14 June 2023

By Sam Alexandra Rose

Our Patient and Public Involvement Manager Sam blogs monthly for Bowel Research UK, sharing her experiences of bowel cancer and Lynch Syndrome.


If you’ve never had abdominal surgery before, it can be difficult to know exactly what recovery is going to feel like. This is equally true if your loved one is having surgery – how long will it take them to get better, and what can you do to help in the meantime? I’ve compiled seven helpful things you could do to make life a little easier for the person in your house who has just undergone surgery.

It’s worth remembering that the type and method of surgery, as well as the circumstances of the individual experiencing it, will mean that everyone’s recovery will be different. My experiences are based on my bowel removal, hysterectomy and Whipple surgery, all of which were open rather than laparoscopic. With that said, let’s dive in!


1. Keep things in easy reach

The first thing I suggest is to make it as easy as possible for your loved one to do daily tasks, and that includes keeping regularly used objects within easy reach. When you’ve had tummy surgery, it can be difficult to twist around or stretch your arms to reach something. So if the toilet paper is sitting on the cistern or the window ledge behind the toilet, put it on its holder so they don’t need to turn around to get it. Or keep the cereal out on the counter for a while instead of the top cupboard.


2. Eliminate the need to bend down

Similarly, pick things up off the floor for them. They dropped their napkin? Duck under the table and get it for them. They’re struggling to tie their shoes or put their socks on? Give them a hand. Letters just dropped onto the doormat? You get the idea. These sound like small things, and they are when you’re able-bodied, but when your belly has been cut open suddenly it’s much harder to do basic tasks. You’d be surprised how much you use your stomach muscles every day, so surgery – especially open surgery – has a real impact.


3. Do the heavy lifting

The last thing a person needs after surgery is to pick up something a bit too heavy and end up with a hernia. If something weighty needs to be lifted, make that your job for a good while.


4. Let them sleep

Sleep is an important part of recovering from surgery, so if your loved one is spending a lot of time dozing, that generally isn’t a bad thing. Some people like to see their loved ones getting up and about quickly, perhaps partly because they think starting to move around will help – and it will, if done gradually and carefully. But I also think people really want to see family members up and about because that’s a sign of them feeling better, and they just want them to feel okay again. While those are loving intentions, a person needs to listen to their body if it’s telling them to rest. This point isn’t simply about letting people sleep, but trusting that they are doing what their body needs because they know it best.


5. Go for walks together

With that said, when your loved one is feeling able to get up and about, it’s a nice idea to go on a walk together, even if it’s just a short one or a little wander around the garden. Don’t try too much too soon. Build it up slowly together – from just going down the street and back, to any loftier ambitions of getting back into a favourite sport.


6. Celebrate when they make progress

On top of that, when you do go for walks or reach milestones, you can celebrate together! Achievements, no matter how small, should be celebrated. It may be a walk down the street, around the block, or a first meal out at a favourite restaurant. Anything that signals getting back to normal deserves to be celebrated.


7. Acknowledge that getting better isn’t a linear journey

Finally, remember (and remind your loved one!) that recovery is not a linear journey. Sometimes it is a case of getting a little better every day, but that may be interrupted by a bad day, and this setback can feel discouraging. It’s important to know that those off days are normal and it just means that getting better is more of a long and winding road than we sometimes expect.


If you or someone you care for is undergoing abdominal surgery, I hope these tips have helped and wish you the best of luck with the recovery.