Convalescent homes – do you remember them? I was reading an article about a woman who was having radiotherapy for ovarian cancer and she mourned the passing of those havens of tranquillity and healing.
And they were havens: comfortable, friendly and informal. Reading her account cast my mind back to when, at the age of 11, my mother was sent to one, far away from the noise and grime of Newcastle upon Tyne, where we lived. She’d had major abdominal surgery and recuperated at the home in the country village of Corbridge.
My father, sister and I made treks by train, along the Tyne, and sat with my mother in comfy chairs on lawns – so different from our own townscape.
She stayed three weeks, regained her strength and boosted her stamina and became well again.
That wouldn’t happen these days. Well, not in the UK, but it does in France. My sister who lives there had major heart surgery in the summer and after three weeks in hospital was shuttled to the French equivalent of Corbridge. Through counselling, gentle physio and healthy eating she gradually returned to normal health.
Suddenly, she said, she woke up and felt normal. That’s what convalescence does for you and I mourn its passing too. Major surgery is physically and mentally traumatic. Afterwards, it’s inevitable we feel weak and anxious. Major surgical intervention drains the body of its resources. Convalescence is crucial for its recovery.
I like the comparison Dr Suranjith Seneviratne, an immunologist at the Royal Free Hospital in London, makes about our immune system. He says it is like a military unit. And like a military unit, it needs time to recuperate after heavy bombardment.
If you don’t get that time, your immune system isn’t strong enough to fight again.
Convalescence encourages your body clock to work its healing magic by re-establishing its rhythm. To promote healing, sleeping in a dark bedroom and avoiding computers late in the evening is especially important during recovery.
Your digestive system needs a rest too so eating at set times and avoiding grazing can help. Studies show that complete rest or fasting (for more than 48 hours) protects our blood-forming cells from chemotherapy damage.
Another study showed overnight fasting for 13-plus hours correlated with a lowered risk of breast cancer.
Consider mindfulness – staying in the moment. It acts not only on your mental state but on your body. So do yoga, Pilates, acupuncture, reiki, art and music therapy – all aid healing.