Surgery can bring out a lot of emotions in both the patient and their loved ones. Between anxiety and fear before surgery, pain and exhaustion following surgery, and frustration and boredom during the recovery process, it’s an incredibly stressful experience. While your body heals, some comfort reading might be just what you need to soothe your mind and spirit. These suggestions of what to read before and after surgery may come in handy if you’re preparing to go under the knife, or if you’re trying to find the perfect gift for a loved one.
I recently had surgery to repair a broken ankle, and it’s been a long and grueling process. When told I wouldn’t be able to put any weight on my leg for three months after surgery, I tried to find a bright side. Months on the couch means plenty of time for reading, right? Wrong. I’ve actually fallen behind in my reading since I broke my ankle, even though I’ve had nothing but free time. Between the pain, anxiety about surgery, and decreased attention span from the pain medication, it’s been hard to keep up my usual reading pace. But I’ve figured out what can keep my attention and provide me some comfort. Now, I’m here to share some ideas for any other readers looking at a long recovery process.
What to Read Before Surgery
I had a week and a half between the time I broke my ankle and the surgery to repair it. During that time, I was on pain medication that made it really hard for me to focus on reading. I was also stressed about the surgery and what my life would look like afterwards. So the best books for this period were fast paced, easy to absorb, and great at world building. Avoid anything focused on the health care industry or the ways things can go wrong.
Science Fiction and Fantasy
Books that can take your mind to a world far from your pain and stress are a must. Look for science fiction and fantasy books with great world building and fast-paced action. Just avoid SFF that’s too complex or hard to follow if that’s not usually your thing, as it might lead to some frustration. Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor is a great pick that takes you to another planet with very different problems from your own. Binti is a young woman with a talent for math and for “harmonizing,” or negotiating peace. She’s selected to attend a prestigious university on another planet, but before her ship arrives, it’s invaded by an alien species that kills everyone on board—except her.
Retellings of classic novels are another great choice. If you’ve read the book that inspired a retelling, you probably have a pretty good idea of where it’s headed. For example, Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin is a modern Muslim retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Ayesha and Khalid have an undeniable connection. But when Khalid’s mother arranges an engagement to Ayesha’s cousin Hafsa, all three must decide between what they believe and what their hearts tell them.
Comics and Graphic Novels
What to Read After Surgery
Some of the pre-op books suggested above are also great immediately after surgery. You’ll still be experiencing some pain and frustration, and your attention span may still be short. So feel free to keep up your SFF, Romance, and Comics reading after you’ve returned home. Here are some additional ideas as you continue to heal.
Funny Memoirs and Essay Collections
It sounds cheesy, but laughter really is the best medicine. Nothing helped me forget the pain and discomfort I was in like a good belly laugh. Samantha Irby is one of my favorite funny authors, and her memoirs Meaty and We Are Never Meeting in Real Life are absolutely delightful. She’s also able to make light of her own chronic pain and physical ailments in a way that may bring some comfort.
What to Read While You Recover
Once you’re past the worst part of post-surgery pain, you may be ready to read something that requires a bit more focus. As cabin fever starts to set in, you’ll want something more challenging. Or maybe something that will help you feel like you’re anywhere else besides the couch.
Fiction in Far Away Places
Health Care Nonfiction
Before surgery, stay far away from anything related to hospitals or medical care. But once you’re past the worst of your pain and the risk of complications, you may be interested in reading more about what you experienced. Unfortunately, I read Anesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion and the Mystery of Consciousness by Kate Cole-Adams a while before surgery, and therefore spent some days terrified of what could go wrong when the anesthesiologist put me under. However, it’s a fascinating study of what we do and don’t know about consciousness and anesthesia. After your surgery has (hopefully) gone as planned, this book might help you learn more about what happened while you were asleep.
If you’re preparing for surgery, good luck! If you’re recovering from surgery, I hope you have the time and energy to enjoy a good book. And if you’re shopping for a loved one with a recovery ahead of them, I hope this list gave you some great ideas for reading material. You might enjoy these other articles from Book Riot: