How to Care for a Loved One After Surgery
Of course, surgery is difficult for the person undergoing the procedure, but it can be similarly stressful for their loved ones. Even when working with a reputable and experienced surgeon, watching someone you love undergo surgery can be stressful. Although safe, there is always a level of risk during any kind of procedure — and it can be just as difficult to see your loved one in physical and emotional pain after the fact.
You can’t take away your loved one’s pain or fast-forward through recovery, but you can guide them through it. No matter what type of surgery your loved one needs, knowing how to properly care for them afterward is key. With some planning, you can help your loved one heal and make the post-op recovery process go more smoothly for both of you.
Prepare Ahead of Time
Prepare for the surgery before it takes place. Clean your or your loved one’s home, get some groceries, and stock up on medical supplies. You may need some over-the-counter pain medication, bandages, and other items for wound care.
In addition, ask your loved one what they need, or what they anticipate they’ll need. Make an effort to take care of it beforehand, so you don’t have to worry about it when caring for your loved one after the procedure.
Of course, you can’t take care of every errand and chore before surgery. Some tasks — like doing the dishes, cooking meals, and taking care of children or pets — require continual attention.
Depending on their surgery, your loved one may not even be physically able to handle their usual tasks. If their vision was impacted by an eye or eyelid surgery, they may not be able to drive to and from the grocery store; if they had surgery on their leg, they may not be able to move around at all. If the surgery was part of ongoing treatment for a medical issue, such as cancer, they may have to rest while receiving the remainder of that treatment.
They may also encounter emotional difficulties if their appearance was greatly altered by the surgery, such as a rhinoplasty or skin resurfacing, they may not feel comfortable appearing in public until they’ve healed. Some people may not want to share this private information with others unless absolutely necessary.
Offer to help out with these responsibilities. Even if your loved one can perform some essential tasks, you should still take on some additional responsibilities. That way, your loved one can focus on resting and recovering physically and emotionally from their surgery.
Be Strong and Positive
On top of sharing their responsibilities, you have to be emotionally resilient for your loved one. Surgery is emotionally taxing and often results in feelings of depression, which can complicate recovery.
“Being strong” will mean different things to different people. Your loved one may need to vent or ask you for advice. They may need to be reminded of why they had to get this surgery in the first place and understand that, though they are in pain now, this will ultimately benefit their health.
It also helps to stay positive during this time. Research indicates that having a positive attitude and outlook about recovery can ease and shorten the recovery process. You should acknowledge the realities of recovery and validate any feelings your loved one has, but try to help them see the positive side of things.
Take Care of Yourself
That being said, you also need to take care of yourself. Caring for someone else can be physically exhausting and mentally draining. If you completely neglect your own needs, you could experience caregiver burnout, compromising your ability to care for your loved one.
If your loved one is struggling, encourage them to seek professional help. You can offer a certain amount of emotional support, but that isn’t a replacement for mental health treatment. Similarly, if your loved one needs more assistance than you can provide, consider hiring a professional caregiver.
Remember that you can only do so much. Take breaks, and don’t hesitate to ask for support from others whenever you need it.
Use Technology to Aid Healing
Use technology to your advantage when providing post-op care. There are countless ways to use technology for health purposes, including:
- Organizing care with others;
- Reminding you to change bandages or provide medication;
- Helping your loved one stay connected with friends and family members;
- Tracking your loved one’s vitals (such as their blood pressure);
- Reporting post-surgery symptoms;
- Helping your loved one communicate with their healthcare providers.
Some tools are available for smartphones, while others are easier to access on a computer. You may need to purchase a new piece of equipment — such as a wearable fitness tracker or smart pillbox — to make the most of the technological options available to you.
Help to Manage Pain
Pain is an almost inevitable part of recovery. A significant part of post-op care is helping your loved one manage that pain. Though you can’t take the pain away, you can help them manage it until it subsides.
Be sure to discuss pain management with their doctor before they come home from surgery. In addition to prescribing pain medication, they will provide aftercare instructions. Follow these instructions closely to give out the right dose of pain medication and any other guidance for tending to the surgical site or wound.
Assist with Daily Hygiene
You’ll also have to help your loved one stay clean throughout their recovery process. Maintaining proper hygiene is crucial, as it will help prevent infections and other post-op complications. Again, follow any aftercare instructions when it comes to cleaning the surgical wound and general hygiene.
Don’t push your loved one beyond their physical limits when it comes to their hygiene. They may not be able to shower or bathe; you may have to give them a sponge bath instead. If your loved one can shower or bathe, make sure the surgical wound does not get wet by using waterproof bandages or covering the bandage.
Support Overall Wellness
Do your best to keep your loved one happy and healthy. Encourage them to eat a balanced diet, move their body, hydrate, and get consistently high-quality sleep. Make sure their wellness efforts are within the bounds of their doctor’s recommendations.
Be wary of any potentially dangerous health trends, as they may impede or jeopardize your loved one’s recovery. Rather than quick fixes, focus on reputable and sustainable practices that support overall health and wellness.
Stay Available for All Stages and Respect the Individual’s Healing Time
Be present and patient for your loved one through every stage of the recovery process. Progress is neither straightforward nor linear. Some days will be better than others, and your loved one will need your support whether they’re having a good or bad day.
You never know how someone will respond, both physically and emotionally, to the recovery process. Everyone is unique, and no two people will have the same post-op experience. All you can do is be there for your loved one while they rest and heal.