Caring for a loved one who just had surgery? Here’s what you should avoid doing

Want to know how you can care for a loved one after surgery and speed up their recovery process? Here's what should avoid doing as a caregiver.

by Tan Jia Hui

When someone we care for undergoes surgery, our first instinct as a caregiver is to do everything in our power to make them feel comfortable and help them recover as quickly as possible. However, despite good intentions and our eagerness to help, we may do things that hinder and delay their recovery process.

To help your loved one recover more quickly from their operation, here are things that you should avoid doing as a caregiver.

1. Showering too soon

A common mistake that caregivers make post-surgery is helping their loved ones shower too soon.

It may take some time before your loved one is able to safely get their stitches or incision wet post-surgery. The duration differs depending on the surgery, but doctors typically recommend keeping your wound dry for the first 48 hours. For more serious surgeries, such as those involving internal organs or bone repairs, it may be necessary to wait longer. If your loved one is feeling uncomfortable and demands to shower sooner, you may give them a sponge bath or lightly wipe them down with a warm towel and water while avoiding the wound area.

Once the doctor gives the green light to get the entire body wet, it is advisable to opt for a shower instead of a bath since the wound can get tender after soaking, increasing the chances of it reopening. On that note, you should also check with the doctors or nurses if your loved one will need a waterproof dressing for their wound. Avoid applying soap and bath products directly on the wound while it is healing. After showering, delicately pat the area dry with a clean towel.

2. Not assisting with toileting

Image of a woman using the toilet alone, a common post-surgery mistake that caregivers can make

Source: Adobe Stock

Many individuals may face mobility issues post-surgery, particularly those who underwent joint or bone surgery which may significantly limit movement during recovery. This can have an impact on their ability to use the toilet independently. Besides visible physical limitations, individuals may not be 100% alert and have slower reflexes while the anaesthetic effect is still wearing off or under the influence of other prescription drugs.

As caregivers, it is important to not overlook this aspect. For those who need physical assistance with toileting, provide the necessary support while also respecting their privacy and dignity. Even when they seem fine and are able to use the toilet independently, it helps to pay close attention in case of emergencies or accidents.

3. Overlooking the importance of diet

Proper nutrition is crucial to the post-surgery recovery process. However, many caregivers often overlook the importance of a nutritious post-surgery diet. Having a balanced diet rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals can help to reduce stress on the body, promote healing, and minimise the risk of complications.

When it comes to a nutritious post-surgery diet, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The best diet for your loved one depends on the type of surgery they underwent and any pre-existing conditions. 

For example, individuals with kidney or liver conditions will have to watch their protein intake, while those who had bowel surgery may need a low-fibre diet to aid in the digestive tract recovery process. While drinking plenty of fluids is generally good for you and prevents dehydration, there are certain surgeries that may require the individual to refrain from drinking water shortly after the procedure, such as those involving the abdomen, head or neck.

Always follow the doctor’s instructions. When in doubt, check with the relevant medical staff or even consider consulting a registered dietician for specific advice.

Check out our resource on recommended post-surgery foods to learn more about the type of nutrition your loved one needs for a speedy recovery.

4. Discouraging movement and rehabilitation

Source: iStock

A common misconception is that one should avoid moving about after surgery. 

This could be true in the short-term for specific procedures like spinal, joint replacement, and abdominal surgery, to avoid placing further stress on the affected areas and prevent complications such as bleeding. However, rehabilitation is an essential part of post-surgery recovery. The key is to resume activity in a safe and gradual manner.

It can be difficult at first. Caregivers and family members may discourage their loved one from exercising as they express pain or discomfort. However, targeted exercises recommended by doctors or physical therapists can help to:

  • Promote healing by increasing blood circulation and reducing inflammation
  • Alleviate pain by strengthening muscles, improving flexibility and reducing swelling
  • Regain independence and the ability to perform everyday tasks such as walking, climbing stairs, and participating in recreational and social activities
  • Prevent complications such as blood clots and pressure sores that often happen to those who are immobile or bedridden.

As you take steps to encourage your loved one to stay active, make sure that you do not push them too quickly as well. Rushing the recovery process can lead to complications and setbacks. Stick to the rehabilitation programme and follow the post-operative instructions provided by the healthcare team regarding movement restrictions for a safe and smooth recovery.

In addition, pay close attention to your loved one’s symptoms and progression. Report any changes to their doctor or healthcare provider to help identify any potential complications early on and prevent them from becoming more serious.

Once your loved one has made considerable progress, you can then encourage them to begin physiotherapy or to incorporate light exercise into their daily routine. Click here to learn more about elderly-friendly exercises, such as light stretching and callisthenics that can be done at home.

Do you need support with your loved one's post-surgery care?

Homage offers a wide range of home-based care services for those who are recovering from surgery

  • Activities of daily living (Feeding, transferring, toileting, etc.)
  • Nursing care including wound care, catheter or feeding tube care
  • Medical escort services for follow-up appointments at hospitals, polyclinics and more
  • Therapy for rehabilitation (Physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy)

To explore our services, download the Homage app today

5. Ignoring signs of potential complications

Recovering after surgery is not always a linear process. Even with the best care, surgery wounds may not always heal as well as we hope and complications can arise. 

While it is normal to have redness, discomfort, and swelling around the surgical site, it is concerning if the following symptoms are present:

  • The wound does not stop bleeding
  • Continued swelling
  • The area around the wound is warm, red, and painful
  • The presence of thick grey, green, or yellow fluid
  • Formation of an abscess (a hard pocket of pus-like fluid) beneath the skin

Besides wound care, common post-surgery complications include bleeding, blood clots, and pneumonia. 

As caregivers, we should look out for signs and symptoms of common post-surgery complications. If you suspect that your loved one is showing signs of post-surgery complications, alert your loved one’s doctor or care team as soon as possible.

6. Neglecting emotional needs

Source: BigStock

Surgery can be a stressful and emotional experience for both the patient and the caregiver. As caregivers, it is easy to become so focused on addressing the physical needs of our loved ones that we forget about the importance of emotional support. 

Here are some ways to support your loved one emotionally as they recover from surgery:

  • Listen actively: Make time to listen to your loved one’s concerns. Be patient and show empathy by acknowledging and validating their feelings.
  • Provide encouragement: Tasks that are simple to us can be taxing for them to accomplish, both physically and emotionally. Be generous with your encouragement, especially when they are taking active steps towards a speedier recovery, like keeping up with their rehabilitation and medication schedule.
  • Stay positive: Maintaining a positive attitude and outlook can ease the stress of your loved one and help them remain optimistic and motivated during the recovery process.
  • Seek professional help: As a caregiver, we are not professionally trained to provide emotional support. If you are at a loss for how to uplift your loved one’s spirits, know that you are not alone. This is a common scenario and help is readily available. Reach out to the healthcare team and seek support from a therapist or counsellor to help your loved one tide through this difficult time.

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What can I do if I feel overwhelmed as a caregiver? 

Caring for a loved one after surgery can be a demanding and stressful experience, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Here are some things you can do if you are experiencing caregiver stress and fatigue.

1. Make time for self-care

The golden rule in caregiving is to always take care of yourself first. This may sound selfish at first, but it is the only way you can deliver the best care to your loved one. Even though you may be caught up with caregiving most of the time, it is important to dedicate pockets of time throughout the day to rest, unwind, and do something that helps you recharge. It can be as simple as a 5-minute stroll, reading a book, or knitting, to prevent caregiver burnout, and this is on top of ensuring you get enough rest and eat healthily. 

2. Remember that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something

Just as how it takes a village to raise a child, caring for a loved one post-surgery also requires teamwork and everyone’s concerted effort. Reach out to family and friends and find out how everyone can help out and contribute to the recovery process. Even if they are unable to visit in-person to physically assist in the recovery process, an occasional call to check up on your loved one can help to lift their spirits and motivation. Other ways they can help are to manage your loved one’s finances and insurance, taking administrative matters off your plate while you focus on attending to your loved one’s daily care needs.

3. Engage respite care

Respite care is a service that provides temporary relief for caregivers. With respite care, you can get short-term care support for your loved ones, allowing you to take a break from caregiving to attend to your own needs, from as short as several hours a day, to a few weeks at a time.

At Homage, our local caregivers are professionally trained to support activities of daily living, medication reminders, staying active, night care, and more, from as short as one hour to round-the-clock care.

Caring for a loved one after surgery may be challenging, but it is always rewarding and heartwarming to know you played a part in your loved one’s recovery and witness them get better day by day. Now that you know the common post-surgery mistakes to avoid, you can feel more confident when caring for a loved one post-hospitalisation. 

If you’d prefer to have a trained professional guide you through your post-surgery caregiving journey, Homage is here to help. Our experienced Care Pros can help to care for your loved one and guide you along every step of the way, ensuring a smooth recovery process and a seamless transition from hospital to home. Learn more about our post-surgery care service.

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About the Writer
Tan Jia Hui
Jia Hui is a content marketer who loves helping others and hopes to make this world a kinder place in any way she can. In her pockets of free time, you can find her snacking on ice cream and fries with her 80-year-young Grandma at home.
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