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Published on January 21, 2018

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Home is Where You Heal

Develop a do-it-yourself recovery plan

By Laura Bennetts, Lawrence Memorial Hospital

You have a lump in your throat as your doctor looks at the X-ray of your injured ankle. The good news: one small bone is broken. The bad news: you need surgery to pin the bone so it will heal. You won’t be able to put weight on your foot for at least six weeks after surgery.

As you head home, you wonder how you will manage for the next couple of months. There’s never a good time to be injured or to have surgery. But developing a plan will reduce your anxiety and help you heal. You soon will discover this is the ultimate do-it-yourself project.

Make a plan

As with any DIY project, expect the unexpected. If you have surgical complications, your hospital stay will be longer than you anticipated. If everything goes really well, you may go home soon -- perhaps the day of surgery. Or you may need to move to another site for recovery once you no longer need in-hospital care. Hopefully, everything will go smoothly. But it will be worthwhile for you to be ready for other possibilities. One way to prepare is to develop a checklist:

  • Who can help you? Make a list of your available friends, family and service providers. Having one person who can be with you through pre-surgery appointments, your hospital stay and your post-surgery instructions will help you keep track of details. Ask someone to make notes of important information and advice.                           
  • What supplies will you need? Ask your doctor about required dressing changes. Will you need ice packs to use during recover? Will you need equipment to help you bathe? Will you be allowed to shower while the incision is healing? Do you need a bath bench or shower chair? Write a list of questions and share them with anyone who is helping you prepare.
  • What services will insurance cover? Call your insurance company to determine if you qualify for home health benefits. Ask your surgeon if you might need home health services after your hospital stay.
  • What transportation will you need? You will have follow-up appointments with your doctor, and you may not be allowed to drive soon after surgery because of limitation on your activities or you are taking pain medications.

Get help at home

If you’re lucky enough to return home swiftly, you still will need help for weeks -- or even months -- with daily tasks such as meal preparation, shopping, cleaning and laundry. You may have family and friends who can help for awhile, but have alternatives for the duration of your recovery.

  • Healthy meals. Eating right is important to regain strength. If you can sign up for delivered meals, such as Meals on Wheels, you will have lunch during your recovery. Restaurants or catering services also can deliver meals.
  • Shopping trips. Friends can shop for you. They frequently shop for themselves, after all, so have a list ready when a friend offers help.
  • Housecleaning. See if you qualify for housekeeping help through an agency. Help even once a week will improve life vastly. The hospital social worker can help you find agency resources to help set up services.
  • What you can and can’t do. After surgery, your doctor will give you guidelines to direct your activities, such as when you can start driving, when you can shower, how much weight you can put on your foot, how long you should wear a brace. When you see a physical therapist in the hospital, you may be given a beginning program of home exercises.

You also may see an occupational therapist who will teach you how to dress or handle other self-care as you recover. Follow all instructions until you get a referral for additional therapy at your home or at an outpatient clinic.

Friendly visitors

If you stay in the hospital or a rehabilitation unit for a while, encourage friends and relatives to visit you regularly. In healthcare settings, patients need visitors to feel supported.

From day one, your healthcare team will work with you on your discharge plans, so be aware that plans are determined by how you are recovering and your medical needs. Whether you go home sooner or later than your team initially estimated, you’ll be better prepared if you develop a plan for handling your DIY project for healing at home.

-- Laura Bennetts, a physical therapist, is clinical rehabilitation manager at Lawrence Memorial Hospital Therapy Services. She can be reached at laura.bennetts@lmh.org.

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