This piece originally appears on the Plastic Surgery Center “Beauty Blog”
Caretakers are a critical part of plastic and reconstructive surgical care. However, even a thorough search of the Internet fails to account for the advice needed to optimally do this job. At the Plastic Surgery Center and The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction, we pride ourselves on fully informing both patients and their caretakers, thus providing knowledge and compassion on every aspect of patient care. It is yet another of the cutting-edge aspects of our practice.
Congratulations! You have the privilege of being the caretaker for a friend, family member or other person undergoing a cosmetic or reconstructive plastic surgery procedure. If you see this as an honor, you will enjoy being useful, and a positive force for your patient’s well-being, and ultimately, contribute to her* healing.
While it is important to undertake this task, depending on the procedure and your personal circumstances, evaluate whether you should be the sole caretaker. In some cases, you may be better served by a professional caretaker (such as a nurse experienced in cosmetic surgery), or by having other back-up help. However, in most cases, simply following protocol, coupled with common sense, makes you perfectly qualified. Be assured that the appropriate steps are taken by your patient’s medical provider to make sure your patient is well cared for, and is safe before being released.
Your task is both a physical and psychological one. You want to take care of your patient’s basic needs, and support her emotionally with a competent, calm presence and positive attitude. Anyone can dispense a pill, but encouragement, an upbeat attitude and TLC can also be the best medicine for recovery.
That being said, and as you approach the procedure, if you are a friend or loved one, your concern for the patient is obvious. It is natural to be nervous for an impending procedure, and especially on the day of the surgery; remember that the doctor, nurses and staff at The Plastic Surgery Center and Institute for Advanced Reconstruction hear and see this all the time. It’s okay for your patient to express any anxiety (encourage it if necessary), and to let the staff use their expertise to reassure her. That can be amazingly calming. If you, too, are nervous, express that out of earshot of your patient, and allow the staff to comfort you as well. Additionally, post-surgery can also result in anxiety for your patient, for a variety of reasons. Understand that this is a natural part of the process, consult our staff if necessary, and just be a good listener. Remain upbeat.
As for practical matters: Prior to surgery, arrange all instructions and have on hand emergency telephone numbers and the number of a 24-hour pharmacy in case of need. At least one day before the procedure, review all paperwork for your patient, and pack it together with supplies. If you are new to the hospital or surgical facility, don’t simply print out directions or plug them into your GPS, but study them to ensure you have complete familiarity and avoid wasted time or anxiety by getting lost. Arrange to be freed up for any transportation, and for as long as necessary, for follow-up appointments and other needs, as some procedures require a longer break for a patient before she can resume driving.
The more competent and prepared you are, the more potential stress you take off the patient, and the more calm and confidence you inspire.
Here are a few other tips to ensure success in your role as caregiver:
Engage with the Staff - Get to know your patient’s doctor, nurses and support staff. Not only does it help to gather tips and inform yourself, a “kind word” is also appreciated by those working to serve you.
Make Yourself an Integral Part of the Process - If your patient is comfortable with it, go into all relevant pre- and post-procedure appointments so you will understand as much as possible. Ask any questions that will apply to the process. Post-surgery, carefully review with the medical staff how and when to change bandages or dressings, and deal with surgical drains if applicable.
Four Ears are Better Than Two - Listen to all instructions, and ask for any extra information not on the printed list. Write everything down—particularly since some of the most useful tips may come in conversation with the doctor, nurses and other expert staff. Take notes so you can remember everything and be well prepared. This takes a lot of the burden off your patient having to remember the details.
On Procedure Day, Be Prepared—for Your Patient and for Yourself - It is usually a long day(s), so have your supplies packed ahead of time. While you are of course focused on your patient, don’t forget yourself. Get a good night’s sleep prior to the procedure; bring water and snacks, and something easy to read (a novel or magazines) to pass the time. During your wait, take a walk or go for coffee or a meal, since it helps to break up the time and keep you fresh.
For post-procedure, pack extra clothing for warmth, have a large bottle(s) of water, with cups for easy drinking, as patients are instructed to hydrate well, and can get a head start on the way home (especially if it is a long drive).
Be Prepared for the Unforeseen - Next to doctor and staff, your patient relies on you—particularly in the crucial follow-up immediately following a procedure. Your understanding of the necessary post-operative care, and any signs that would alert you to telephone the doctor, allow you to confidently do your job.
Be Present, but Don’t Cling - You should not hesitate to be close and helpful, especially in the first 24 to 48 hours following surgery. Sleep nearby (in the same room if possible) and escort your patient to the bathroom or when she begins to walk around, since due to medications and being sedentary, some lightheadedness can be expected. Encourage your patient to get up and move as she is able, as walking helps facilitate recovery.
Help Your Patient Maintain a Healthy Recovery - Make sure she takes all medications–stay especially on top of pain medication as needed–and remind her to move her legs and or simply contract leg muscles frequently, to prevent the risk of clotting following anesthesia. Provide plenty of water, and make sure to include protein in every meal. Remember that your task can be tiring as well (such as being up in the middle of the night with your patient), and to continue to take care of yourself as well.
Provide a Patient Testimony - Encourage and assist your patient to write a testimonial, forms for which are provided by the practice; or, ask the staff how you can be most helpful. This is the best way of saying “Thank You” to your doctor, his/her staff and their practice for the service you have received.
While your patient may experience discomfort or moodiness, and at times you may feel stressed, hang in there. You are a vital part of your patient’s recovery. It is very satisfying to be a part of her care, and rest assured that she is grateful. Many of us can testify to the pleasure of hearing our patient express her thanks.
*The use of third person female, her, is used here to simplify the article. Men as well as women undergo these procedures at The Plastic Surgery Center and The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction