Altered Anatomies

I couldn’t help stoop to using wordplay on the 1980’s sci-fi flick about entering altered dimensions called Altered States. It’s plot involves one isolation tank and lead scientist experimentally weaving in and out of our existential plane. Aside from his changing body, that is where the similarities end. My alternative titles: risks benefits of surgery or why going “under the knife” doesn’t equate to instant relief, were less inspiring. Wouldn’t a quick fix be great, though? You’d go into an anesthesia, ailments are fixed, then awaken brand new. Science fiction depict tales (usually a rich) man placing his body in cryotherapy for alterations when medicine is more advanced.

Oddly enough, anything which we have tried to create, has come in a poor second to our basic body fibers which are stronger and longer lasting than most synthetics. Also, our body systems are integrated and interact with each other. For instance, muscle and fascia are so closely linked, they seem to wind around each other like two perfectly attuned ballroom dancers. Tightness and cramping in one area of the body can feel like the pain is suddenly spreading out and affecting others. At that point, some throw up their hands and proclaim “I’m falling apart!” That’s not necessarily true but points to the body’s natural interconnectedness.

Our nervous system is like a giant connector. Nerves from our spinal column emerge like cords on a central power strip. During an asthma attack, nerves at the corresponding spinal cord level branch both to the lungs and muscles associated with that level. The bronchial tubes constrict and rib cage muscles contract simultaneously in response to an asthma trigger, despite the trigger only directly affecting the lungs. Individuals with asthma can have some mighty tight back and chest wall muscles over time.

You alter one area with surgery along with its connections to others. My stance is not to convince you out of surgery. Many are life, and quality of life, saving. I believe that it’s better to know ahead of time what’s typically in store then wake up to a surprise. Ideally, surgery is non-emergent which gives time to train your body into the best possible condition prior to alteration. Training involves your body and mind. Satisfying high nutrient meals, cardiovascular, strength and stretch conditioning as well as mood elevation with reading or viewing hilarious and inspiring content are part of the mix.

Prior to my mother’s knee replacement surgery, she looked like she was having a blast during pre-rehab. That encouragement was vital to her. She did PT exercises in a gym, dribbled and threw basketballs into a net and stretched. A good friend demonstrated swimming exercises. This was out of her comfort zone and something she couldn’t see herself doing before. She hadn’t been working out in some time and the tissues around her knee (in this case) had both weak (unused) and tight (overused) structures requiring different techniques. Gradual stretch and massage of tight areas and strengthening of weak ones were the basic approaches. Rehab after the surgery was still a long slog and she’s not moving to get the other one fixed any time soon.

I encourage to spark your curiosity and search out as many tips and tricks that helped others to become stronger, more flexible and relaxed before and after surgery. The hospital environment is foreign for many of us. Make this temporary room your own. I’ve heard of people bringing ear buds, calm music and guided meditations to listen to instead of beeps of medical machinery. Seek out guidelines for bringing in personal items on the hospital or facility’s website. Relaxing lotions can be a gateway to ask for hand or foot rubs along with having soothing smells. Funny short videos or images can help you smile. Wearing soft, cozy clothing can be a godsend. I for one would probably have organic veggies and dark chocolate in a little cooler on hand after getting an OK by my doctor to boost nutrient intake and serotonin levels. Seek out a way to create a sense of ease and home to your strange surroundings.

In health,

Dr. Valerie