10 Things You Should Do Before Having Brain Surgery

Posted on
Mar 2, 2014

I got an email the other day from someone who was about to have brain surgery. This, in and of itself, isn’t anything new – since writing about my own surgery, I get a couple of emails a week from people who are in similar (or, as is often the case, far scarier) situations. But this last email I received was a little different – the author asked me just one simple question.

Did I have any practical advice for things she should do before her surgery?

I realized that while I had written rather extensively about the emotions that surround brain surgery, and I’d discussed a few of the things I learned from it, I hadn’t really discussed what I did beforehand to prepare for the experience.

And so, since I haven’t been traveling all that much of late, and there is little to report on that front, I thought I’d dedicate a blog post to her question. I want to make it clear – this is just stuff that I felt the need to do. When I’m stressed, when I feel like my life is a little out of control, I get very organized.

I do laundry. I clean house. Sometimes I make cookies, and then arrange them in neat little stacks inside of Tupperware containers, which is a pointless exercise, because I immediately eat all of them. But whatever. Doing this stuff makes me feel better. When life gets crazy, I try to impose order in whatever way I can (and really, what’s crazier than brain surgery?)

So here’s what I did prior to my surgery (or what I wish I had done). Please keep in mind, though, that we’re all different. We all deal with stress in our way, we all recover from illness in our way. Don’t feel obligated to start cleaning your house the night before your surgery or anything. Seriously, no pressure here on anything of this. God knows, you feel enough of that when you are about to have brain surgery, you don’t need me adding on to the pile.

And with that, here’s my brain surgery preparedness guide.

  1. Clean house. I know, I know – this sounds like the last thing you’d want to do before going under the knife, but there was something really relaxing about putting everything away, and knowing that whatever happened, at least Rand wouldn’t be forced to load or unload the dishwasher on top of everything else. Even if you just manage to whittle away a small pile of documents, or sweep the floor, you’ll be glad you did, as it’s one less thing to worry about post-surgery.

    In all of my photos, this is the closest image I could find to “cleaning”.

  2. Pay the bills. I knew that I would be in no shape to handle paperwork or bills afterwards, and this is generally my domain, and not my husband’s. The idea of writing checks or making transfers – or, ugh, explaining to someone else how to do those things – while doped up on morphine was not a promising alternative, so I just took care of it beforehand, which was a big weight off my shoulders.
  3. Wash a load of sheets and towels. This was necessary, and not just me being a clean-freak. I needed to shower with this weird anti-bacterial soap once the night before my surgery, and again the next morning, and use clean towels each time. I also needed to change the sheets on my bed the night before my surgery and again when I got home (all of this was to reduce risk of infection). Plus, I needed to change my pillowcase every couple of nights for a quite a while. In short, I was going through a LOT of linens, so it was nice to have a clean supply of them.
  4. Have someone to look out for you (or check in on you) after you get home. Rand was, pretty understandably, kind of overwhelmed between his work and my surgery.

    This photo is blurry because I took it from my hospital bed, while hepped up on meds.

    Fortunately, my mom was able to come and keep an eye on me – making me food, administering my meds, doing the dishes, and, yes, even helping me take a bath (after a few days, I could shower on my own, but I needed to put a stepping stool in there since I couldn’t stay on my feet for the whole duration of the shower). Which reminds me …

  5. Get a waterproof stool for your shower. Those first few days, I couldn’t stay on my feet for the entire duration of my shower. Having a stool meant I could sit down and finish getting clean (alternatively, I guess you could take a bath, but I’ve always thought baths were kinda icky). I just used a dinky one from IKEA that we had lying around the house.
  6. Drink a ton of water. Actually, this is something I wish I had done. You obviously can’t drink anything after a certain time the night before your surgery (and nothing the morning of), but I should have consumed more water during the day. When I went in for my surgery, I was so dehydrated, the nurse had to massage my vein to get it going for a blood draw (which was not pleasant).
  7. Have plenty of clean pjs and yoga pants. Again, this is another “wish I’d done it” – I quickly went through all my reserves of pjs, and I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask my mom to do some laundry for me, because I just kept falling asleep. Also, note that you will likely be on steroids, which may cause your belly to swell. You’ll probably be a lot more comfortable in oversized clothes with elastic waistbands.
  8. Fill your fridge with healthy snacks. I did not do this. Not even close. I was crazy hungry from the steroids I was on, and wolfed down cupcake after cupcake, which were arriving at my house by the dozens (my friends are amazing). And while that was a heck of a lot of fun, I realize I was going to eat whatever was put in front of me, so I should have made slightly more of an effort to make sure it was at least remotely healthy.
  9. Take it easy. Obviously, we were both wicked stressed before my surgery, but Rand and I were also really, absurdly lucky. We both were able to step away from our obligations, and took some time off to relax (or, at least, we tried to). I know it’s not a luxury that everyone has, but if you can take some time for yourself, please do.
  10. Have some fun, damn it. Hopefully, this will be the first and only time you ever have to go through this (and if it isn’t, then let me know, and I will come over to your house and give you lots of hugs and cookies). Make the most of it. Think up clever one liners when people ask how you are doing. Make cracks like, “I need this like I need another hole in my head.” Watch your favorite stupid movie. Find something to laugh about. It will make heading into the operating room that much easier.

    My friend Bob made this for me, because he is wonderful.

Like I said, this is simply stuff that I did to make myself feel better. There’s no right or wrong way to prepare for brain surgery – everyone is different, and needs to figure out what works for them. I just thought I’d share what I had done because, well, someone asked.

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