When my husband began having heart-related health issues 30 years ago, I went with him to his appointments and procedures as much as possible. Along the way, I learned some important caregiving tips for making things easier — for myself as a caregiver and for him as a patient.
At the hospital or medical facility …
- Have a list of questions you want to ask when you go to appointments. Without a list, you’re likely to forget important questions you or your loved intended to ask.
- Carry a list of all medications, along with dosages and the time each medication is taken. This not only saves you time filling out paperwork, but also makes your healthcare professional’s job easier.
- If your loved one is having a procedure or surgery, bring someone with you — preferably a friend or relative who can support you in any decisions you may need to make.
- For potentially long procedures or surgeries, pack items that will keep you occupied: Sudoku, crossword puzzles and magazines are just a few ideas. Also, pack healthy snacks: apples, bananas, granola bars, etc.
- Keep a “call list” of family and friends, along with their phone numbers, so you can report surgery results. Ask others to spread the news to minimize your calls.
- Pack a phone charger and have cash available for coffee, valet tipping, vending machines, etc.
- Have a friend or neighbor lined up to care for your pet(s) in case you’re away from home longer than expected.
When you bring your loved one home …
- Understand that your recovering “home patient” may be short-tempered or impatient due to pain from surgery or other factors. Give him/her the support and comfort they need.
- Make small meals and keep healthy frozen dinners (Lean Cuisine, etc.) on-hand. He/she one may not have much of an appetite, so small, easy-to-digest food choices are best. High-protein drinks (such as Ensure) are a good way to get nutrients.
- Delegate a family member to coordinate meals with those wanting to bring food to your home. You don’t want to end up with 10 lasagna dishes on the same day!
- Get your loved one moving as soon as they’re up to it. Go for a ride, take a walk, see a movie.
- Stock up on items like cotton balls, band-aids, baby oil and Neosporin. Baby oil and cotton balls are good for removing any remaining hospital adhesive from the body and Neosporin helps keep incisions free from infection.
- Check with your doctor about a stool softener to relieve constipation, often caused by pain medications.
- Plan a trip for when your loved one is feeling better to give him or her something positive to look forward to.
- Establish goals for each week. Week one: walk a half block; Week two: walk the full block; Week three: visit the gym. This gives your loved one goals to strive for and a sense of accomplishment.
- Position a stool near the bathroom sink where your “home patient” can more easily shave, brush their teeth and take a sponge bath (invest in inexpensive washcloths for sponge baths). Also have a shower chair available for when showers are allowed.
- Take time for yourself — relax for an hour at night before bed to get yourself geared up for the next day.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.