Sleep – cushions, pillows and all things soft

If you have suffered from reflux or have a hiatus hernia, you may have already been sleeping slightly elevated, before your surgery. This is good preparation for your post-op life.

Lots of people on online forums have said to not sleep on the right but this is counter-intuitive for me as the stomach naturally drains into the duodenum which is on the right side, so one would assume acid and bile should drain the same way. I find sleeping on the left really odd, like I’m being squeezed and it makes me susceptible to acid rising. I am very much a right side sleeper so after my op I dearly wanted to get back to sleeping on this side as much as possible.

After an oesophagectomy, nursing staff will sit you upright in bed or in a chair to ensure that your lungs are kept as clear as possible. The average stay in hospital after this op is around 10-12 days so by this time, you would have had chance to perfect your new sleep position before going home.

I spent most of my hospital stay sleeping upright on my back and sat up during the daytime. The analgesics helped me to drop off so I did not feel as though I had slept badly. A broken rib, drains and incision sites were largely all on the right side so it was intolerable to even try to sleep on that side in the days, indeed weeks immediately post-op. I think I started to sleep on the right after about 3-4 weeks and only when supported by a large, soft memory pillow.


Pillows for sleeping upright
Sleeping upright

Lots of people recommend a foam wedge or an automated reclining bed to stay upright. I have not tried either so can not comment. I also couldn’t face having to get used to a new mattress on top of a new sleep regime so I simply raised the bed at an angle and use a set of strategically placed pillows as shown (Tracy Emin eat your heart out). These get reset as and when required.

There is often still a sweet spot sleeping position to find, as sleeping directly on the right side sometimes puts a squeeze on the insides so leaning slightly backward while supported on a batwing cushion (available on Amazon) seems to work.

I do tend to move around a bit but on the whole, a full body U-shaped support pillow (also available on Amazon) keeps me in place at night and supports my back. I also have two fairly solid memory pillows to sleep against which also support my back. Then there is a firm, solid memory pillow, acting like a chock under my bottom, to stop me slipping down the bed. This has come about after many weeks of experimentation and although I would love to be able to sleep flat again, this seems to work for now. I now get called the Queen of Sheba in our house.

I have taken a selection of pillows with me on a couple of overnight stays in UK hotels. I know other people who take their own pillows too for different reasons. I didn’t want to go into huge amount of details with hotel staff so I simply said I had acid reflux at night and they understood perfectly.

After my op, I had intercostal nerve damage and it was unbelievably painful. Coming home in the car was a nightmare as every bump in the road was felt – in fact car journeys during subsequent weeks were not pleasant. I cannot recommend enough the use of cushions or pillows under you or behind your back while a passenger. I still have a cushion behind my back in the car now as it makes me sit up straight and in the early days after the op this went with me to places where I had to sit for longer periods eg cinemas or cafes. Have cushion will travel.

All things soft
In the weeks following surgery, although my wounds were not painful, the nerve damage made me crave softness and comfort. I could not tolerate being bare footed or wearing normal shoes as the shock of each step really made the nerve damage tingle across my stomach and not in a pleasant way. For maximum comfort I wore Skechers yoga foam sandals. At about 10-12 weeks, the discomfort was negligable and I definitely remember turning a corner and being a lot happier at this point.

At almost 6 months post-op – I need neither my cushion nor soft footwear but still have the love of being comfortable.

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