By Mary Andrews
Over the past few weeks I have learned a lot about taking good care of myself.
I had an easy surgery, but developed complications which extended the recovery and never could have gotten where I am on my own.
Here is some of what I learned. Hopefully, you will never need to use it, but, if you do, take it to heart.
First of all, and most important, do not try to manage your recovery from surgery or a serious illness on your own. It just is not going to work well for you at all. You may find yourself needing help in unexpected ways. Someone may need to help you get in and out of bed, help you to the bathroom, onto and off a sofa or chair or even with walking. Your may be surprised to find yourself shaky and worried about falling.
Surprisingly, you may find you need someone to help you shower, dry off and get dressed again. It requires a big dose of humility to do this and is a bonus to have a helpful spouse at this point.
Because you may find yourself dozing off and on during the day, it is important that someone be with you to remind you to take any medication your doctor has prescribed. You may need a range from several medications to none and it is easy to forget which ones you have taken and when. Having someone nearby to help with this is very necessary.
Food can be a big issue when you are recovering. You certainly are not going to want to cook, so plan ahead. We had things like meatloaf and spaghetti sauce in the freezer, a pizza and a few other things that were easy to fix.
Breakfast was the only meal that appealed to me. However, the body needs more than a bowl of cereal to heal itself. Dick would ask me if I was ready for lunch and I would tell him I was not hungry. In a bit a small plate would appear at my elbow with a few slices of cheese, a bit of sliced meat and some crackers. It would look so appealing that I would eat it.
If you are trying to recover on your own, you most likely would skip lunch and eat a few crackers for dinner. Good nutrition is essential for recovery and involves all the food groups – fruit, veggies, grains, dairy and protein – not just snack foods. It is important that someone prepare food for you or bring it to you at your home.
You will have doctors’ appointments during your recovery time and this person can get you to and from your appointments as needed and refill prescriptions. Driving too soon is exhausting and could be dangerous.
Probably the most difficult thing you will have to do during recovery is walk. Dick made me walk through the house several times a day so I would not get so weak that I could not walk at all. If you get so weak you cannot walk at all, the next option is a nursing home – which was not an option for me. So I walked through the house making several loops several times a day.
Then came the “awful” day he said we were going for a walk outside. Before I could barely register a complaint he had me bundled into my robe and slippers and we set off down the driveway. I thought he was crazy! Walking through the house was difficult enough, but the driveway?
Day by day it became easier until I could do it several times on my own. Then came the day he joined me and said, “Let’s try a bit of the road.” Then he would encourage me to go just a bit further – to the cherry tree, to Pam’s driveway. On and on until now seven weeks later I can walk the entire length of the road. It reminded me that when a sedentary senior starts a walking program it really is a very big deal.
Then there are all the little things your caretaker can do for you such as laundry, answering the phone, taking messages and getting your mail.
One of the best things about having someone with you, besides the help and companionship, is that, when you feel you are not getting better, this someone can remind you how far you have come in your recovery.
If you do not already have someone at home to help you what can you do to get help? The most obvious choice is to ask family living nearby to help you. You may need to arrange a schedule so several people take a turn, but it is doable. There are other resources, too.
When my mother had knee surgery her friend, Mary, who lived in an apartment next door looked in on hear nearly every hour during the day. In the late afternoon a young woman she had hired from church came in to fix their dinners, get mom set for the night and spent the night with her. The next morning Veda got mom breakfast and set for the day before Mary popped in to check on her.
Other sources of information, other than churches and notices there on the back of the church bulletin, can be senior centers, doctor’s offices, community service offices and just asking others to see if they know of anyone who could be hired to help.
Until I had this experience I never realized how important it is to receive cards of a cheery note. Even just, “We are thinking of you” brought a smile to my face. So a huge thank you to Stephanie at the Enumclaw Fitness Center who, along with my classes, sent me a card every week and to everyone who did the same. Your good thoughts, prayers and good wishes lifted my spirits and brightened my day.
Thank you, too, to the special friends who called often about 5:30 to see how I was doing. You all made me feel connected to the larger world.
Thank you most of all to Dick who walked this road with me.
So here I am ready to go. Ready to step out into the world again.