Individuals who are about to undergo bariatric surgery should understand not only the prerequisites of surgery but also everything that goes into the recovery process. Gastric bypass is major surgery and it will require an extended recovery period as well as significant lifestyle changes. Depending on the technique used for your surgery and unique circumstances, times for a full recovery will vary but typically will fall between 6 and 8 weeks, and patients are required to take off between 2 and 4 weeks.
The time frame for you returning to work may be anywhere from two weeks or more depending on your specific job responsibilities and how your healing process progresses. If your family depends on the income from your job to pay for basic necessities then it is even more important that you prepare in advance as time off from work may impact you financially.
What Is Gastric Bypass Surgery?
Gastric bypass surgery is one of the most common types of weight loss surgery performed in the USA today. During gastric bypass surgery, the stomach is made much smaller and the small intestine is re-routed to control the number of calories and nutrients the body can absorb. Food travels more quickly through the digestive system and limits caloric intake resulting in significant weight loss.
An Overview of Gastric Bypass Recovery
After gastric bypass surgery, patients spend between 3 to 5 days in the hospital for observation and monitoring. This is to help mitigate risks such as bleeding, leaking, or other complications due to the surgery. Typically during the time in the hospital, the patient is given medication to alleviate any abdominal pain and surgery-related discomfort.
Normally the patient is not allowed to eat or drink anything until the day after surgery except for some ice chips. Normally patients can start drinking clear liquids for breakfast the day after surgery and then their diet may advance to full liquids and possibly protein shakes (if tolerated) by that evening. The dietary plan will vary depending on the type of surgery performed and other patient particulars.
Most patients will have a bladder catheter for the first few days in the hospital and may have another catheter used for drainage. Patients must wear supportive compression stockings while in the hospital and recovering at home. In addition to the compression stockings, medical staff will assist patients with getting up and walking around to prevent blood clots from occurring. A special tool will be used to facilitate breathing exercises periodically to help re-expand the lungs after the surgery.
During the hospital stay, any pain experienced will be monitored and controlled through an IV and then gradually moved to oral medications. When patients are medically cleared by the surgeon and able to walk around fairly well they will be discharged from the hospital.
Recovering From Gastric Bypass Surgery at Home
Arrange for Some Help
- You will need someone to drive you home from the hospital and stay with you for a few days. In addition to providing moral support, your friend or loved one can help you deal with everyday life until you can handle some of these things yourself.
- You may need help with some personal grooming routines such as getting to the bathroom or showering for the first few days. Even things as simple as bending down to lift the toilet lid may not be possible right away.
- You may also need assistance with normal household tasks, caring for children, pets, grocery shopping, and helping you stay on course with your fluid and diet intake.
- You may need them to drive you to appointments for about a week or so until you can drive again when cleared by the surgeon and no longer on prescription pain medication.
Walking and Wound Care after Gastric Bypass
You will be very fatigued and will tire easily but you need to be diligent about doing your short little walks around the house several times a day. You should follow the after-care instructions your surgeon provided regarding wound care and keeping the area clean and as dry as possible to prevent infection.
There may be thin bandages on your wound site(s) that will need to be redressed after showering or every few days. You also may have some staples that will need to be removed or stitches that will dissolve without any intervention. Your aftercare directions will include the particulars regarding you and your surgery so you will know what to do. If you have any questions, contact your surgeon’s office.
You will probably be cleared to take a shower a day or so after surgery, but you will be advised to gently wash the area with mild soap and thoroughly dry it. You will not be able to take a bath, swim or use a jacuzzi until cleared by the surgeon.
It is important that you attend all follow up appointments and inform your surgeon of any concerns.
To avoid complications, you must take all the recommended supplements and drink your water. Do not let yourself get dehydrated! Dehydration is the main reason patients are admitted to the hospital after weight loss surgery. The dietary plan is very specific and must be strictly followed so you do not negate your surgery or make yourself sick.
Week 2 and Beyond
After you get through the first week, you will probably still be sore and uncomfortable but should be able to manage your discomfort with over-the-counter medications. You need to continue walking and building up to longer walks as time progresses, gaining strength and stamina every week until you feel normal again.
You will be following your surgery aftercare plan and increasing activity and exercise according to the plan. This goes for your diet as well, you will be working your way from liquids to solid foods over the first 3 months after surgery. Strenuous activity should be avoided for at least three weeks and possibly up to six weeks depending on the type of surgery you had.
Signs of Trouble after Gastric Bypass
If you develop any of the symptoms below be sure to call your surgeon immediately or go to your nearest emergency room. These may be signs of potential infection or another complication that require medical attention:
- foul-smelling discharge from wound sites;
- swelling, tenderness, or redness of the wound seems to be getting increasingly worse;
- vomiting and diarrhea;
- chest or leg pain, shortness of breath, coughing;
- pain in the shoulder or the abdomen.
Take the first step on your journey to a healthy life
Gastric Bypass Recovery Time off Work
Having bariatric surgery is a big undertaking and recovery is going to be a process. If you have a full time job, this means you are going to have to take time off of work to recover from gastric bypass surgery. Typically, gastric bypass surgery requires patients to take off between 2 and 4 weeks. If your job is labor-intensive and you are required to lift objects weighing over 25 lb you will have to wait at least six weeks before you are cleared to return to work.
It is understandable from a financial standpoint why patients would want to get back to work but it is advisable to be prepared for some of the challenges that await you back at the office. Thinking through some of the situations that may arise once you return to work and having a plan prepared will help you successfully stay on track. Some of the challenges you may face include:
Sticking to Your Diet
Often being in an office environment makes it harder to follow dietary guidelines especially when coworkers are not bound by the same restrictions. If patients return to work while still on the very restricted portions of the diet they may run into time constraints in regards to preparing their lunchtime time meals.
Being Diligent in Following Your Exercise Plan
Spending the majority of time during the week at work can make it hard to fit in time to exercise. It is crucial after gastric bypass surgery for your ongoing recovery and weight loss success to persevere in this area. You may need to look for creative ways to get in as much exercise during the workday as you can. You may have to modify your previous routine and get up earlier or work out in the evenings. You may have to get a bit creative and park further away than you normally do so you have to walk a bit more, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or take a walk at lunch.
Your Energy and Motivation Level
After major surgery patients routinely experience fatigue both mentally and physically. This is one of the most challenging elements after having surgery and it will take time before returning to pre-surgery energy and motivation levels. Patients may be fully recovered physically but it may take several more weeks or months to regain their mental and psychological energy.
Often, stress is a trigger for people that leads to excess weight gain for both physical and psychological reasons. Returning to work may induce enough stress to make it difficult for you to maintain your dietary or weight loss goals. Learning some stress management techniques that you can practice in the workplace would be very helpful.
Patients who prepare themselves, their surroundings, and the people around them for what is to come after bariatric surgery are often more successful in returning to work. Life after bariatric surgery will change in almost every area so having conversations with managers, co-workers and friends may go a long way in helping them understand how to better support you.
Things You Can’t Do after Gastric Bypass Surgery
Most of the things that you cannot do after gastric bypass surgery are related to your diet. This surgery is just the launching point of your weight loss journey and requires lifelong changes to be successful. Some of the changes will be temporary and some will be permanent however, in the long run, the benefits of implementing these lifestyle changes are numerous and significant. Here are some of the things you must avoid after gastric bypass surgery:
Activity Forbidden after Gastric Bypass
- You can not drive until you are totally off pain medications and the surgeon clears you. This can last anywhere from 1 week to a month.
- Avoid performing motions that require you to push and pull or lifting objects weighing more than 20 to 30 pounds. This should get you out of vacuuming and other household chores for at least 6 weeks!
- You cannot perform any heavy work that requires lifting, carrying, or pushing heavy loads for at least 3 months. This may affect your ability to perform your normal job at work. You may be able to speak to your employer about working in a different capacity until you can resume your normal duties.
- Avoid long periods of inactivity. You must frequently change positions to avoid blood clots so you need to avoid sitting and standing in the same place without moving for extended periods. Climbing stairs is an excellent activity to get the blood circulating.
Around the 4 to 6-month mark after surgery, you should be able to resume all your normal physical activities. If you haven’t already started, begin to incorporate some strength training with some light weights using just a few repetitions working your way up to heavier weights and increased repetitions to help boost your strength level.
There are many dietary restrictions after gastric sleeve surgery that will be covered in another post but here are three that seem to be the most challenging for many patients:
- Avoid caffeine after surgery for at least 3 months.
- Avoid carbonated beverages after surgery for at least 3 months.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks after surgery for at least 6 months.
After gastric bypass surgery, the medications you normally take may need to be adjusted and your surgeon will work with you regarding those but you also must avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as:
- Aspirin and other medications that contain aspirin;
What If I Can’t Afford to Take Time Off of Work for Gastric Bypass Surgery?
That is a great question! This is a very common concern for individuals who require weight loss surgery. Although each patient’s financial situation is unique, we would like to pass along two possible suggestions. 1.) Look into your current insurance coverage and see if you are covered for a short-term disability; 2.) Look into non-surgical endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) to see if you may be a candidate.
Do You Have a Short-term Disability Insurance?
Having surgery that requires an extended time for recovery may take a financial toll on you and your family. If you are looking into gastric bypass surgery to treat obesity, you may be entitled to short-term disability benefits. These benefits are sometimes included in your employer-provided insurance and pay a portion of your salary while you are unable to work due to an injury or an illness. You may also consider speaking to your employer about pooling sick leave and vacation time together for use during your recovery time.