The Doctor is In (bed), part 2: Dr. Rachel Recovers from Surgery

Rachel_CarltonWell, here I am, a month to the day, fully healed and not even thinking about my absent tonsils (and I did NOT get a sore throat and tonsillitis with a recent cold!).  Overall, I did much better than the average patient, pretty well fully functional by 12 days following surgery and no complications.  I think that the prayers, herbs, craniosacral treatment, nutritional IV’s, and acupucture all helped—at least as much as the love of the people providing them.  And I have to give a grateful nod to Western medicine, for as much as I loved all the holistic approaches, nothing came close to the passion I felt for my bottle of liquid Vicodin in that first week.

I was promised, by the good Dr. Lane, that this surgery would hurt.  A lot.  And she never lies.  I started out gagging down the disgusting, yellow, sickly sweet liquid Vicodin and, honestly, by the end, I looked forward to its pineapple-like flavor.  Amazing what the imagination can do.  I have a whole new appreciation for the difficulty of living with chronic pain and a new sympathy for the longing of addicts for their substance of choice.  After 10 days, I graduated myself to Tylenol and poured my lovely Vicodin down the drain.

I was stunned, really, at the degree of body exhaustion caused by the open wound, even when it ceased to hurt so much.  I inhabited my bed more than half the day and reveled in naps.  To be honest, despite the pain, it was a revelatory experience for me to be quiet, alone and focused on my own needs for two weeks.  As a doctor and mother of three, I don’t think that has ever happened before.  Like all “difficult” experiences, this one has had several silver linings—greater insight into my own needs for rest and reflection and an enormous appreciation for the loving generosity of my family and friends.


My own success has helped me understand and recommend protocols for my own patients undergoing the knife.  Of all the things I tried, these are the ones that I would recommend:

  • Arranging in advance for proper time for recovery and reaping the benefits of quiet and transition
  • Asking for help from your community with cooking, childcare, etc.
  • Avoid substances which can predispose you to bleeding 1 week prior: aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), naprosyn (Alleve), fish oil, ginseng, green tea, gingko biloba, garlic (ok to eat but not to take in concentrated form), St. John’s Wort, Vitamin E, Chinese herbs (unless your acupuncturist is well versed in the risks of particular herbs and surgery) and seaweed.
  • Eating fresh pineapple, ½ cup daily, for 5 days prior to surgery
  • Arnica (a homeopathic remedy) that is specifically developed for surgery or acute injuries, called Sin Ecch the day before and 5 days after surgery
  • Turmeric capsules, three times daily for 5 days prior and after surgery
  • Vitamin A, 150,000 IU daily for 5 days prior and 1 week after surgery
  • Massage, craniosacral or energy work specific to the injury itself after surgery
  • Acupucture to relieve pain and nausea and speed healing several times after surgery
  • Positive visualization and words before and during surgery
  • Prayer or positive thinking from the people you love

As an integrative physician, it is always my hope that my patients can avoid surgical intervention in favor of less invasive strategies.  However, when surgery is necessary, I would bless each of them with the knowledge of how best to care for them selves, physically and emotionally, during the process.  A little Vicodin and a lot of love can be just what the doctor ordered.

Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD, is a family practice physician and the Medical Director of the Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine & Chi Center, a multidisciplinary holistic health clinic serving Santa Cruz County:  www.santacruzintegrativemedicine.net, 831-465-9088, 21511 B East Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz, CA 95062

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