Empathy and compassion have a significant place in the skills of a caregiver’s tool kit. When you put yourself in the position of the vulnerable patient, it’s easier to identify where you need to be cautious and prudent.
Recently, I looked after my adult daughter during her recovery from a spinal surgery that included implanting bone and metal parts into her spine to replace parts of her spine which had been damaged, in a state of the art surgical procedure. Years ago, when I worked in the hospital surgical ward, it was common practice for patients to receive around the clock nursing care for a week after this type of operation. My current experience finds the patient leaving the surgical center and going home. There are some benefits to this, reduced costs and possible infection that hospitals can incur. On the other hand, most people’s homes are not designed for the post-surgical recovery of a fragile body. Nor do most people have someone in their family who has my experience to help them after their surgery.
I had anticipated that my daughter would have trouble trying to get in and out of her bed and chairs. I knew we had to be proactive about this situation. Furniture that an able-bodied person can easily sit in or get on and off can be difficult for someone who is in a neck brace and cannot truly use their arms. Thankfully, if you understand this, there are medical supply stores where you can rent a nice comfy recliner chair with easy to use controls. The benefits of the automatic chair is that it can assist your ascent and descent, removing the risk of jerking the spine or overusing the arms. Sleeping is more comfortable in a large chair and the patient will stay flat on their back instead of rolling to one side.
Additional preparation of the house should include reducing fall risk by clearing any clutter and removing small rugs. Toys from pets or children should be picked up, sanitizing bathrooms and kitchen surfaces to prevent colds and other infections should be done a few times a day. Providing good soaps in pumps and plenty of paper towels nearby will help remind family members to wash hands frequently.
Food should be fresh and easy to prepare. This requires some planning ahead. I prefer soups for the first two days. The patient usually has to take medications that interfere with a peristaltic action of the bowels. Since the patient does not have IVs because they are at home, is important to keep them hydrated.
Soup is one of the best ways to keep someone hydrated, along with plenty of fresh water. Straws can help the patient drink easily. I prefer to make my own bone broths and strain them so the liquid is dense and still easy to swallow. The collagen in the broth assists healing and the protein makes it for more absorbability.
Fruit smoothies can also help deliver nutrients in a tasty way that doesn’t require much effort to chew and swallow.
Writing down the medicine instructions and recording the time they’re taken can help prevent overdosing or other potential mix-ups.
Risk factors include the patient wanting to make decisions while under the influence of strong medicine. My patient thought a hot bath sounded lovely. Of course, I strongly reminded her she was not yet capable of climbing in and out of a bathtub and would have to settle for a shower.
The one thing I have not yet discussed is the desire to be healed and well instantly. Any surgery, I don’t care how minor it is supposed to be, causes our bodies to need rest and time to recover, to recuperate. For people who are always active and on the go, I believe it’s the most difficult part of recovery. Trying to do too much to quickly will only negatively impact the patient’s recovery. It is really important to follow post-surgical instructions or the danger is the patient can hurt themselves, which will prolong recovery time and could even cause more damage.