You take your vitamins, load your plate with veggies and practise yoga, but, alas, after all that, you've been told you need an operation. Scary but true - when it comes to wellness we don't control all the variables. Still, there's a lot you can do for yourself even when trapped in the medical system's surgical vortex. Start preparing at least a month in advance. Quit tobacco and alcohol. Slow your overall pace, eat well, exercise and do whatever works for lowering your stress. Research shows the more anxious you are, the more slowly your cuts will heal. Many experts think outcomes are better when the patient-to-be has taken multivitamins consistently in the weeks leading up to surgery.
Increasing zinc (30 mg) daily is considered helpful, as is high intake of vitamin C (1,000 mg three times a day) a few days before until two weeks after. If you're put on an antibiotic, take 1-to-2-billion-strength acidophilus and bifidus at least twice a day. For post-op healing, stock up on bilberry and gotu kola. Use milk thistle or gentian to help your liver clear the anaesthetic.
If you can only remember one remedy, let it be ingestible homeopathic arnica , the queen of healing agents.
Many other holistic meds, like St. John's wort, vitamin E and Korean ginseng, are actually dangerous before surgery, so it's wise to check every single supplement and herb in your regimen to avoid negative consequences.
When you're consulting with your surgical team, particularly the anaesthetist, make sure you communicate any emotional issues that might cause you to panic as the operation begins. It can be tremendously comforting to ask your family and friends to shower you with thoughts of love and care in the half-hour before the operation.
And, of course, focus your thoughts and feelings on the greater health that awaits you at the other end.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"Homeopathic remedies can ease emotional and physical trauma and speed tissue repair. Most circumstances require the same remedy pre-operatively: arnica. The usual protocol is to take it in 30C potency the evening before the operation, on the morning of and immediately before the procedure. It's preparing the body. Which remedies to take after depend on the type of surgery. For dental surgery, I recommend hypericum , which is great for nerve damage. Causticum helps after hysterectomy. Symphytum speeds recovery after bone surgery. For gall bladder operations, lycopodium is great. If in doubt, just take arnica. Typically, you take post-operative remedies three times daily for one to two weeks."
RAYMOND EDGE , homeopath, director, Toronto School of Homeopathic Medicine
"Pre-op, eat foods rich in vitamin K (which assists with blood clotting), including broccoli , cabbage , cauliflower , kale , collards , asparagus , avocado , beets , spinach and watercress . To avoid thinning your blood, starting 14 days before surgery avoid aspirin, vitamin E, fish oils, raw garlic and onion, digestive enzymes, ginseng, gingko and any herb that contains salicylates - there are about 30 of them. Avoid herbs that increase sedation (valerian and St. John's wort) and that can slow down the metabolism of anaesthetic (g oldenseal, cat's claw, echinacea, St. John's wort and marijuana). I find meditation is fantastic. Just saying to yourself, I will not bleed. I will not bleed,' can prevent the need for blood transfusions and limit bleeding."
NORA JANE POPE , naturopathic doctor, Toronto
"People can give themselves the gift of time to prepare. Do it gradually, not in a whirlwind rush. Let everything else go, if possible. Get the house and your life in order so you don't worry about loose ends. Arrange transportation home after surgery, and have food in the house for when you come home. Rally support people around you - positive, optimistic people. Know what you need and ask your social network for it. If you have fears about the outcome, go into that fear and talk to it as though it were a friend coming to you with a message. The message is, Pay attention, there's going to be a change in your life.' Usually, as soon as you've heard and felt the fear, it dissolves."
CATHERINE ALLON , psychotherapist, Toronto
"Fear is very debilitating. If you see yourself and the surgical team as part of one team, then surgery isn't something they're doing to you, and that assists with the fear. Self-hypnosis really helps - visioning yourself as healthy and whole in three or four weeks' time (after surgery), imagining how much better you're going to look and feel. The surgery is a process to get you there. We suggest that you start three weeks before. Spend at least 20 minutes to half an hour two or three times a day. As you move into the day of the surgery and go into the operating room, just see yourself better."
GEORGINA CANNON , hypnotherapist, founder and director, Ontario Hypnosis Centre, producer, The Healing Journey CD, Toronto
"Do anything you can to avoid surgery. (If you must undergo it), try lowering your stress in the weeks before so that all the little bodily things that need to be repaired are taken care of and your immune system is functioning well. Using acupuncture before surgery will help oxygenate your tissues and ensure waste metabolites are gone. Then all your body has to do is heal the surgery and respond to the anaesthesia; it doesn't have catch-up stuff to do from before. Get advice from a qualified practitioner before using dong quai, Korean ginseng and turmeric before surgery."
KALEB MONTGOMERY , doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, Toronto
"Follow the instructions of your family doctor and surgeon. Aspirin and vitamin E are contraindicated before surgery. Smokers should attempt to give it up for as long as possible beforehand to lower their chance of respiratory complications. It's important not to have food or drink before surgery, as instructed - anaesthesia can cause nausea and vomiting. Vomiting during surgery or soon afterward could lead to serious complications. If you have fever or a respiratory infection, contact your doctor immediately, since it may be necessary to reschedule your surgery."
KRZYSZTOF CONRAD , MD, facial plastic surgeon, associate professor, department of otolaryngology, University of Toronto