Caring for Someone Before an Operation

August 20, 2018

As I reflect on the ten operations my husband had and my caregiver role, I wish someone had taken me aside and given me some advice. There’s a lot to consider when someone is heading to the hospital.  Identifying a family caregiver can make it much easier for the health care system to coordinate treatment plans.  Choose someone who is willing and able to be your advocate, interact with health care providers, and advise others in the family of progress, issues, and other considerations.   Make sure you have all your questions ready and if something comes up at the hospital that you don’t understand, speak up – make sure you understand what is happening. I recommend taking notes of who said what.

If you are the designated family caregiver make sure you have support.  Assess your current responsibilities and ask what you will be required to do when the patient comes home.  Considering all your other responsibilities, determine how much you will be able to take on with this new role without overdoing it. Make a list of people you can ask for support and then ask for help when you need it.  Before the patient is discharged make sure you ask for instructions on anything you may be unfamiliar with, such as wound care, transport (i.e. bed to chair, in/out of cars), and bathing.  Home and community care may be offered.  Make sure you talk to the case manager about what you are willing to do, what your expectations are of them, what support you have and what you may need assistance with.  Get contact information from the home and community care agency before you leave hospital.

Health Care Providers

When the patient attends a pre-operation assessment, they usually get a package from the hospital regarding details on the surgery or treatment, date of admission and expected date of discharge.  At this time, it would be helpful to provide a caregiver package or section in the patient’s package as well, giving them information such as where to wait during surgery, what/where services are available for the caregiver, what they are responsible for, where and when the patient and caregiver will reunite. It would be great if you could give the caregiver a badge or bracelet and take their picture (as well as the patient’s) so the staff will be able to identify them and their important role in the patient’s recovery.

If possible, make contact with the caregiver separately - and in person - from the patient to ask if they are willing and able to take on this role. Just because you live with someone, doesn’t mean you would make a good caregiver.  Everyone involved wants the best health outcome for the patient, so it’s better to have all the information up front about what will be needed when the patient heads home. If the caregiver is agreeable, then review a list of required activities, options, and external home services available for them.  The hospital representative should assess what else is going on at home because that may affect the amount of responsibility the caregiver can take on.  If the caregiver cannot take on any or only part of the home care, or if the care recipient has no family caregiver, then involve a home care representative as soon as possible to advise what services will be needed and can be provided.

Carole Ann Alloway is retired, a mother of four, grandmother of seven boys and caregiver for her husband for the past eight years.  Carole Ann works with The Change Foundation, Health Quality Ontario, Ministry of Health and is an international speaker raising awareness of caregiver issues and offering insights on engagement and co-design.

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Allan McKee