May 2021

Understanding Surgical Trauma

  • By: Samantha Denäe

Stress. It is a major problem for many people, a lot of times killing them if not managed properly, but when an issue arises and surgery (minor or major) is the answer, their stress goes to a totally new place. 

Surgical Trauma, defined as, “any injury produced by or related to major surgery”, is more common than one may tend to think. Recognized by surgeon Francis Moore, trauma begins before a patient even enters the operating room, before being put under general anesthesia, and before the first incision. It begins when a patient becomes aware of what is in store for them. The minute the word “surgery” is mentioned as course of treatment, the anxiety bell begins to ring. That anxiety is carried all the way through pre-operative appointments to the actual day of the procedure, into post-operative care, and recovery. Now add in the fogginess and sometimes impulsive responses to anesthesia, the actual surgical procedure, and retorts from the body's natural stressors, and it is a wonder that this subject is not frequently discussed. 

I have had four surgical experiences, three that I can remember, and each time was scarier than the last. I was so afraid to have the actual procedure and afraid that once I awaken, that critical body organs would be missing. Hands touching me that I was not familiar with. Anesthesia that I was afraid to have because what if I woke up during surgery? It has happened before. Even more, I was afraid and had major anxiety about the recovery. Recovery is extremely harsh on the body and mind. It is the part of the surgery experience that doctors do not tell you about. The anger you feel of not being able to move your body the way you’d like for weeks at a time and wondering if surgery was even worth it, especially when living with Endometriosis, is mentally exhausting. The depression that is associated with a condition that even requires surgery is traumatic because that is something you most likely won’t get past. 

As more studies to learn about Surgical Trauma are being done, doctors should be having these conversations with their patients before and after a surgical procedure. I can imagine the stress that comes from surgical anxiety and depression and how it has an impact on the patient’s healing as well as the acceptance/rejection of their diagnosis and/or organs from transplants. As a collective, putting emphasis on a person’s mental health and taking in account of how that plays a role in their surgical healing is crucial. We should be creating ways to combat the trauma that surgery proposes.

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