Bringing home the patient – 5 simple steps to take following a hospital stay.
I recently helped my mother bring my father home from the hospital after quintuple bypass surgery. This transition was an eye-opening experience. I realized how emotionally draining and stressful it can be for everyone involved. When it is time for the patient to come home, everyone is relieved. At the same time, though, they may be wondering…what happens next?
Whether the hospital stay is a long or short one, there are some basic steps I’ve learned that you and your family can take to make sure the transition is as stress-free as possible.
- Establish a buddy system. At discharge, have one person with the patient to help them gather their belongings and get ready to go home. The designated “buddy” can talk with doctors and nurses about care instructions, medications, etc. This is a big help both emotionally and logistically. It helps alleviate stress and gives the primary caretaker a little extra support. If you don’t have a buddy or family member to rely on upon the patients release, ask the nursing staff prior to discharge date. There are many services offered to patients through Patient Advocacy that can provide you with the support and information you’ll need.
- Open the lines of communication for long-term care. Be sure to ask the medical staff about physical therapy needs and the availability of in-home support services, if needed. Formulate a plan with the patient and other family members beforehand. This way, everyone will be informed and aware of what to expect. Get a calendar and post it where the whole family can see it. Keep doctor’s appointments and other important information–like the medication schedule–visible.
- Educate yourself on the patient’s diagnosis, personal needs and signs to look for as they move forward towards better health. Things look very different at home, and you may find things come up that you weren’t expecting. Ask the doctor about symptoms or behaviors to look out for. Find out what situations might call for seeing the doctor. My mother and I noticed my father was becoming a little “down in the dumps” a few weeks after we brought him home. After asking his doctor, we understood that mild depression is a known side-effect of the pain medication he was taking. The decrease in the level of activity he was used to was also impacting his mood. It can be hard on both patients and caregivers who have to quickly adjust their lifestyles and manage pain. Take away some of the worry by knowing what to expect.
- Create a list of activities the patient can do to keep busy. If you’ve been through the education process upon discharge, you should be aware of the amount of daily physical activity your loved one can have. Be sure to prepare your home prior to bringing them home. Make sure walkways are clear to allow a wheelchair, scooter or walker through. Think about how the patient will use the restroom and shower too. It might be a good idea to equip your bathroom with safety items like a raised toilet seat, an anti-slip shower mat, grab bars and shower bench. Aside from physical activity, provide activities that keep the mind busy. Offer things like books, puzzles, video games, movies, scrap-booking or model building. Knowing that my father would have a hard time sitting still, mental activities played a vital role in helping him rest after surgery.
- Don’t forget to ask for help. As a caregiver, you are the “expert” on your loved one’s history. Of course you may not be a medical expert, but you certainly know a lot about the patient and about your own abilities to provide care in a safe, home setting. It can be a very challenging process physically and mentally, so make sure to be mindful of your own well-being.
Sometimes, just having a break to “reset” works wonders – even having a cup of coffee with a friend. While observing my mother caring for my father, I realized that the worry and stress had taken a toll on her. At first, she didn’t want to step away from my dad. She didn’t want to “bother anyone” by asking for help. That is a normal response many of us would have. Sometimes you must be lovingly stern with the primary caregiver. Let them know that for their health, the patient’s health and the well-being of the whole family, they need to take care of themselves too. It would be best for everyone if they would ask for help more often and take a break.
Whether you ask a family member to help, or you employ a caregiver, the point is have a plan for help. In order to care for your loved one, you must care for yourself as well.
These five simple steps will get everyone started on the right path when bringing home your patient. My father is on the mend, and my mother has a support system in place to help. What I found really valuable is learning the balance of being a daughter and caregiver. It was difficult to be stern with my father, who wouldn’t stay in bed, wanted to do too much too soon and sometimes got a bit testy with me. I learned that being calm and loving while letting my dad know I was only trying to help him get better so he can get back to being the boss! It was hard to tell my mom to take care of herself, and get her to allow me to take my share of the work. In the end, though, I found that patience and empathy goes a long way to getting everyone started on the path to good health.