How to take care of a loved one after surgery

Lifting the burden of daily responsibilities

When someone you care about is having surgery, it can be a really challenging time. And, sometimes, the recovery period is even harder. Most of us feel very vulnerable after surgery. There may be a lot of effort involved in recovery, from regaining mobility to allowing the body to process the impact of a general anaesthetic. However, although this might be a tough time, we all benefit from having someone around to support us – these are some of the ways that you can take care of a loved one after surgery.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to support someone after surgery is to help them with the practicalities that can become hard during recovery. That could be something as simple as walking the dog for them or cooking a meal so that they don’t have to. These small daily tasks can feel like a heavy grind for someone who is recovering from surgery, so having someone else lift that burden is a real relief. Post-surgery energy may be low, and a loved one may only have a limited amount every day, which is why the little things that you can do to offer practical support are so important. You’ll also help to remove anxieties around scheduling, getting things done and even accidentally re-injuring themselves or preventing healing by doing too much.

Just be there

Most of us appreciate someone just being around when we are going through a period of recovery. Even those who are very used to their own company will find comfort in someone who is just willing to be present while they are finding their feet again. That could be simply sitting with them in the hospital during the period immediately after surgery and ensuring that they have a friendly face to wake up to. You can bring cards or flowers, their favourite book or magazine or simply just sit and chat or watch TV. Often the presence of another person helps with optimism and feeling cared for, and this is incredibly important where recovery is concerned.

Provide the mental support

Being strong for someone who is recovering from surgery can help them to sustain a mindset that is focused on healing. Your loved one may have issues around anxiety and depression or even withdrawal, and so they will need you to act as a rock so that they can do whatever they need to do to heal. For some people, this will involve taking on decision-making; for others, it will be focusing on the positive and reinforcing this daily so that it becomes a narrative for recovery. One study found that actual patient recovery was directly linked to how the patient felt about it – if the patient had a positive outlook and believed recovery would go well and be quick, then it was more likely that would be the case. An important aspect of providing this support to a loved one is letting them know that you’re going to be here in this capacity. Make it clear before the surgery that you’ll be able to give this kind of support, as this can relieve a lot of anxiety in advance.

Stay consistent

We can make big promises when someone is about to go through something challenging – and then find that, in reality, we can’t deliver. But it’s really important to ensure that you show up consistently for a loved one after surgery, from the start of the recovery to the end. Your friend or loved one might seem to make a speedy recovery at first, but everyone is different. And if they know that you’ll be there for them for the duration, it’s likely that they will find it helps with anxiety. Plus, with your help, they can avoid sabotaging recovery by doing too much before they’re actually ready to.

Be a reminder of the reason why

In the aftermath of surgery, especially if there is a lot of pain, it can be easy for someone to forget why they have done it. However, most people have a very good reason for committing to surgery, and it can be helpful to remind them of this regularly. They may have forgotten about the restrictions and pain that they were experiencing every day before the surgery – and how much life is going to be different after this period of recovery. Remind them that this post-surgery period is very short compared to all the time they will have to enjoy the benefits of the surgery. You can be encouraging in many different ways, whether that is going through someone’s therapy plan with them and helping them put recovery into context or leaving little notes and inspiration to help them get through the tougher days.

Help them remain positively engaged

If you’re able to distract someone from pain, then you can actually eliminate the perception of pain – even just temporarily. This comes from the results of a study that looked at how distraction can help with respect to pain relief. Avoid toxic positivity – where you’re forcing someone to avoid negative feelings and pretend to be positive the whole time – and instead focus on keeping them positively engaged. Help them to find the distractions that are going to work for them, whether that’s listening to audiobooks, playing chess or talking about fond memories. Doing this isn’t just about helping the recovery time pass, it can actually help someone speed up recovery.

We all need someone to help us in the aftermath of surgery. If you are privileged enough to be able to support a friend or loved one in a situation like this, then don’t forget just how much all of your actions will make a real difference. From being able to take some of the practical tasks and decisions off their plate to being that optimistic and encouraging voice on the days when things feel hard, you can take care of your loved one and help speed up their recovery too.