This is the latest in a series of blog posts by Barbara Resnick, PhD, CRNP, written from her perspective as both a healthcare professional and as a patient during the course of intensive treatment for esophageal cancer. This two-part article was written about two months following her surgery. Part One discusses the importance of preparing for going home throughout the course of a hospital stay following surgery. Part Two addresses managing ongoing recovery at home. These blog posts will be helpful to older adults undergoing surgery and their families, as well as to hospital administrators and healthcare providers.
Part One: Preparing for Life at Home throughout Your Hospital Stay
My recent experience in the hospital following surgery for esophageal cancer has made me aware that healthcare professionals (of which I am one) have much they can learn to support their patients’ day-to-day recovery following surgery, as well as to help them prepare for going home. This learning can be enhanced by acknowledging that patients know a lot about their own bodies and preferences, and by valuing the knowledge and experience patients and caregivers gain each day in the hospital. Therefore, you and your caregivers can be a valuable source of information to your healthcare team.
Although people’s responses to surgery are individualized, there are some basic approaches that can be applied to most types of surgeries and hospital stays. My experience was rather intensive, as the original surgery was an esophagectomy. This is a procedure where the esophagus (the tube that moves food from your throat to your stomach) is removed and then rebuilt from part of your stomach or large intestine. I had several complications and had to have a second surgery, all of which resulted in almost five weeks in the hospital!
My experience taught me the importance of thinking ahead and preparing for life at home while I was still in the hospital. Patients and families need to take an active part in this process, because the hospital care team is understandably often more focused on their patients’ immediate medical problems and needs. Patients and families need to ask and remind the healthcare team to teach them things that they’ll have to do when they go home, such as how to care for surgical incisions, what to do with a wound drain, or how to use a feeding tube. Patients and families need to practice these things while in the hospital, under the guidance of their care team. The healthcare team should also explain each medication when it is first given, including the name, what it’s for, how to take it, and what possible side effects to watch out for.
Also, practicing basic daily activities while you are still in the hospital is key to your recovery and in helping you know what you can do safely once you home. These activities include things such as bathing, dressing, eating, grooming, and walking, I was fortunate to have a family caregiver with me throughout my hospital stay. I made sure that I bathed and dressed daily with someone standing by me to help as needed. I walked through the hallways at least a few times a day because my family member could help carry tubes and push the IV pole. If you don’t have someone with you in the hospital, it’s important to ask the nursing staff to help with you these activities. On the actual day of my discharge, I insisted that the nurse teach me and my family how to set up the tube feedings I needed when I first went home and to practice with us.