Post-Op Recovery Notes: Sugar Water as Medicine

  1.  I’m no good at this.

I was quite euphoric the day after the spine surgery. I even told you all about it. Ideally, that post would have been just an intro to some future videos of me deciding to take up some new physical activity like ballet, or something.

In more retrospective awareness, the wonder of this sort of modern medicine—where they literally cut a 3″ incision into your spine, literally down to the bone, and you’re literally home eating mom’s home cookin’ a few hours later—is a bit double-edged-scalpel. I now think that perhaps the value of all of that is more in being in familiar places, surroundings, and circumstances—because you can be—than it’s any particular magic. Or: in the brutal dice roll that was surgery—a remarkable cost-benefit deal that would never get FDA approval if it were to be conceived of today—they just figured out a few things that have less to do with the actual incisions, scraping, general mechanical aspects…and more to do with microbes, like infections. Whereas, perhaps in the mind of patients, it was always ‘gotta spend a lot of time in hospital, I have incision(s),’ it was more always really: they can get infected and that’s what’ll kill me.

It’s interesting I got bit by the Fitbit Bug just 4 days before the surgery happened. In addition to calculating resting calorie burn based on BMI, it uses various other directly measured data as you wear it to calculate a total in real time.  I had data. Guess what I learned? I learned that I was averaging 2,800 – 3,000 daily calories out pre-op, 2,100 – 2,200 out, post-op. Now, that probably makes sense to you, intuitively. Intuitively, one would expect someone who just underwent a minor-ish surgery to be less active. 600 – 700 calories—basically an average meal—per day less expended seems reasonable. And, correct. If I drill into the data, it’s mostly about minutes of activity and fewer steps taken (from 10k-ish steps per day down to 4-5K).

But what didn’t make sense to me was that I had this sense that the day of surgery and day after were low points; at which point, I’m supposed to be seeing a relatively daily increase, reaching normal levels of activity—or near so—by now; and failing that in total terms, at least progress enough to see a trend.

But I see nothing of the sort. Yesterday was my least active day since the day of surgery itself. I watched three movies (The Gambler; The Devil’s Double; Black Sea) and felt exhausted and hypothermic enough to go to bed at 7:15 p.m. (no fever). Whereas before, exhaustion had to do with the man-up aspect of dealing with chronic pain, it now seems more subtile and in fact, mentally nefarious. Yesterday, I didn’t give a fuck of a hoot about a thing in the world—didn’t even call my mom on Mother’s Day, after she’d doted over me for 4 (actually, I wasn’t even aware it was Mother’s day), not even the upcoming life-changing move to Mexico.

Is there such a thing as post-operative stress disorder, where you miss the daily battle you’d grown to love and hate? ‘Sorry, everything’s back to normal. You now have to re-learn how to deal with a boring life of not having to deal with an active life of daly pain anymore?’

Am I just pissed because I lost a badge of honor? 

Those movies I saw yesterday…. The Gambler, while just so-so in terms of Wahlberg, offered up a pretty cool monologue from John Goodman.

Anyway, some practicalities rose to a head yesterday. Foremost, constipation. Look, I read about it all the time in my comments but it’s a rather foreign concept to me. I think I took note of the experience like 3 times in 54 years of life. Temporary discomfort. Yesterday, I suddenly realize I feel fat. How can this be? I’m averaging 2,100 calories out, 1,800 calories in (Fitbits are cool if you log intake), daily, since surgery. Ah-so: no waste disposal.

I was literally full of shit. I attributed it to the antibiotics. Yep, fucked gut. I doubt it. Turns out, constipation is a typical post-op side effect. I did do some fibers, but kicked it up a notch. That helped within hours, but not in the urgency sort of way I’m accustomed to. So I tried something else. I had this wild idea: how come I’m naturally expending energy on such a low level? Perhaps I need some high-octane fuel.

Yep: sugar water. Virgil’s craft Root Beer, Dr. Better, and some local unfiltered ginger ale. Not tons, and not bolus dose. More like an IV drip: 2-4 ounces every couple of hours. I even did “shots” during the night when I’d wake up every 2 hours over my 11 hour soak from 19:15 – 06:15.

And finally, finally: I wake up with a woody (1st since the morning of surgery) and a galloping desire to shit someplace.

…Just as there’s a fine line between love and hate, there also must be one between poison and medicine.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Cathy on May 11, 2015 at 10:52

    “…..woke up with a woody.” Ah the cure for ED! I love it. Didn’t Ray Peat or Danny Roddy say up the sugar for “vitality’?
    Glad you are feeling better. Hang in there it can only go up from here.

  2. Jackie D on May 11, 2015 at 11:28

    I think lack of activity, being closed in at home, and not connected with other humans is a recipe for a dark time. Or as someone I know once put it: “If you sit in your home alone for 15 minutes, thinking about your health or your finances or your relationships or all three, you will be depressed.”

    I think it’s episodic in your case. You will have bad days, but the trend over time is what counts. Sorta like with weight loss, recovering from addiction, or lots of other things in life. Well, like life itself.

    This too shall pass.

  3. Jonathan on May 11, 2015 at 11:41

    I have had to use the same remedy for my 3 kids when they were being breast-feed. An ounce of sugar water to 4oz of water. Usually got them to clear out the blockage in an hour or 2

  4. James on May 11, 2015 at 14:06

    Healing from surgery must require a tremendous amount of energy for your cells to heal and begin the rebuilding process. Maybe your body was taking energy away from crapping and directing it toward more urgent needs? I’ve been eating way more carbs and sugar (via Matt Stone 180 health influence) and I’ve been relieved of a lifetime of constipation. I’ve been underweight for the last 20 years and recently gained almost 25 pounds. Now I look “normal”. It’s awesome. Anyway, my point is that sugar is medicine in certain situations. I think before I was using much of the protein I consumed as energy. Now that I’m eating enough calories, which eating much more carbohydrates has allowed, I think my body uses the sugar for energy and can build with the protein.

  5. Steven on May 11, 2015 at 16:27


  6. Michael44 on May 11, 2015 at 21:17

    A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.

    Well, it seems you can take your medicine now without having to take your medicine. 🙂

    Preferably taken long-term with micronutrients intact of course (hat tip to Jane).

  7. bioking on May 11, 2015 at 22:57

    How big was the shit?

  8. Pauline on May 12, 2015 at 08:34

    I remember when I had a broken wisdom tooth removed I had to be put under and I felt ‘off’ for at least a week after the op. I am sure this is post operative stress, the body has been anaesthetised and the brain’s well being takes time to right itself. I know my head felt strangely quiet almost a sense of absence like I was still anaesthetised in some way. I think we all respond differently to medication and surgery. Give yourself time things will improve.

  9. Doug on May 12, 2015 at 09:58

    The Gambler sucked….yuck. Walberg’s character reminded me of Home Simpson taking a hit on 17,18,19,20 and 21.

    I saw Ex Machina in the theater and LOVED IT!

  10. Charlene on May 15, 2015 at 09:15

    Hey Richard,

    Baby yourself. Your body has been through trauma and is galvanizing itself to heal. Try not to make too many demands on yourself (i.e. Forgot to wish mom happy mom’s day. I’m sure she cares more that you are out of pain and healing.)

    Have you tried castor oil packs for your sore back or muscles?

    Thanks for blogging and sharing your journey.

  11. Lou on May 20, 2015 at 21:27

    Relatively certain that the relief of the constipation can be attributed to the citric acid in the soft drinks. Sugar doen’t cause a hyperosmotic or purgative action. Citric acid and carbonation have both been shown to do so.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 20, 2015 at 22:56

      Good to know.

      Next time I have a soda pop, I’ll be sure to order it “deconstructed into constituents.” It’s brilliant, really. It’s like eating a cake an ingredient at a time. Yummy! Takes longer.

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