Caring for a Loved One After Surgery

It’s important to have a support system lined up if you, or a loved one, are preparing for surgery. Here are a few things for caregivers to keep in mind.
October 4, 2020 | 3 min read

Caregivers play an essential role in the life of someone having surgery. As a caregiver, you can facilitate conversations with the surgeon, help make decisions, and lend a hand during recovery. Caring for someone who’s had surgery can be difficult, so it’s important to remember to take care of yourself during this time as well. Below are a few tips to help you prepare for your caregiving role. 

Talk to the surgeon

Building a partnership with the surgeon is crucial. It's important that you ask questions, understand your loved one's options, and make sure that you are comfortable with the recovery and rehabilitation plan. Here are some steps to help establish good communication:

1. Prepare questions ahead of time

Keep a running list of questions as concerns and problems arise. Issues you might want to discuss with the surgeon include changes in symptoms, medications, or the general health of the person you're caring for. You might also want to discuss your own comfort as a caregiver and the specific help you need to provide care. For thought starters, try:

2. Enlist the help of a nurse

Nurses are patient advocates, which means they’ll look out for you and your loved one. Your nurse can help answer questions about various tests and examinations, surgical procedures, recovery, and rehabilitation.

3. Make sure appointments meet your loved one's needs

When you schedule appointments, be sure you clearly convey the reasons for the visit so that enough time is allocated. Schedule the appointment for a time when your loved one can be as relaxed as possible. If you think of a question after the surgeon leaves the room, be sure to stop and tell someone in the office. The surgeon or one of the staff members can call you back with the answer.

4. Call ahead

Before the appointment, check to see if the surgeon is on schedule. Remind the receptionist of any special needs you have when you arrive at the office.

Prepare for their recovery

Knowing what to expect during your loved one's recovery can help ease the process. Make sure to:

1. Fill your loved one's prescriptions

This includes regular medications as well as pain medications. You also might want to have over-the-counter pain relievers on hand. Consult the surgeon to find out which ones you should buy.

2. Get any special equipment the surgeon recommends

Your loved one may need a special toilet seat, a bathtub bench, or a cane.

3. Prepare the house for recovery

Put regularly used items in easy-to-reach places and make sure there's nothing that would cause your loved one to slip or fall. For more specific tips on preparing the house for recovery, read: 

4. Find out how long you’ll need to provide care

The surgeon can estimate how long it will take your loved one to recover.

5. Keep the wound clean

You may be required to help change the bandage on the incision. Make sure you are comfortable with the process of cleaning and re-bandaging the wound.

Communicate effectively

Being able to communicate effectively is one of your most important jobs as a caregiver. When you communicate in ways that are clear and assertive, you are more likely to get the help and support you need. Here are some basic guidelines for good communication:

  • Express your feelings without blaming others or causing them to become defensive; use “I” rather than “you”
  • Respect the rights and feelings of others
  • Be specific; don't assume the person will guess what you need
  • Be a good listener

Take care of yourself

Caregivers should expect to provide many kinds of help, from grocery shopping to helping with daily tasks such as bathing, dressing, and eating. When caring for a loved one after surgery, it's important to take care of your own health as well. It’s not selfish to focus on your needs and desires when you are a caregiver—it’s an important part of the job. You’re responsible for your care first. Remember to:

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get enough sleep
  • Make time for regular exercise
  • Stay in touch with friends and other family members
  • Maintain outside interests
  • Recognise when you need help and ask for it
  • Manage stress

In doing these things, you can be more confident in your readiness to care for your loved one after surgery.

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