My Pleasantly Uneventful Open Mesh Umbilical Hernia Recovery

My new belly button…yeah, not so much, but it’s closer to this than before the umbilical hernia repair

I recently passed the 40th day since my open umbilical hernia repair with mesh surgery.

Thank you all for the comments and email about my first post: what to ask your doctor prior to an umbilical hernia repair.

For the benefit of the community, I’ve included a few of your messages below with your names redacted (please pop me an email if you’d rather I remove your messages altogether).

As I mentioned in my first post, I was very nervous about having this procedure done. Yes, my belly button was disfigured and slightly uncomfortable when touched, but really, was that such a big deal?

I was at the tail end of an intensive 3-month exercise program and was very much enjoying the unencumbered physical exertion: jumping jacks, ab crunches, push-ups, resistance training, stretching and yoga. A week prior to my scheduled surgery, I had cold feet.

That’s when I reached out to my doctor with a bunch of questions and wrote up the previous blog post. Today, I’m happy to say that the entire procedure and recovery went exceedingly well, better than I expected even. Throughout the day, I have no reminders of the surgery short of a nicer looking belly button.

I’ve had no lingering pain, no “tugging” that others reported and no restriction at all when exercising (even ab crunches). Here are some day-by-day details of my umbilical hernia recovery experience:

Umbilical Hernia Recovery Day 1: the procedure and the first day

I had to show up at the surgical center at 6:30 am. They were adamant that I not eat or drink past midnight the night prior and that I didn’t take any medications for 36 hours before the surgery. After a brief check-in (I had pre-registered online) I stripped out of my clothing and into a johnny.

I was briefed by nurses, the anesthesiologist, the resident who did the surgery and my primary surgeon. I had an IV inserted into to back of my left hand and some preliminary sedatives administered. I was concerned about the risks and recovery discomforts of undergoing general anesthesia so I asked my surgeon and anesthesiologist if they could do the procedure with local anesthesia plus IV sedation, which they did.

After being in the prep room for about 20 minutes, and maybe 5 minutes after getting the preliminary sedation, they wheeled me into the operating room. At that point I was already starting to lose touch with reality. They started me on  the IV sedation and within a minute I was out. I have no recollection of the surgery at all and wonder why anyone would opt for general anesthesia over local.

After being wheeled into recovery, I was visited by my surgeons, given a vicodin, a muffin and some ginger ale. I was in recovery for a little more than an hour and was home by 11 am (you will need someone to drive you). At home, I lounged in bed and popped the prescribed pain meds. It was difficult getting in and out of bed for the first couple of days, but not impossible.

For the first day, I had a thin, clear plastic, 12″ by 12″ bandage over the area, probably to insure that no bad germs got anywhere near the hernia surgery site. I was told to take that off after one day.

Tip #1: Ask about local anesthesia instead of general. There seem to be fewer risks, no risk of throat irratation or chipped teeth from a required breathing tube, and in my experience, it is 100% effective.

Tip #2: Wear sweatpants and slip on shoes to make dressing after the surgery easier. Bending over won’t be easy for a few days.

Umbilical Hernia Recovery Days 1-3

I spent the first few days mostly in bed watching TV and using my laptop. I was definitely more comfortable lying down or leaning back than sitting upright but I could also move around much better than I anticipated. Getting in and out of bed was a little challenging since using my core was painful. I had to rely on my arms and legs to get up and down as much as possible.

For the first few days, I had to sleep on my back (I’m normally a side sleeper), but I was surprised at how well I slept even on the first night after surgery.

I was prescribed IC hydrocodon-acetaminophen (aka vicodin, for pain) and IC docusate sodium (a stool softener). I took both medications during the first few days to help manage the pain and get myself “regular” again.

At this point, I had about 7 small pieces of overlapping tape keeping the surgery incision closed. I was told to wash the area as normal but to keep these strips on until the follow-up appointment.

Tip #3: Without going into too much detail, know that prescription pain medications and surgery in general can disrupt your normal digestive “process”. In addition to my pain medications, I was also prescribed a stool softener and told to use a gentle laxative to help get things regular again. Based on my research, I had expected this and was snacking on prunes for the days leading up to the surgery. For me, things started to get back to normal on day two, but not consistently back to a regular schedule until about a week after surgery.

Umbilical Hernia Recovery Day 5

By day 5 I was feeling pretty good. I was moving around quite well and decided that I would attend a previously schedule birthday dinner out with friends. In hindsight, it was probably too soon for that as sitting upright in a chair for a couple hours put pressure on the area and was quite uncomfortable. I wouldn’t recommend going out to dinner until week two.

Umbilical Hernia Recovery Day 7

By the end of the first week, I was moving around normally and was no longer taking the pain meds. I had only slight pain when I actually touched the incision site, but in general I felt like I could do almost anything. At this point, my abdomen was still a bit swollen, which was only noticeable from a side view. Around this time, I pulled off the surgical tape because I was curious to see what the scar looked like.

Umbilical Hernia Recovery Day 14

By then end of week two, I felt almost completely back to normal. I still had some swelling under my belly button which made it look like it was when it was herniated. I had my two-week follow-up appointment with my surgeon and he assured me that the swelling would go away and I would, indeed, have an innie again (he was right, of course).

My surgeon gave me the all-clear to start working out again with the caveat that I not lift very heavy weights and not do intense ab crunches. On the next day, I started working out again with the Power 90 at-home routines I was doing for the three months prior to the surgery: resistance training, bodyweight exercises, low impact cardio, slightly higher impact cardio (jumping jacks), stretching and yoga.

Some of the exercises which engaged my core felt a little constricted, but that got better every day.

Umbilical Hernia Recovery Day 30+

After one month, all the swelling was gone, I had my innie back and I was completely healed. As I said in the opening, I have no daily reminders of the hernia or repair surgery. I have no pain, no pulling and no discomfort at all. It feels weird but nice to have no sensitivity when I touch the area and I’m still quite amazed when I see a normal looking belly button staring back at me in the mirror.

By day 30, I resumed all aspects of my workouts, including the “Ab Ripper” exercises which is 10 set (20 reps each) of 10 different abdominal exercises. My abs were very weak after taking a month off, after a week I was doing the 200 crunches again, just as I had been before the surgery.

My Umbilical Hernia Scar and Scar Management

The scar for my umbilical hernia repair is just below my belly button in a small 2 cm arc. It is quite small and to insure that it stays that way I started applying Mederma as soon as the surgical tape was off.

Soon after that I discovered silicone scar sheets which claim to be even more effective than Mederma and which I found to be more convenient since they stayed on all day and regained their stickiness if you gave them a rinse once in a while.

I’m not sure if either of these methods is working, but they are easy enough to do that I’ve decided to plug ahead with the silicone scar sheets.

In summary, I am very happy with my repaired belly button and recovery. I don’t have any tugging, pulling or pain like I read about in other online accounts. I am graduating from my first home boot camp program and starting up with the next level. Before the end of the year, we’ll take on the granddaddy of them all, P90X!

Below are a few messages from readers with a mixture of similar concerns and alternative outcomes …

Email #1:

Hi Mitch

You don’t know me but I came across your excellent hernia repair article via Google and was just wondering how it went for you.

I’m making arrangements for the same procedure myself and share the same preoperative concerns.

Like you, fitness plays a great part in my life and I’m apprehensive at the prospect of not being able to work out or any other permanent untoward side effects.

I’d be appreciative of any insights you may care to share.

Kind regards

Email #2:

Thanks for sharing your story on umbilical hernias.  I went through the same thing you did.  I am in shape, not over weight, got an umbilical hernia at age 39, and had the same hard time finding information out there.
Mine was small and I am active, not overweight, non-smoker, etc.  My surgeon recommended mesh and open surgery for the reasons you pointed out in your blog.  I had chronic pain, almost like a tugging and dull pain, could not even walk with comfort and put up with that for 8 months.  Many repeat visits to the doctor, he sent me to a pain specialist that did nothing, and finally her recommended another surgery.
Had the second surgery (just over a year ago) and that time he suggested re-opening the site to see if mesh was ok and if there were any trapped nerves and suggested while I was under, he would go in with laproscopy so he could see the entire area.  He did see some adhesions and cut those free, but other than that said everything looked great.
Now I have pain at the original site and have chronic pain at one of two locations he went in with a scope.  It really sucks because I don’t want to have surgery again and deal with more adhesions which I found out after the fact is a HUGE risk with this surgery.
I wish you all the best.  A good friend of mine, again extremely active athlete, same age, had this surgery same week I did and he has no problems.  Every once in a while a dull discomfort, but he is fine.  I have had 1 week where I felt pretty decent and for whatever reason the pain came back and I feel a discomfort in my abdominal area all the time.
Post a follow up.  Thanks again for sharing all this information, your site was by far the most helpful of any out there and good luck with your surgery!
Email #3:

Hey Mitch,

By now you should be 3 wks into your recovery. How are you feeling ?  Did all go well to this point?Wanted to thank you for doing the legwork and asking your surgeon many of the questions that I had.I am also having open umbilical surgery, scheduled for 12/29/11, and the hernia is the same size.Also, its going to be my first surgery at at the age of 57.I found so much info on the web for laparoscopic surgery, not as much about open mesh. So I’m thankful you asked your surgeon these questions, because my surgeon offered both to me but said the open mesh would be a better repair and would have less of a chance of reoccurrence, and my decision based on that.But still we never went in any detail like you did, so I wanted to let you know that it helped convince me that I made the correct choice, now the rest is in the surgeons hands.Wishing you a painless and speedy full recovery !

Happy Holidays,