Prepare for your recovery before surgery so you have enough time to consider all your needs – physical, emotional and day-to-day. Your medical team is always the best source for recovery planning, and the information below will help prepare you for those conversations.
The suggestions below are general and appropriate for most types of surgery but speak with your medical team about suggestions specific to your case. You can also find surgery-specific information published by the American College of Surgeons.
Before You Get Home
Attitude: Because your expectation about pain relief can affect how well a pain treatment works, it’s important that you leave the hospital feeling confident about your pain management plan, which also means knowing what to expect while you recover at home. But because no two people experience pain or respond exactly the same to pain treatments, you’ll also want to know what to do if something unexpected occurs. As always, when in doubt, contact your doctor.
Also important — whether in the hospital or at home, stay ahead of your pain — don’t wait for it to build before you treat it.
And if the pain persists after treatment, contact your doctor. Keeping your medical team informed is important to your recovery.
Information: Before you leave the hospital, you and your caregivers should understand the details of your pain management plan — the treatments (with or without medication): how they work, when to take them, how to properly apply them, and how to use any required medical device. If you have any doubts about what you should be doing, let your medical team know. They’ll have practical suggestions that can help.
Before you leave the hospital, ask your medical team to explain in detail what kind of support you might need. Will your caregivers have to lift you from a chair or something else requiring a certain level of strength? Will you need somebody nearby all day or only at certain times, and for how many days? The clearer the picture of your daily needs, the better you’ll be able to arrange for caregiver support.
Whatever support you might need, there are free online tools that can help you or a caregiver coordinate volunteers who want to help with your recovery. For example, the scheduling tool at lotsahelpinghands.com lets users form a support team and schedule tasks among friends and neighbors who want to help during your recovery.
Will you have to make any changes at home? For example, will stairs be an issue? Will you need to make room for any medical equipment? If you know others who’ve recovered from the same surgery, you could ask what they did at home after surgery, keeping in mind that your doctor should approve any plans.
Even if you’re fully mobile, to minimize the chance of an accidental fall, consider wearing simple flat shoes or slippers, eliminating any clutter, ensuring good lighting, and using railings on stairs. If your bedroom is far from a bathroom, you might want to sleep in a room closer to a bathroom during your recovery.
It’s also important to have an idea of where you plan to keep your medications. A safe or locked cabinet would be ideal, as secure locations can help prevent diversion or misuse of your prescriptions. According to the United States for Non-Dependence report, patients who were given prescriptions for opioids were prescribed an average of 85 pills – whether they needed them or not – which not only puts patients at risk but those around them as well. When you get a prescription, closely monitor how many pills are in each package or bottle, and how quickly they are used.
Knowing any possible physical or travel limitations during your recovery should give you a feel for how much food and essential items you’ll need, and whether you’ll be able to prepare your own meals. Better to have more than you need in your pantry during your recovery, especially if you’re unable to drive.
Transportation to medical or rehabilitation appointments or elsewhere is another item to plan for. Your doctor’s office or the social service department at your hospital may also have information on specialized public transportation services for people recovering from medical procedures.
This bears repeating — stay ahead of your pain — don’t wait for it to build before you treat it. If the pain persists after treatment, tell your doctor. Applying your treatment plan properly and on time exactly as your doctor instructed is key. What might seem like a minor change (for example, changing the time between doses) shouldn’t be done unless your doctor approves. And if you think you may need help staying on track with your treatment plan, speak with your doctor. They can provide suggestions and even direct you to digital tools or online services that can help, many of which are free.
And If your doctor prescribes an opioid pain treatment, remember to ask how long you should take the medication and when you should reduce your dose.
It’s natural to want a smooth, event-free recovery, but sometimes complications arise. Ask your doctor if there are complications specific to your surgery to watch for. And if you experience these or something unexpected, contact your doctor early; don’t wait for something that might be minor to become something major. It’s your doctor’s job to make sure you’re comfortable and recovering as quickly as possible, so don’t feel like you’re pestering them.
“Speak up if you have questions or concerns, and if you do not understand, ask again.”
Here are some general recovery issues to watch for:
- Pain that worsens despite treatment
- Nausea or vomiting
- Racing heartbeat
Whether because of your surgery or due to medication you take during recovery, it’s important that you don’t drive any vehicle without consulting your doctor. Asking your doctor about when and how you can travel is also recommended. For example, the pressure changes experienced during airplane travel might not be acceptable during your recovery.
Returning to Your Normal Routine
Even if you’re feeling “back to normal,” talk with your doctor before you return to your regular activities. Whether it’s recreation or returning to work (even from home), it’s best to discuss your plans with your medical team.
Properly Disposing Unused Medications
It’s best to get unused pain medications out of your home as quickly as possible. To ensure they are disposed of properly, bring the leftover pain medications to your local police department. You can also ask your doctor for a deactivation pouch or call a local pharmacy to see if they have a disposal kiosk for unused medicines. Be sure to remove any personal, identifiable information from prescription bottles or pill packages to help prevent unauthorized refills. To learn more about proper medication disposal, visit https://thfp.com/zeroleft.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also hosts National Prescription Drug Take-Back events in communities across the country to ensure safe disposal of prescription drugs. For more information on dates and locations near you visit https://takebackday.dea.gov.