Q: My husband recently had surgery and has been in the hospital for 4 days. What do I need to do to prepare to bring him home?

A:  Having a plan in place to ensure for your husband’s care and comfort at home is important to make his transition smooth and ease his recovery. Start by assessing his current care needs, talking about the discharge plan with the hospital staff, and setting up needed services at home.

Think through an average day at home and all that it entails. Consider each step of the day and if your husband is able to do basic tasks alone or if he needs assistance. When he wakes up in the morning, can he get out of bed alone or with assistance? Can he navigate using the restroom alone? Will he need to use a new piece of medical equipment he did not use prior to the surgery, such as a walker or cane?  

The hospital discharge planner is the identified staff member who is designated to help you with the plan to return home. Set up a time to meet with the discharge planner (may also be referred to as the social worker or case worker) and ask them to explain what will happen at discharge. Come prepared with a list of questions and write down the answers. Ask about the status of the surgery recovery and any follow steps that are needed, including aftercare doctor’s visits. Be sure to learn if any medical equipment will be needed at home, how to get it and learn how to use it. Find out about the medication instructions.

It is also important to ask what the warning signs are that you should look out for to indicate that a return to the hospital is needed. Most likely after a 4-day hospital stay, the staff will prescribe Home Health Care to provide follow up care at home.

The hospital will send a prescription to a Home Health Agency for care, if needed. You can select the agency of your choosing or ask the discharge planner to select an agency. This is a covered Medicare benefit and can provide an assessment in the home by a nurse and physical therapist. They may assess a need for a variety of healthcare services at home which may include wound care, bathing assistance, physical therapy, or occupational therapy.

Home Health Care staff can also help you obtain medical equipment and can do a home safety assessment. They may make recommendations on how to rearrange things, or may suggest installing grab bars or other safety items to make the home safer for your husband’s recovery.

Consider making sure someone is home with your husband continuously for at least the first few days while you learn more about his care needs. At the hospital everything is done for him or with assistance, so it is difficult to know his true needs until he is home away and from that built in care. You want to make sure he stays safe and does not fall or injure himself by doing too much at once.

Include your husband in the plans if he is able to understand them. Ask him to be patient with his recovery. Even just four days in a hospital bed can lead to muscle weakness and fatigue. The hospital discharge is not the end of the recovery, it is just the next step in his healing. Help him to understand to go slow, ask for help and be gentle on himself.

You also want to set up care so that you can take care of yourself through this process. As the spouse, you will no doubt be the main caregiver. Hire a caregiver or ask family and friends to help take short shifts to allow you time to relax, do errands, or just spend time away focusing on your own needs.

Hopefully, by planning ahead you can make for a smoother transition home which will help the recovery process. Expect that there may be bumps along the way, but having a plan, asking for help, and using the experts and the services available will go a long way in helping your husband recover well.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org.

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