Organized preparation for medical procedures

As you are reading this, I’m at home recuperating from shoulder surgery. As such surgeries go, it was pretty minor, but there was still a reasonable amount of preparation I needed to do.

I never had a pre-surgery checklist before, so I had to think through things fairly carefully. The following were some of the things I had to consider:

Learning how my calendar would be affected

Besides knowing the date of surgery, I had to find out what post-surgery appointments I would have and what physical therapy would be needed. Doctor’s offices often tend to tell you only the next step, but it makes planning easier when you know what’s coming at least for the next month. “So, we’ll see you the Monday after surgery” is not what you want to hear with little notice when your doctor’s office is not nearby, and you need to ask someone for a ride.

I also needed to learn what restrictions I would have that would affect my ability to work, socialize, drive, etc. That’s somewhat hard to tell, because everyone heals differently, but getting at least a usual range allowed for some planning.

Organizing (and stocking up) the house

Medical supplies: I got all my post-surgery prescriptions filled, and made sure I had gel packs and packages of frozen peas to ice my shoulder.

Clothes: When you can’t raise one arm, it affects what you can wear. I had to buy shirts that button rather than go on over my head.

Food: I stocked up on the easy-to-digest items I need post-surgery. Also, since cooking will be a challenge for a while, I got some frozen dinners. And I determined which restaurants in my area do home delivery.

Utensils: I don’t have a dishwasher, and doing the dishes by hand might be difficult for a week or two. So I brought in the paper plates and plastic silverware I had stashed away in the garage.

Heavy items: I bought a large bag of cat food and emptied it into the kitty food storage container. The food comes in a heavy bag, and I usually use two hands when I’m going to refill. That could be awkward for a while after surgery.

Having the right legal documents in place

Since I already had my estate documents done, including a medical power of attorney, the only thing I had to do was bring that power of attorney document with me on the day of surgery.

Arranging for help

As someone who lives alone, this is a big deal for me — but even those living with someone may need help from others.

I knew someone had to drive me to surgery and back, and someone had to stay with me for a while after I came home from surgery later that day. I’m lucky enough to have family members who live in the area (and some helpful neighbors) who could take care of that for me.

But beyond that, I have a list of people I can call on for any other help I may need. I know I’ll need a few rides, but I imagine there will be other things I’ll need that I haven’t thought of, even with all my preparation. Having that list of people who are more than willing to help out means I’ll never need to worry about getting whatever assistance I may need.

17 Comments for “Organized preparation for medical procedures”

  1. posted by Sassy on

    And I’ve found that no matter how many questions you ask, they will not tell you everything you need to know! I am staying with my son who had knee surgery almost two weeks ago. They said he should have someone with him for 24 hours…they didn’t say that they would be hooking up the game ready (icing machine) in a way that he could not unhook himself; that the frozen water bottles in the machine would need to be changed every few hours; that the flex machine (don’t know the real name) would need to be moved and strapped and unstrapped every time he wanted to move; that his rides through the local mobility service should have been set up a week ahead…etc., etc. And he asked a LOT of questions before hand (I know because I sent him a list to add to the ones he had and he wrote down all the answers). And even then — despite all the explanations of the leg brace no one mentioned that there were two “zero” settings and he had to set the second one to do the “locked straight” position the doctor wanted.

    Perhaps you can tell this has all driven me crazy. I’m flashing back to my own elbow surgery when I kept asking at the prep appointment about what I needed…someone to drive me home was the only answer — and then as we were leaving after the surgery, the nurse said “now be sure to keep your elbow propped up on a pillow all the way home.” Guess what? I don’t keep a pillow in my car and they wouldn’t let me take one. And the next elbow surgery, they had not added “have a pillow in the car” to the list of prep information.

    So (now that I’ve vented) you are absolutely correct that the most important thing is having people around who will step up and help — and having the attitude that you will indeed ask for the help you need.

  2. posted by G. on

    I hope you recover soon, Jeri…

    regarding the food – for surgery that will require using only 1 arm for time, don’t forget to make sure you don’t need 2 hands to eat it. And clothes – practice those buttons and zippers ahead of time, and not just the shirts – pants and shoes can be tricky to fasten with one hand also. I wonder if it would work to do your normal activities using only the arm (or leg) that will be functional for a day or 2…that might reveal what you might need to plan for ahead of time.

    often asking others who have had similar situations (either as patient or as caretaker) can lead to some of the best advice that will never appear on a list from the doctors.

  3. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    Sassy, I hope your son is healing well, and I’m so sorry to hear about his situation re: getting post-surgery care information. That’s a lot of critical information to have not been shared! And not telling you to bring a pillow is a silly oversight that should have been corrected.

  4. posted by Pat Reble on

    Get well soon! I am with Sassy on this one. You need to arrange for some sort of advocate to be with you as much as possible, because even in the best of circumstances anything to do with hospitals is stressful, and we don’t take in all the information we need to or think to ask all the right questions. Medical misadventure is all too common. An extra pair of watchful eyes is sometimes the difference between getting good treatment and getting the wrong treatment.

  5. posted by Cindi Andrews on

    Get well soon! This was a great post, not only for prospective patients, but for caretakers. Like you, I live alone, and the advance prep ideas – like dealing with the heavy bag of cat food were so practical. Keep the posts coming!

  6. posted by Dinah Ackerson on

    After reading your article, I did a quick Google search for similar information or even a simple list for people facing surgery and other medical procedures to consider. The closest I could find was a hospital list for presurgery patients to prepare for doctor’s visits. I have had surgeries, etc., and was fortunante to have my husband and friends assist but the experiences were still difficult and, in some instances, chaotic! I believe a comprehensive checklist, booklet, etc., to help people prepare for surgeries and medical procedures is a great idea! How can we do this?

  7. posted by Sarah on

    I have often thought there would be a good market for a book on “what the doctor forgot to mention before you had surgery.” Because clearly there are a LOT of things that don’t get mentioned until afterward!

  8. posted by Jane on

    I hope you heal quickly (and fully)! One tip that I pass on when I hear about knee (or hip or any surgery that impacts mobility): prior to surgery, mimic your decreased mobility by putting on a brace, using your crutches, etc. and take a tour through your house. You will be amazed at how many things can be moved out of the way or somewhere more convenient to reduce your aggravation after surgery and prevent accidental falls if you are on crutches. Don’t forget the bathroom! No one will die if a few extra toilet paper rolls are on the back of the toilet while getting under the sink is a hassle. It’s so much better than the alternative. The nurse who was providing my pre-surgery info suggested this and I think it should be standard for any surgery that impacts mobility, especially for folks who live alone. She was a peach!

  9. posted by liz on

    Good points – I know that I’ll be having knee surgery sometime within the next year or so. I am already planning.

    Some additional ideas – ask someone who had similar surgery what the impacts were in their lifestyle. Based on their experiences, I am losing the weight and trying to exercise more to get in better shape.

    While I’ll have help from my sister and friends, I am also looking into home health care options.

  10. posted by liz on

    oops – the tablet is a little sensitive this morning…

    I’ll be looking into home health options since my friends are also aging, so they may not be able to help as much. And, I am looking at options that are available in the community for senior citizens. It will be good to know, just in case.

    I’m checking out the local groceries and found that one is increasing deli options and will do shopping and meal prep and will deliver.

    Since I am working on decluttering, I am doing it with the surgery in mind and rearranging things to make things more accessible. I’m keeping track of things I use a lot and will make sure that I have a supply of those things available pre-surgery.

  11. posted by Anna on

    Additional suggestion before knee or hip surgery, or even for any procedure that will affect mobility: roll up the scatter rugs and store them in a closet for a while, and rearrange the furniture so that walkways from one place to another are clear.

  12. posted by Beverly D NP on

    This sure hit me where I live. I had a coronary stent placed this week, and it was quite an experience. I am a Nurse Practitioner and before that was a critical care nurse. I thought I understood what I needed but it sure is different on the other side! One thing I asked about that surprised my cardiologist: I was given a choice between having the entry site either the femoral artery (traditional) or the radial artery (newer and has some advantages in terms of managing post procedure bleeding). I asked how much use I would have of my hand post procedure, and my cardiologist had not even thought about it! I asked him if he wanted to go even a couple of days without the use of his dominant hand, and he agreed with me that the femoral was the way to go. I knew I was going to have to lie flat for at least 4 hours, but those were long hours! And I discovered that like many of my patients, I can’t urinate lying down. I found out later that I was not to stoop or pick up more than 10 pounds for at least 2 days. What was I supposed to do if I dropped something? I had a wonderful team of physicians and nurses and couldn’t ask for a better hospital stay, but there are so many details that people just don’t realize. I hope you are on the mend, Jeri, and thanks for the post.

  13. posted by Amy on

    I had shoulder surgery as well, and the suggestions above are excellent. Here’s a tip: I could not get my surgery site (which had no cast) wet or damp for several weeks. A PT told me to use Glad Press and Stick and wrap it around the site, covering completely. It sticks to skin as well as bandages and peels right off after you bathe or shower. It is NOT waterproof but helps with those little jerks and splashes. And it’s cheap.

    And one general tip for anyone facing surgery: if you have an animal that must be walked on a lead, make sure to arrange for boarding or daily walks until you can safely do it yourself.

    Love your site. Good luck!

  14. posted by Gail on

    Best wishes for a full recovery. My phys. therapist was invaluable to me when I had shoulder surgery – he answered all my ?s.
    Pre-surgery, I went to thrift store and bought button up shirts.
    I put all my day to day bowls, food, etc on the countertops so I wouldn’t have to reach up/down to get stuff. I recontainerized food that required 2 hands to open.

  15. posted by StarWish624 on

    I had a series of medical procedures, including surgery. Before, I went to the thrift store, and bought several button down shirts that were one size larger than I wear, and had wide, medium length sleeves. The buttons were for easy on and off, and to remove the shirt, or open for check-ups. The wider sleeve was for rolling up for blood pressure tests and injections. The larger size was for being able to wear bandages after surgery (extra room in the larger shirt for the bulk of the bandages and drains. The shirts all have pockets. They held my surgery drains while I had them. I just call them my “Doctor shirts”.
    Now, I just wear them to all of my medical appointments, as they are just easier to deal with during the appointments.

  16. posted by Joan on

    Enlightening! I face some upcoming surgery. I Just finished a regimen of chemo starting with the insertion of a ‘port’. From start to finish it was a mess. There seemed to be no shortage of being told what wasn’t important….or common sense. Questions I asked were answered incompletely – unfortuntely evident after the fact.

    PET scan? – “takes a half hour”…no mention of the time beforehand for the radioactive injection….or that they don’t want you to read or do crossword puzzles to pass that time. Instead it was watching TV. Or that the person driving me would have three hours total ‘stolen’ away for the lack of this info.

    I was told to fill five prescriptions for nausea which were NEVER used as I didn’t get the side effects they were sure I would get. Why five…if one didn’t work then another ‘might’ – FIVE.

    There are doctors…and Doctors, but info re natural ways to counter side effects without a prescription with more side effects? Scarce. Most doctors aren’t fully schooled in nutrition or natural supplements. Thank goodness for the UK’s Cancer site and a few others…the nurses in the ‘infusion’ unit, my own research and that of others – totally invaluable.

    I’m thinking the best way to handle ‘anything’ medical after reading this is to ask for a contact who has undergone similar surgery or treatment and see what their experience was…better yet a total group. Before I make an Amazon purchase for a $50 item I read the reviews, starting with the 1-stars first so I can make a half educated guess.

  17. posted by Beverly D NP on

    Joan, I’m sorry you were given such a mess of insufficient/inaccurate information. But you won’t be able to get referrals to others from your medical provider, due to HIPPA laws. Cancer groups, in person and on-line, might be helpful.

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