My Experience Having the Nuss Procedure for Pectus Excavatum

by Purple Herbal

I had the Nuss procedure on August 23, 2010, and am now two weeks post-op. My results were not  100%, which I am a little disappointed about. But, I am on the older side at 28 years old getting the procedure done, so I had a few complications with the surgery that a younger person probably wouldn’t have had to deal with.

My pectus excavatum was improved about 85-90%. My surgeon originally had my chest fixed perfectly, but as he was attempting to secure the stainless steel bar that “popped” my chest out, the pressure from my chest popped it back it. So, because my muscle ripped in my chest wall, two bars were placed in different locations, one at a 45 degree angle at the top of my chest, and a second one near the bottom of my rib cage. One of my lungs had to be deflated, to create more room for my surgeon to work with. This configuration of bars did not totally fix my pectus, as I still have a small dent in it, but it is a vast improvement over what it was before.

Overall, I am very happy with the results, because my heart and lungs have the room they need to expand normally. I had to deal with a lot of shortness of breath and heart palpitations before the surgery, so I am glad that I won’t have these problems anymore.

As for my hospital stay, I was there for 3 days, and had a morphine pca pump for pain relief, as well as my take home pain management every 4 hours. The pain wasn’t as bad as I expected. By the morning of the third day in the hospital, I was able to get off of the continuous supply of morphine. I left later that day, as the doctor agreed I was in good shape to leave the hospital.

I amazed my doctor with how quickly I was able to recover from the surgery. I am 28 years old, and this surgery is usually performed on children 15 years younger than me. I attribute this to the lots of prayers and help from my family (my mom, dad, and husband were constantly at the hospital with me while I was there, and my husband has been my 24 hour nurse practically since I got home from the hospital – I was always able to dress myself, use the bathroom, etc…but I needed someone to help me get out of bed and fetch me things at times), getting lots of sleep, and the fact that I have been using herbal medicine for such a long time. I also regularly eat healthy foods, prepared for this surgery for many months, and exercised almost daily for years.

Honestly, I did not expect to recover so quickly from this surgery, as I have read so much about how painful and long the recovery is for adults who get the Nuss procedure. Usually the hospital stay is over 5 days and it takes many weeks for the person’s body to readjust to having the steel bars placed in the chest. But, I had been building up my body’s strength and ability over time with herbal medicine, and have given it a good base with which to tackle certain health obstacles that come my way. Luckily, I’ve never had any real serious health issue beside my pectus excavatum, so having this mainstream medicine experience for the first time with a hospital stay and everything has given my herbalist mind an interesting perspective.

It probably took me 10 days or so after the procedure for me to feel like I was “back to normal,” notwithstanding the pain of my cartilage and ribs being readjusted. When I say back to normal, I mean feeling like I was back in my routine of getting dinner ready, cleaning up around the house, and getting back into my exercise routine. There’s always pain, it’s just how I chose to deal with it that helped me get back into my groove.

Once I got home, I had to move around a lot more, so it was a big adjustment for me. I took my pain pills as instructed, because I was quite uncomfortable doing every day tasks. After about 3-4 days of being home, though, I tried to cut down on the amount of pain management pills, because I wanted to learn to deal with the pain in more natural ways. I could tell my doctor did not want me on the heavy narcotic pain killers for more than two weeks and, personally, I did not want to be either.

Arnica played a big role in helping me to deal with the shock and trauma of the surgery, and it has helped my body readjust quickly. I take arnica in homeopathic form, as well as using a gel on the actual muscle areas that hurt.

I also used an analgesic balm that worked wonders at getting rid of the pain.

Remember, my chest popped back out, after the first bar was placed, so I had torn muscles that really ached a lot. My doctor even said he could barely sleep the night of my surgery, because he was worried about how much pain I would have.

Night time seemed to be the worst for me, in terms of pain. I was given a prescription for valium, which did help me sleep, but stopped using it regularly after the 3-4 day. I didn’t want to rely on it. I haven’t really needed it, as my pain has been steadily decreasing every day.

10 days post-op I went for my first “real” walk outside and it really seemed to help my body adjust to the bars and help get rid of the pain. Moving my arms to get dressed or wash my hair took some getting used to, but I noticed that after taking a walk I was more flexible and my body felt like it was stronger than before. I slept better that night and gained endurance every time I was out. I normally walk about 2 miles a day with my dogs, so I started out with a little over a mile the first day and have continued that thus far. After another week or so, I’d like to increase the lengths of my walks to over 2 miles.

The two week mark post-op reminds of the six week mark of breastfeeding (breastfeeding moms out there know what I’m talking about!), where I had to sort of climb over a hump in terms of dealing psychologically with what has happened to my body. At six weeks, baby’s typically go through a growth spurt, which takes a toll on a woman who is breastfeeding because the baby wants to eat constantly and it is overwhelming to someone just getting used to having another human being around that they are completely responsible for. I know longer feel the pain of labor, so to speak, with the pain of my surgery being under control now, but I have to get used to these bars in me that are never going away and that are limiting my actions, as having a newborn does, and will for many months to come.

Only once did I throw up after having the procedure. I wasn’t hungry very much for the first week. Mostly, all I wanted to do was sleep. I would say that resting most of the day was another secret for healing that first week home. My body was tired from the surgery, so I just laid in bed quite a bit. Sleep is a great medicine and shouldn’t underestimated

After about the 10th day post-op, as I’ve said, I felt a lot more active and like I wasn’t wanting to sleep all of the time. Back rubs from my husband are also great at relieving a lot of pain. There is a considerable deal of back pain associated with having this procedure, especially since I am only able to sleep on my back, so regular massages definitely help with all of the pressure and tensity there.

I am so happy to have had this procedure before I was 30, because it is a little more difficult and painful recovery for older patients. I was extremely lucky in that I had taken such good care of myself for so long, and that I had the tools of herbal and homeopathic medicine with me to use on this journey of getting surgery, something I had never done before.