“What I learned from having surgery”

I recently had knee surgery, and for 6 long weeks I had to wear a leg brace day and night, keeping the knee straight. I could walk and weight-bear, but it was forbidden to bend the knee at all. 

As a former doctor, I understood the surgical process and the postoperative recovery, and yet, before the surgery, I made light of the impact this would have on me. There seems to be a common tendency amongst healthcare workers that we will not be affected in the same way as our patients; that we are somehow immune to the effects of illness or injury! 

Thanks to my apparent belief in my superhuman powers, I made almost no adjustment to my upcoming schedule for the weeks following the operation. I believed that I would still be able to meet all my commitments without any disruption.

How wrong I was!

But I learned a lot over the six weeks and here are three of the lessons:

1. It’s so important to replenish

Wearing the brace at night really affected my sleep, especially in the first couple of weeks. I was attempting to function on about 4 hours of shut-eye per night – which is nowhere near enough for me.

Initially, despite feeling terrible during the day, it didn’t occur to me to have a nap! As a doctor, I had become conditioned to pushing on through, even when I was feeling utterly exhausted. And it dawned on me that I still hadn’t fully escaped from that conditioning. 

But I remembered one of the principles I share with my coaching clients: that our first obligation, before anything else, is to ‘replenish our energy’.

We are no good to ourselves or anyone else unless our energy levels are topped up sufficiently. This is highlighted by the analogy of putting your own oxygen mask on first on the plane before helping others. And we cannot fully heal until we allow ourselves to rest.

It was a helpful reminder and when I started to take time to rest during the day I began to feel better. 

2. It’s ok to ask for help

I’m always the first to volunteer if somebody needs help. In fact, I’ll offer to help before you’ve even realised you need it. But, when I found myself needing help from others, it was profoundly uncomfortable. 

Nonetheless, my friends and family were amazing:  

-One of my best friends turned up with a big pot of curry for dinner. 

-Another suggested we postpone our overnight trip away because she knew I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as I will once I’m back to normal. 

-When I apologised for asking for a lift from a friend she told me that she was delighted I’d chosen her.

I realised that most people are more than happy to help; even flattered to be asked. They get a feeling of reward, fulfilment and empowerment. It’s a win-win process – I get the help I need and the other person gets the positive buzz of knowing they did a good deed.

I’ve become much more comfortable reaching out and asking others to help me. 

3. The world doesn’t end if you postpone or cancel

If you’re conscientious like me, you’ll understand how important it is to fulfil on your commitments and obligations. I used to tie myself in knots worrying “what will they think of me?” if I couldn’t deliver on a promise.

But when I was forced – by this surgery – to postpone an event I had committed to, people were very understanding. I wasn’t judged or ostracised. It was fine.

The same applies to things on my ‘to-do’ list. I used to think that once I had committed to doing something, it had to be done – by me – come hell or high water. Not any more. Now, I take into account my energy levels, the ease (or otherwise) of doing something, and the actual importance of it in the bigger picture.

And I allow myself to delegate to other people; to delay some things and to ditch some things altogether. Shocking as it may seem, the world doesn’t end!

This doesn’t just apply to when you’re ill or recovering from surgery. I plan to apply the ‘Delegate it, Delay it, Ditch it or Do it’ process to my ‘to do’ list from now on! 


These are just three of the lessons I’ve learnt – or been reminded of – in the past couple of months. There’s one more I’d like to share – possibly the most important of all: how important it is to have a strong and supportive network. Not just family and friends, but also in other areas of life.

We are not designed to go through life alone; to do everything ourselves and refuse all assistance. Even the most independent human being is actually hard-wired for connection and collaboration – which is just as well since there will always be occasions when we need to reach out for help, advice and support.

So I invite you to consider, in the context of your work, your family situations or your health and wellbeing, who is there for you?

Take a conscious look at all areas of your life and ask yourself, if you need help, do you know where to get it? Do you have someone in your network, who would step up? Will you be well supported? If not, what could you do to create a stronger network around you? 

Now I’m back to full fitness I’m taking bookings for free discovery calls. If you are wondering how coaching could help you to create that network of support, make positive changes or maybe find your true purpose in life, and you feel ready to reach out for help book a call now. 



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