Recovery From Surgery Made Easier With Relaxation

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I have always been a woman in constant motion, driven to action both at work and in the home. My brand of leisure activity consists of folding laundry while waiting for the cookies to come out of the oven and listening for my beeper to go off. As a full-time gynecologist and mother of two girls, I somehow lost track of how to completely relax. But on one occasion about a decade ago, I took a lesson in leisure from my youngest child as she “assisted” in my recovery from major surgery.

Getting through the actual surgery was the easy part. The hard part for me was compliance with my doctor’s directive to lay low until returning to work. I knew that I could only stand to take so much time off, so I begged to get back to the office after less than two weeks. Many people take four to six weeks to recover from such a major operation; however, I assumed that because of my relentless drive and boundless energy (and bravado), I would be different.

My one night in the hospital seemed interminable. I couldn’t wait to leave on the morning after surgery, so I was dressed and ready for my surgeon when she made rounds. “I really want to get out of here,” I told her. “I paced the halls last night, and I think I’ll get more rest at home.”

“But what about your kids? Won’t your four-year old be home during the day?” the doctor asked. She already knew the answer, and she probably knew that rest was not on my agenda. We had been friends for a while, and the fact that I never took vacations or days off was well known. She often tried to convince me to relax more, and I was sure she assumed that I just wanted to get home to vacuum and wash a few windows.

“My husband will help me,” I lied. In all likelihood, my spouse would be encouraged by me to pursue what I considered priority activities while I stayed at home with my pre-schooler. I knew he would take his cues from me, and if I said I was okay, then I was okay. If I said I could handle my youngest daughter, then I could. And away from the sanctity of the hospital I went.

My first day at home was about the only day that I did little or nothing. It was my token day of compliance with the surgeon’s postoperative plan for me. The days that followed were literally filled with baking, cleaning, laundry, and every other typical activity associated with the day-to-day running of a household. The only difference was that my beeper was missing from my side. But I felt so good. I told myself that if I were not allowed back in the office, I would simply find work to do at home. As usual, there was no room for relaxation.

One afternoon, about nine days into my so-called convalescence, my daughter facilitated a profound change in my behavior. She was particularly needy that day and kept interrupting my efforts to bake and clean. “Robin, what is it that you want?” I innocently asked her, thinking that I could appease her with a cartoon on TV or something else that would allow me freedom to complete my tasks.

“Mommy,” she said. “Let’s take a bubble bath.”

Take a bubble bath in the middle of the day? The concept was as foreign to me as eating a hotdog for breakfast. But when she looked at me with puppy-dog eyes, pleading for a little mid-day adventure, I caved. I dropped everything I was doing and accompanied her into my bathroom.

“Put this in, Mommy. This makes good bubbles,” she said, pointing to the bottle of scented bath gel. I did as I was told and filled the tub with warm water. As Robin predicted, the gel made wonderfully fluffy bubbles that smelled like fresh strawberry shortcake. We both got in and kicked back underneath the foamy blanket. She used me as a prop-pillow, and we stayed there, reveling in the warmth and the quiet for a long time.

Until that day, I never realized how wonderfully relaxing a bath could be. It recharged my batteries, and gave me a sense of tranquility that lasted the rest of the day. Fortunately, my daughter already had a handle on relaxation techniques, an intuitive knowledge that I hope she will retain as the years go by. She taught me that there’s always time to unwind, and there’s no one better to unwind with than your family – even the four-year old.

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