Stewing In Your Own Juice

Angry about something? Thinking about it nonstop? Stalled in your own cycle of repetitive thoughts? Time to bust out.

Post Op Depression

“Perseveration” is a great term that describes the repetitive looping of the same thoughts. As you do so, all progress in life stops. There are multiple great examples of this among people recovering from surgery, along with ways to break the cycle. Here are a few we often see:

Pain. Post-operative pain is normal. Surgery hurts. We do a range of interventions to minimize the pain—such as pre-emotive anesthesia, where we block the nerves before any incision is made—so that the brain never feels the pain of an incision. Yet after surgery, the amount of pain a patient feels varies widely. Those patients who focus on the pain, who can’t get it under control, who are frustrated, slow their recovery down. They focus on the pain and not the muscle, balance, and strengthening exercises we encourage.

Anger. Not all surgical procedures have a great outcome. Not all surgeons make the best decisions all the time. Not all patients follow the advice they are given. When failures do occur, the attitude of the patient and the doctor often determines whether or not the problems can be fixed. When going into surgery (or any treatment program) it is helpful to be prepared for the unexpected. I have counseled so many patients that, during more than 30 years of practice, I have seen most complications—either my own or (most often) those referred to me. I can fix most of them, as long as the patient has a positive attitude. Learning how to let go of the anger that boils up when one is disappointed that the outcome was not optimal is a skill that serves everyone well in many aspects of life.

Impatience. Nothing ever heals fast enough. Collagen, the major protein of the body, takes a year to mature fully. The collagen fibers remodel, the cells evolve from immature cells to mature cells, and the blood supply morphs from hypervascular at the time of injury or repair to a more mature level of vascularity. And the tissue becomes stronger over time. Frustrated that their return to sports is delayed, some patients fall into post-surgery depression. But those with more optimistic attitudes use their time with the PT training team to focus on other parts of their bodies, evolving their fitness in new ways. Patience rewards the patients who are not impatient.

Optimism is a common denominator amongst successful patients. Belief in your own ability to heal, and in your surgeon’s ability and desire to help you, is a powerful tool. Getting the timing right to engage in your own treatment to achieve a better-than-expected outcome is another part of the success path. When you find yourself contemplating your own navel too much, stewing in your own juice, search for the tools that help you break free from the past and use the injury as an opportunity to become fitter, faster, and stronger, as creatively as possible.

Medically authored by
Kevin R. Stone, MD
Orthopaedic surgeon, clinician, scientist, inventor, and founder of multiple companies. Dr. Stone was trained at Harvard University in internal medicine and orthopaedic surgery and at Stanford University in general surgery.