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The First Day Home from Surgery: What Caregivers Need to Know

Oh, the stories we have of patients' first days home.  Those first days can test one’s patience and problem solving skills.  You will laugh, feel annoyed, become frustrated, and hopefully get through it all with no harm done.  My goal today is to help you prepare for that first day home from the hospital, which can leave you feeling as though nothing about our health care system works.

Here Is a Common Scenario

You take Mom in for a simple outpatient surgery on her foot. In a few hours she is free to go, and you find yourself with a newly disabled individual that you are unprepared to handle.  You are given a handful of prescriptions and instructions you cannot possibly memorize immediately, and mom is wheeled to the door ready for you to take her home.  
Now the surprises come.  Mom needs you to pick up a walker, she is in pain and a little groggy, and suddenly, she cannot walk without significant support.  You must go to the pharmacy, prepare meals, figure out the medications, help mom to the bathroom, learn how to bathe her, and still manage your family from a distance!  If this is not fodder for a good comedy, what is?

Let’s talk about how to make this a little bit easier:

  1. Go with her to her pre-surgery visit with a written list of questions.
  2. Ask for the medication prescriptions before the day of the surgery so that you have them filled and ready when you arrive home from the hospital.
  3. Find out if mom will have limited mobility after surgery. Will she need crutches, walker, or wheelchair? Find out if you need to obtain those items.  Ask where to get them.
  4. Ask if your mother will have bathing restrictions.
  5. Figure out if mom going to be able to cook, dress, do laundry, and manage her affairs.
  6. Will there be dressings to change and with what frequency?

Once you have the information, sit down with your mother and plan out how you will manage the first week.  Get the medications ahead of time or have someone pick them up for you.  Arrange for equipment needs.  Set up the bathroom so that mom is safe using the toilet and sink.  Showering or bathing may require the support of another person, so plan who that will be and with what frequency.  Prepare easy-to-heat meals ahead of time.  Plan for some coverage of mom’s care for the first few days she is home.  Obtain any dressing supplies that may be needed unless the hospital is going to supply them.

If you plan ahead you will have far fewer surprises and be far ahead of most individuals in the first week home.  You indeed will have fewer stories to tell, but you will sleep better and feel far less stress.  

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