I mentioned earlier that Odel and I took a two and a half hour, pre-joint surgery class offered by Sutter General Hospital. It was great, and our first glimpse of what was to come. Now that we are just over a week post-op, here are a few things we didn’t know, some related to our special living situation and others more general. We’ll want to remember these things if Odel ever goes through this again, and they might be helpful to others in this situation.
MANAGING THE SIDE EFFECTS OF ANESTHESIA, IRON SUPPLEMENTS AND PAIN MEDICATIONS: To put it bluntly, constipation is a major, on-going problem. The health care professionals mention it – frequently – but don’t really prepare you for what that means: lots of discomfort for the patient and very little appetite at a time when they should be getting extra protein to promote healing. I ended up making several trips to the store for prunes (now called dried plums); prune juice, apricot nectar, and Karo syrup for the Senior Cocktail; Senakot and Senna tea; and laxative suppositories. Today we are experimenting with licorice. When things finally DO get moving, it is difficult to keep up any regularity. Have what you need on hand, start using it right away, and keep it up.
Although the medical folks advised that Odel should have plenty of protein and particularly red meat (to keep iron levels up) as he recovered, meat sitting in an immobile gut is an unappealing idea, even to a carnivore like Odel. We found a very tasty brand of Greek-style yogurt – with twice the protein as non-Greek yogurt – at Costco, Chobani. It has no fat and comes in 3 yummy flavors in each carton of 12 cups: peach, strawberry and blueberry. We mix tasteless, quick dissolving Benefiber into each cup, which Odel eats two or three times a day. Supports beneficial intestinal flora, too. :)
USING COLD TO REDUCE PAIN AND SWELLING: Ice packs are an important part of therapy. Because we have a smallish freezer (not particularly cold, either), we had exactly zero ice packs on hand. Our PT, Sandy, brought us her recipe for cheap ice packs, and it works very well: 1 part 70% rubbing alcohol (be sure you use 70% solution) to 3 parts water, double-bagged in gallon baggies. I ended up making four of these, which we rotate in pairs so each pair has more resting/chilling time in the freezer. Also, a tip for those of us with less efficient freezers: put one cup of alcohol in a 4 cup measuring cup. Add a couple cups of ice, then fill to the four cup line with water. Dump it into the baggie and repeat (a total of 8 cups per ice pack). The ice in the mixture will give you a head start on the freezing. I numbered our ice packs 1 through 4, so I knew which ones were used most recently, but decided to keep two in each part of the double-door freezer. A sticky note that we move from one door to the other reminds use which ice packs were used last.
USING ELEVATION TO REDUCE SWELLING: Another key to reducing swelling is elevation. I posted a photo earlier of our pillow pyramid; though it elevated Odel’s leg sufficiently, it tended to collapse slowly to one side or the other. I wasn’t keen to fork out $100 for the specialized foam wedge available for this purpose, particularly when it would just be another thing to get rid of once Odel is healed. Costco had a “body pillow”, about 4 feet long, that offered a better alternative than our pile of pillows and cost just $11 – cheap enough to discard or give away when it is no longer needed. Here is a photo of our new elevator.
MANAGING INSIDE THE RV: Unless you have a quad slide rig (and perhaps even then), it is likely that the walker you come home with will not be practical in the bathroom or bedroom. As I mentioned, Odel uses our cane/seat in place of the walker, and of course we have plenty of sturdy, built-in furniture and countertops to help him mobilize. One thing no one mentioned to us that has been invaluable is the big plastic donut that raises the toilet seat by 4 1/2 inches, eliminating the need for help when arising from the throne. We were able to BORROW this from my good friend Becky – everyone should be so lucky. :)
Along those same lines… in the hospital, Odel had a plastic urinal to use to eliminate the need to get out of bed to visit the bathroom. Be sure you bring that home with you (as our nurse said, “You paid for it!”); it is a big help in the early days and at night. I don’t know what female patients do, and hope I don’t have to find out.
The physical therapists also recommend a sturdy chair with arms and a flat seat. The sofa didn’t have enough arm support; my Euro-lounger was too low; our built-in dinette was completely useless. We brought in Odel’s lawn chair that he uses outdoors, which worked pretty well. (The sturdy and comfortable passenger chair might have worked, too, but doesn’t face the TV comfortably, so was disqualified!) The lawn chair is stationed next to the couch, in the way but workable. I don’t think we’ll need if much longer, but it has been a necessity during this first week.
WHAT TO WEAR: At the pre-surgery class, it was suggested that patients come to the hospital dressed in loose clothing with a drawstring waist, making it easier to dress to leave the hospital. Odel bought an inexpensive pair of lightweight cotton pants (I think they are pajama bottoms, but they are suitable for public viewing) with a drawstring, which have turned out to be the only pants he has that are comfortable and practical enough for post-surgical use. Though he has a pair of heavier sweatpants, the elastic at the end of the leg makes it too difficult to maneuver over his foot, and jeans would be impossible. I went back to Target to get him another pair yesterday, along with a similar pair of shorts. The man is stylin’ now!
Here’s hoping YOU never need to have any of this information!