surgery

Don’t Let Surgery “Lay You Up”

Linda's Story: Robotic Surgery

For several years I had symptoms that led my physician to recommend a complete hysterectomy. Fortunately, a hysterectomy is not what it used to be. My surgeon and a DaVinci robot completed my surgery in a under two hours. Using this technology reduces the chance of infection and other problems. It's an outpatient procedure. I was home from the hospital in less than 30 hours. There were only four tiny cuts covered by surgical tape. When my Mom had her surgery she was in the hospital and recovering at home for a long time. And, she was left with a large scar across her entire abdomen.

Fortunately, medical knowledge and surgical procedures have come a long way. Surgery doesn’t have to lay you up for weeks. There are also things you can do to ensure a smooth recovery. I’ll share a bit about what helped me in hopes you can benefit if you need surgery.

A Smooth Recovery from Surgery

Step 1: Hire a Care Manager

I was so grateful to have a care manager.  One of the care manager’s primary services is to complete an assessment with the client. They gather all their medical history and records and help organize them. From there they assist with communicating this information to all the healthcare providers. It’s a huge relief just to have all the information your doctors need.

The assessment forms a solid foundation for recommendations for medical equipment, home safety needs, technology, programs and community services. It provides a starting point for coordinating conversations with family/healthcare surrogates. The recommendations turn into a care plan designed to enhance quality of life.

Having a third party involved helps keep everyone focused on what’s best for the client. It prevents false assumptions. Everyone understands what can and will be done. You and your loved ones can go into the situation with realistic expectations. It’s the client’s best opportunity to make sure they get the care needed and live life the way they want.

Preparing for Surgery: How I Used Care Management Services

My care manager helped me gather and organize all of the information I needed to provide to my surgeon. What I don’t tell them may hurt me. This process included organizing and creating an electronic health record of:

  • My complete medical history. This was more difficult than we initially thought since nearly all my physicians had retired.
  • All of my current diagnoses.
  • A list of all physicians I have seen in the last three years.
  • The complete list of my medications and natural supplements.
  • My allergies (and any medications or procedures that had caused side effects or problems in the past).
  • My advance directives, including my Health Care Surrogate Designation.
  • Amount of alcohol consumption.

The questions each health care provider asks are similar, but not exactly the same. After seven times answering various forms of these questions, I was so thankful to have all the information at my fingertips.

What Will Happen After Surgery?

Prior to discharge, I watched a video about my specific surgery and what to expect with my Care Manager. It is important to have someone there with you throughout the discharge process. I needed an advocate to help me ask the proper questions about the discharge plan. My care manager thought of items I would not have asked (especially while on pain medication!).

Together we create a recovery plan, which included:

  • Examples of what I should call my doctor about.
  • Physical limitations for optimal recovery. How long until I can work out? How soon can I go back to the office? What tasks should I avoid? What will actually help me start feeling better?
  • Getting medications post-surgery. Should I pick up the medications from the pharmacy or have them delivered to me at the hospital? I chose to pick up my medication so I could leave the hospital sooner. (Thanks for the tip, Care Manager!)  It allowed me to be discharged hours sooner and maintain my records with the same pharmacy.
  • Scheduling my follow up appointment. With my care manager there we reviewed my calendar and coordinated a ride for my follow up appointment in real time.
  • Will I be able to be left alone at home or will I need assistance? The care manager ensured I had a realistic picture of how I’d be feeling and what my limitations would be. This is a danger zone, especially for older clients. I was lucky my husband was able to be with me while I needed help. Otherwise, I would have hired a caregiver.

Take-Away Lessons: How to Make Sure Surgery Doesn’t Lay You Up

My entire surgery experience was positive and my medical treatment was excellent. However, it helped tremendously that I had a Care Manager to prepare and help with discharge. She helped me remember all the do’s and don’ts. Even though I’m capable of understanding instructions and giving informed consent, there is a lot to remember at a time you’re not at your best. Even family members need support as they may be exhausted and emotional when you’re undergoing surgery.

I know if I live long enough I may lose some of those abilities. Or, I may get a diagnosis that prevents me from being the optimal patient. How I prepare for that now will be critical for me later. Many people also don’t have family living locally to help.

Advanced planning:

  1. Complete advance directives. This includes appointing a Health Care Surrogate (and successor). Provide them to your healthcare professionals and family members.
  2. Gather medical history and records. It is much easier to gather copies of records and keep information updated as you go (especially if, like me, you have physicians who retire or move). Ideally, store this in a secure, online health records system for easy access.
  3. Review this medical information with your Healthcare Surrogate. Familiarize them with your medical history. Talk about what you want and your priorities.
  4. Establish relationships with medical providers. Take time to vet providers and find the best fit for you and your condition. If you may need surgery, gather recommendations and do research on who is most experienced in your procedure.

Be prepared at all stages: Click Here to get your free Aging Wisely checklist.

When you need surgery (or get hospitalized/face a serious illness):

  1. Enlist an advocate. Hire a care manager to make sure you’re prepared and know what to expect. Set yourself up for success. Medical care is still quite segmented so a care manager brings all the pieces together and helps you transition between settings. It makes a big difference having someone who knows you and can be there for you before, during and after.
  2. Don’t forget the little things. One example is food after your surgery. What can you eat? What will you feel like eating? Will someone be there to prepare your meals? Do you have everything you’ll need stocked in the house? We also find comfort and entertainment items to be so important at the hospital (and after). Successful surgery is about more than just the procedure and medications. You are more than a diagnosis.
  3. Coordinate logistics. In my case, the medication decision really improved discharge timing. Think through the plan of action. An expert really helps here because they know a lot of “inside scoop” on how the medical system works. A care manager helps you anticipate and prevent.

Special tips about aftercare:

  1. Don’t try to be a martyr or rely on family members for too much. You will likely need help, even after a minor surgery. If you have a family member assisting, remember they can’t be two places at once. If you’re having trouble and need them with you, they won’t be able to pick up food or medications. You may want to make backup arrangements with friends or a professional caregiver. Prepare ahead.
  2. Caregivers can smooth your path to recovery. A lot of people mistakenly believe the doctor will recommend all the aftercare needed. Your doctor will likely only recommend Medicare home health care in very limited circumstances. Professional caregivers can backup your family caregivers, run errands, tidy the home, prepare meals and much more. They’re trained to safely help you up and down from bed, to the toilet, etc. Caregivers can remind you to take medications or other treatments and check for signs of problems. There’s nothing better than feeling clean and refreshed after surgery. With a professionally trained caregiver, you can get cleaned up with dignity/safety and feel great.

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