Older Adults and Hospital Stays: What We Need to Do for a Better Recovery
One of the most challenging issues we face as we age is recovering from various illnesses and surgeries. It seems that we tend to ignore the reality of the amount of time it may take us to fully (or mostly) recover from a medical episode that has caused us to take time away from our normal activities.
Many times, this results in atrophy and makes recovery even more challenging. Sometimes the atrophy can be both physical and mental!
Many of us have had knee, hip, and/or shoulder replacements; spinal surgery, or cancer surgery. Depending upon your overall physical health at the time of the procedure, or how well the operation went, the recovery time is a variable for each individual.
I recently had lower back surgery to relieve lumbar compression. The surgery was successful, but the post-surgery had significant problems which caused delays in my release but also in my recovery.
I wanted to share a few basic recommendations and thoughts that may help you if you are facing surgery in the not too distant future.
A Second Opinion Matters
Always get a second opinion. Do it not just to verify if surgery is necessary but also to make sure the procedure is the right one for you. We are fortunate to have many research tools to learn from that were not available just 10 years ago.
New technologies and procedures are greatly reducing the invasiveness of surgeries and time spent in the hospital, and may impact recovery as well.
Be sure to have all of your medical records and recent tests made available in advance to having the second opinion. If your current doctor shows any resistance to getting a second opinion, you may need to find another physician!
Find Out More About the Hospital
Many patients focus on the doctors and research them carefully but forget to research the hospital where the procedure may be performed. This can be a major mistake!
The people caring for you post-op can be as important as the surgeon. You may not realize this but most hospitals schedule surgeries early in the week (Monday through Wednesday). The reason is that the hospital expects the patient to be released before the weekend.
As a result, the hospital may have reduced staff on Thursdays and especially Fridays – a cost-saving measure that can dramatically affect you.
My surgery had post-op complications, and even though the procedure was done on Monday, I ended up staying until Sunday. The lack of staffing on Friday became a major issue as my situation deteriorated.
My recommendation is to gain a better understanding of your post-operative care and how the hospital staffs the surgical floor throughout the week.
Research Your Backup Surgeon
Who is the back up for your surgeon if they are not available and you have complications? Will it be another partner in the surgical practice, or will it be a doctor on staff at the hospital? Does the hospital have a “hospitalist” available 24/7, or do they depend upon the ER doctors for back-up?
Your Primary Care Physician Is Your Medical Advocate
Do you have a primary care physician? This person should be your “medical advocate” and “interpreter” when dealing with medical issues. When you are going into a hospital you want to be sure your primary care doctor is fully involved and communicating with the surgeon and hospital.
Very few patients feel comfortable in a hospital setting, and most do not have enough medical knowledge to evaluate situations. Getting info from the web is no substitute for having a medical professional at your side to help with managing your care.
It may also be helpful for a family member to take notes about your treatment or keep a diary about the meds you’re given, including times of administration, names, and doses.
Does your primary care physician practice under a “concierge service practice”? Is he or she an independent practitioner, or their practice owned by a hospital? Be sure you understand their role in your care and how they will be following up with you post-operatively.
Will there be visits in the hospital if your stay is longer than a couple of days, or will they only be involved once you’re released?
If you are having post-op issues and your surgeon is not available, who would you call for help?
Take Time to Recover
In most situations, physical therapy is necessary! A major key to being able to recover from any surgery is doing physical therapy and following up on your own. Our problem as older adults is that we are impatient patients and find it hard to not push for faster results.
Realizing that we cannot recover like we have in the past is difficult and can cause other issues such as depression and anxiety. Be sure to address these issues as well as the physical ones you are faced with.
How I’m Handling It
My surgery went well, but the post-op complications caused my two-day stay to extend to seven. I am recovering slowly but continue to have pains that have reduced my mobility and challenge me in my everyday activities.
Everything looks good from the doc’s point of view, but not mine, as I am ready to get back to golfing, traveling, and just walking a mile or two!
When was the last time you had surgery? Did you take time to research your doctor and hospital? What do you think of second opinions? Please share your thoughts experiences in the comments below.