Friday, June 3, 2016

Creating an Environment of Healing for Surgical Incisions

PicMonkey Photo

I have always been a slow healer. It seems like I am always waiting for my body's normal functions to respond.

My recovery time is always at least twice as long as a normal person. When I had my tonsils taken out at around five years old, I started losing weight because the pain made me lose interest in eating. When I had my wisdom teeth taken out, I was out from school for a week in pain. My brother, who had the exact same surgery, felt better the next day. When I had my appendectomy, the surgical incision through my belly button got infected, prolonging my recovery (in hindsight, that may have had something to do with the dermabond!).

So I suppose it should not come as a surprise to me that I am STILL recovering from my recent surgery. Yes, two months later I still have an open incision on my body. Boy, that dermabond really did a number on me. I have tried everything from leaving it alone to steri strips (little white bandages that are designed to hold the two sides of a wound together). Nothing has worked. My doctor, who has been so supportive through this whole process, told me because of my allergic reaction to the dermabond, I missed the window for my body to heal outside, in. I now must heal inside, out, which can only be done by my body itself.

After seeing no improvement for two weeks, I was determined to find another solution. I had lost patience with the constant drainage. I searched the Internet (I know, usually a bad idea) to get some inspiration on what I could do. I realized there are many people who struggle with wound care and there are not many answers out there. So I thought I would share the answers I finally discovered in hopes it will encourage someone else.
Before I continue, let me insert a disclaimer: I am NOT a medical professional and my experience is not a substitute for sound clinical advice. Everything you read here is based on my own experience and my own research. 
My incision is strictly a skin wound with normal drainage. There has been no infection (thank God!) or special care instructions I needed to follow once I left my physician's care. I did this to encourage my body's own healing ability. If you are in a similar situation, read on!
My desperation led me to prayer. I asked God to heal my incision and help me find the solution. On the way home from Texas recently, I saw an ad in Southwest Magazine for the Vaseline Skin Healing Project. (By the way, this is not a sponsored post). As I did more research into the project, I had no idea Vaseline had such skin-healing properties. It dawned on me perhaps Vaseline could be the answer to my problem. When I got home, I researched using Vaseline on a surgical incision. There wasn't much information about it, but some surgical centers did recommend patients put Vaseline on the incision site in order to keep the wound moist.

Why Vaseline?

PicMonkey Photo
How I feel about Vaseline right now. Via
Conventional wisdom states wounds should be kept dry in order to heal. Normally, that is not too much of a problem. But for wounds that need major healing, the site needs to be kept moist. This encourages the natural skin-healing process. If you think about it, all of your internal healing occurs in a moist environment. Why not external healing as well?

I realized perhaps the reason why my incision kept draining is because it was trying to stay moist!!! Rather than heal, my body was wasting energy as it tried to create the optimum environment for healing.

I had nothing to lose, so I decided to try Vaseline. It was a miracle, praise God! My incision has healed more in five days then it has in two months. I see beautiful, glorious new skin growing within the incision where there used to be a black hole. The incision itself is almost closed completely, and I expect it will close in a few more days. There is no more drainage either!

How to Apply

To get these results, I followed what instructions I could find for application and my own observations of the healing process. Here's what you need to know:
  1. Apply as needed to the incision site with clean hands, Q-tip, etc. (Please read, CLEAN!).
    Initially, the Vaseline should be thick like cake icing to start creating that environment of healing. We want our bodies to realize they can start doing internal work rather than focusing on closing the outside. As my incision has healed and is trying to close, I have reduced the amount of Vaseline and apply it only to the edges.
  2. The key is MOIST, not WET.
    Applying too much or keeping the incision plus Vaseline under a bandage all the time can degrade the healthy skin around the incision. As much as possible, keep the Vaseline confined to the incision site and keep it uncovered. I've been a bit of a homebody since I started this regimen, but I don't care because IT'S WORKING! I apply a bandage if a need to go out, but I take it right off when I get home. Plus my skin is extremely sensitive to adhesive (yay, me), so bandages only irritate the area worse.

Other Information for the Environment of Healing

As I have stumbled through this recovery, here are a few more things I have learned:
  1. DO NOT use hydrogen peroxide after the initial cleaning.
    For a week or so, I used hydrogen peroxide whenever I felt my incision needed a cleaning. Something about seeing those little white bubbles is satisfying! Then I started to wonder why my incision wasn't healing. Turns out, hydrogen peroxide is actually a little too effective at its job. Your body needs some bacteria as a stimulus to heal. If you keep applying hydrogen peroxide, your body will never be prompted to heal. Obviously, follow your physician's instructions if they have prescribed hydrogen peroxide as part of your wound care routine.
  2. Use antibacterial gels or creams sparingly.
    Again, your body needs some bacteria as a stimulus to heal. You obviously do not want infection, so again follow your physician's instructions. But my incision never seemed in danger of infection, it just stayed open! Antibacterial gels or creams carry the same negative effect as hydrogen peroxide, just to a lesser degree.
  3. You might need steri strips to finish healing.
    Once the Vaseline helped my body fill in the skin internally, I hit a healing plateau. The Vaseline didn't encourage such miraculous progress anymore. It's like my body didn't know how to fill in the external portion of my incision. So, based on my doctor's recommendation, I used steri strips. Steri strips are thin white bandages you can purchase at the drugstore. These bandages are designed to hold the two sides of a wound together so they can heal. Wear the steri strips around the clock to encourage the external portion of your incision to heal! Once I did this, I finally started seeing external healing.
I know some people do not believe in prayer, but I do not think it was a coincidence I saw the Vaseline ad in a random magazine I happened to pick up. If you are struggling to heal a surgical incision, I hope this post gives you a place to start creating that environment of healing!