Postoperative depression can happen after any operation where general anesthesia is used to put you into a deep sleep. postoperative depression most commonly happens after major open-heart surgery and those that result in life-altering results like discovery of cancer or removal of a body part.
I have come to understand through discussions with medical and psychological professionals, that it can happen after any surgery. The factors that bring on a postoperative depression are the anesthesia, the trauma from the surgery, your physical and mental condition at the time of the operation, and your care afterward.
If you do not prepare for the operation and don’t care for yourself properly during recovery, you can have a serious setback that can lead to depression, infection, and even death.
Being a person with no health problems, on no medications, a twice a day exerciser, a committed vegan, and no history or episodes of serious depression, I was shocked when a very intelligent and compassionate urgent care physician told me I had slipped into a major depression after a very common hernia surgery. This diagnoses made no sense to me since most of my symptoms were physical. I did not know that non-psychological events like the use of anesthesia and the trauma of surgery could bring on a severe depression, at least not in me!
I was actually relieved when the doctor told me because the depression had brought on debilitating physical symptoms that I thought indicated a much more serious problem like sepsis. My mother had a horrible death from sepsis after heart surgery two years earlier.
My symptoms included intense headaches, ringing in my ears, dizziness or seasick feeling, diarrhea, achy joints and muscles, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, and severe anxiety. All of this occurred with no fever throughout.
I was in bed all day for 2-3 weeks and only partially functioning for a couple of weeks after that. This was the longest period by far that I had been sick in my life!
When I told this story to my primary care physician (PCP) toward that end of this ordeal, he offered another possible cause. He said, “I am not disagreeing with the diagnosis, but because you have recovered so quickly I am led to consider that it “might” have been something else. I’ve heard of people having a poisoning-like reaction to certain anesthesia that mimics major depression.” He mentioned a medical term for it that I can’t remember.
To be honest, I’m still not sure about what happened. I may have just caught a very bad flu bug during a vulnerable time (not all flu’s come with a fever), or it was as the urgent care doctor or my PCP said. What I am certain of, however, are the things I will do to prepare if any kind of surgery is needed in the future.
Here’s what I’ll do for 30 days before and after surgery (depending on the type) and what I highly recommend others do as well.
- Stop all alcohol consumption. (Stop smoking and recreational drugs if you do either.)
- Stick to or ramp up an exercise program.
- Stick to or ramp up healthy foods diet.
- Eliminate all junk food. (I rarely indulge in this area.)
- Lose or gain weight as needed. (I was about 10 pounds underweight at the time of my surgery, which came as a shock to me.)
- Get lots of rest.
- Develop a habit of positive thinking about the surgery’s outcome.
- Stop any negative thoughts about bad outcomes immediately!
- Eliminate or postpone high-stress decisions and issues.
- Handle all business before surgery so that schedule is clear during recovery.
- Prepare your home environment for recovery including bed and hygiene needs and access to phone, television, and computer.
- Stock up on appropriate food and medications for recovery.
- Get uplifting books, music, and movies for recovery.
- Enter numbers to your surgeon, primary care physician, pharmacy, health insurance, and closest (geographically) family member or friend into your phone.
I did many of these things before my hernia surgery, but I was obviously not thorough enough.
I’ve come to understand that surgery, even those that seem simple, should be taken seriously in how you prepare for them before and after.