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Top Surgery Prep List

Get out your sweatpants and neck pillow. Kitri Aru Saputra

Top surgery can be nerve-wracking in the days leading up to it. There are logistics to juggle, payments to make, and appointments to schedule. You have to figure out how you will get home after the surgery and how to operate without the full range of motion of your arms. Thankfully, planning things ahead of time will help you have a more relaxed recovery.

If you are going to be traveling and staying in a hotel, do your best to wait until your first check-in with your surgeon before traveling home, and try to pack your luggage so that you are not carrying more than five pounds. Here are some more tips to make your recovery go smoothly, as well as a packing list.

Talk to Your Caregiver

It is possible to take care of yourself after surgery, though it is not recommended, especially during the first week. You are significantly restricted in your movements and may need to take painkillers that make you sleepy or nauseous. I barely remember the drive home from the hospital, and for the first week I needed to take my painkillers (therefore sleep) often.

I was in no position to cook more than a sandwich and struggled to change my own clothes. I will always be grateful to my partner at the time, who did a great job meeting my needs as a caregiver.

If you have a caregiver, consider their mental health and have a frank talk with them about how much work they feel they can handle. Find ways for them to take a break or share the work with someone else. For the first week, my partner and I stayed at my grandmother's house, this way I had two caregivers who could split the responsibilities. Once I felt more independent, my partner went back to work and I cared for myself during the day.

Consider Involving Friends or Family

If people in your life are supportive of your transition, consider giving them the opportunity to help, as it can create lasting memories and a fun experience for everyone. Many people will be happy to bring food, walk the dog, or do dishes while you are healing, simply because they care about you.

My best friends brought me a large casserole and stopped by for a board game night, breaking up the monotony of my days and taking the pressure to cook off of my caregiver. One of our neighbors also cooked soup and stopped by to say hi. My partner's mother paid for a cleaner to tidy the apartment for us, which was very helpful. For those who can’t visit you in person, consider having them join you for a video chat, phone call, or video game.

Comfortable Clothing

You will have very limited movement, and you will be strongly advised against lifting your hands above your head. Loose, comfortable clothing from your own wardrobe or the thrift store will make it easier for you to change. Any tops should be easy to put on without lifting your arms and roomy enough to accommodate your post-op bandages and post-surgical drains, and any bottoms should be easy to put on without bending or tugging. This includes:

  • Oversized t-shirts

  • Button ups

  • Zip-up hoodie

  • Sweatpants, joggers, or leggings

  • Slip-on shoes

  • Compression socks


Staying on top of your hygiene will not only mitigate potential risks of infection from dirt and bacteria buildup, but simply help you feel better. My hygiene routine mostly stayed the same, including washing my face and body with running water, as I’m not a fan of disposable products like wet wipes. For toiletries, your top surgery packing list should include:

  • Antibacterial soap and body wash

  • Bath sponge with a handle

  • Dry shampoo or protective hairstyle

  • Moisturizer, lotion, and lip balm

  • Hand sanitizer

  • Shaving kit- if recommended by your surgeon. Some will ask you to shave before your surgery.


Note that you should not take any medications or supplements without consulting your surgeon. You will get prescriptions from your surgeon for pain relievers and antibiotics. I did not feel the need to take any vitamins or probiotics, but still ended up using several things on this list as I was very constipated, nauseous, and itchy.

Don't underestimate the power of sleep if you aren't feeling well. Your body is healing from a major surgery, and it is expected that you will sleep more than normal.

It is important to refrain from getting your bandages and drains wet until your first follow-up appointment with your surgeon, where they will likely remove the post-surgical drains and change the dressing for your wounds. This means no showering or changing the bandages yourself. While your binder may start to get smelly, it is still important to consult with your surgeon before going against the given instructions.

  • Painkillers, antibiotics, allergy meds (as advised by your surgeon- I was advised to use Benadryl)

  • Vitamin C, arnica, and multivitamins to strengthen your immune system 

  • Bromelain for muscle soreness

  • Probiotics

  • Stool softener and/or laxative (Stool softeners are preventative; laxatives are to treat constipation.)

  • Anti-nausea (Dramamine, Gravol, Scopolamine patch)

  • Eye drops

  • Cough drops or ginger tea to soothe throat dryness and irritation

  • Gauze rolls, gauze pads (non-stick), medical/Surgical tape, paper tape, cloth tape, or hypoallergenic tape, if you need to change or tend to your dressings

  • Neosporin First Aid Antibiotic Ointment

  • Cold and hot reusable compress

  • Thermometer to check if you have a fever, which is an indication of infection

  • Bacitracin or Neosporin - Ask your surgeon for their recommendation.

  • Scar care: Silicone gel and sheets, polyurethane sheets, or surgeon-recommended scar care

  • Prescription medication


During the first few weeks after your surgery, you will be advised to take it slow.

You’ll be spending a lot of time simply resting, and it is important to remember that by doing so you are NOT being lazy or useless, you are actively working on your health by allowing your body to heal.

Take this time to indulge in entertainment, like reading, gaming, or watching movies. I used this time to finish writing my novel.

Pillows, Pillows, Pillows

A neck pillow will help you prop yourself up, as well as a body pillow or couch cushion. For the first week I practically lived in my grandmother’s recliner chair, which was perfect for allowing me to use my arms as much as possible (when I wasn’t sleeping).

I left a pillow in the passenger seat of the car to make transportation more comfortable and also made a DIY seatbelt pillow that helped reduce pressure on my chest once I started driving again. If you are a side or stomach sleeper like me, putting a pillow underneath your knees can help you get used to sleeping on your back.

Food and Snacks

If you live alone or are staying in a hotel after traveling a long distance, do your best to have two or three weeks of groceries in the house, as you do not want to risk bruising or bleeding by going out on an excursion unless it is an emergency. You can also use a meal delivery service or grocery delivery service to supplement your food. Nutritious meals and snacks will help support your body's natural healing, and meal-prepping food can help reduce the number of dishes you need to wash.


  • A folding tv table or laptop table - some way to eat/ place things near you.

  • Back scratcher - be careful, as back scratchers often still require you to lift your arms

  • Extender arm (aka. grabber, reacher)

  • Gel ice packs to ice drain incisions if allowed by your surgeon.

  • Step stool - for getting in and out of bed, or reaching things that you can no longer reach

  • Safety pins to attach drains to shirt- I kept mine in my sweatpants pockets, and you can also use an apron to hold them.

  • Reusable straw - It is important to stay hydrated, and a reusable bendy straw is convenient to help reduce how much you need to lift your arms.


Prepping for top surgery can be both overwhelming and exciting, but don't be afraid to ask for help. If you have a caregiver or supportive community members, getting them involved can make your recovery much easier.

If not, ensure that you plan ahead and do your best to take care of your mental as well as physical health. Both before and after the surgery, communicating with your surgeon and following their instructions will help reduce possible complications or infections.



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