inflammatory, feel-good foods before the surgery and have them on hand: Your body needs a lot of calories to recover and repair. Most people don’t realize this. They eat crackers and ginger-ale because they can’t stomach anything. You need food that will nourish your body and help you recover. Make something simple like chicken broth, pureed veggies or other soups that are whole food based, freeze them and then get them out when you’re recovering.
- Sleep with a pillow under your knees and on your side: The pillow under your knees will help take some of the pressure off of your legs being totally flat on the bed. The pillows on the side will help you push up if you need to and will also keep your significant other from accidentally bumping you in the middle of the night. You might also want to use an extra pillow to sleep on so you are propped up a bit.
- Lay out clothes options on top of your dresser before your surgery: You won’t be able to bend over so prep all your outfits before. I know I sound like a crazy planner, but this really helps and makes it easy for whoever is helping dress you (yes, someone will have to put on your socks, underwear and pants).
- Try not to sneeze, cough or laugh- and if you do, use a pillow: I know this sounds ridiculous. I didn’t know how much it would hurt if I did these things. I could barely talk when I would stand up because of the use of my diaphragm and the pressure being put on the surgery area. If you do have to cough, sneeze or laugh, hold a pillow tight to the hernia area and press down. It’s probably not a medical solution, but no one in the hospital told me what to do in this case (to be fair, I didn’t think to ask).
- Drink a lot of water. And then drink some more: Your body needs water daily when you aren’t recovering from surgery. When you are recovering, the last thing you think of is drinking water. Just do it. This will help with your digestive system and having a bowel movement and will also keep you hydrated throughout recovery. If you need to, supplement with some coconut water.
- Take supplements when needed: I knew that my body was not in tip top shape going into surgery and I knew it would need a little extra boost while recovering. While recovering I took a probiotic, multi-vitamin and glutamine. Even though I was eating some whole foods, I wasn’t getting enough protein, vegetables or any of the recommended amounts of whole foods I should normally eat. Talk to your doctor and ask them about what you can and cannot take- they will be able to advise you.
- Try to rest, but do move some: I’m a very active person so being laid up for days on end is maddening. With this surgery, your body needs to heal from the inside out. You need to let it recover by not using your core, which unfortunately (or fortunately) is the basis of most anything you do- walking, running, sitting, standing, etc. Rest and relax, but do get up and walk around when you can or go out and enjoy the weather. Moving will help with the digestive system and will also help with the healing of tissue. Just don’t do what I did and overdo it by going to the mall to Christmas shop and end up there for 2 hours and then you’re exhausted- oops.
- SLEEP!: Remember that thing I said about your body burning a lot of calories to recover? You’ll be tired. Add to the fact that you’re probably on pain killers and you might be sleeping hours a day. Let your body rest and heal. That’s why you take off work and don’t schedule a single thing. I could barely get on the computer and type an email because I was tired. I slept until 12 noon one day. My body needed it. Let it rest.
So, there you have it. I hope this is helpful for those who might be looking for information on this surgery. I will keep everyone up-to-date on my recovery and what exercises I can do in the next few weeks. We head to Europe in two weeks so I’ve gotta make sure my body is primed and ready for a lot of walking and sight-seeing!
Hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and enjoy the holiday. As always, Stay Fit & Eat Delicious!
Tagged: female athlete hernia repair, female athlete hernia surgery, female athlete with hernia, female hernia, female hernia repair surgery, female inguinal hernia, hernia, hernia repair surgery, hernia surgery, inguinal hernia, inguinal hernia repair