Supporting the plastic surgery patient

OP. DR. YUNUS DOĞAN

The worst is over! (Or is it?)

Did anyone tell you that plastic surgery would be easy? Hopefully you found some painless aspects along the way, at least in the planning stage. Not everyone is that lucky: some patients deliberate for years before they decide their destiny and pick a procedure. Others struggle to find the perfect plastic surgeon. Then there’s the physical pain of pre-op tests and fasting the night before, not to mention how patients feel AFTER surgery. This can be a long and laborious time, laden with unforeseen challenges and frustrations patients have not fathomed.

This post is geared toward anyone around the patient; we highlight ways friends and family members can help in the recovery process.

The short list

The patient’s needs will vary based on the specific surgery he or she has had. For example, someone recovering from a tummy tuck and breast augmentation will need to sleep somewhat upright, in a “V” position in their bed or a reclining chair. A post-BBL patient can and should sleep on their stomach, so arranging their bed will be very different than the first patient.

While each patient’s individual needs will be a little different, there are a few things that everyone has in common. We’ve written about healing from the patient’s perspective and now we’ve compiled a list to get you started on your journey to be the best aftercare provider you can be. A solid general list will include:

  • Creating a healing environment
  • Helping around the house
  • Organizing and monitor medications
  • Keeping them hydrated and well-fed
  • Helping with hygiene
  • Assisting with follow-up appointments


Create a healing environment

When patients get out of bed to leave the hospital, one of the first things they are probably thinking is, “When can I sit or lay down again?” They need a good nest to land in, and creating that is your responsibility as the caregiver. If home base isn’t the cleanest to begin with, take some time to tidy up before the patient comes home. Dust, mop with disinfectant, run the vacuum and do a good cleaning to create a safe environment in which the patient’s wounds can heal.

Mobility will most likely be limited after surgery, so arrange furniture to accommodate slow, ungraceful movements. Plastic surgery can turn the most athletic person into a fumbling sack of potatoes; make wide areas for walking and eliminate trip hazards. Use bed pads on furniture if your patient is leaking any fluids.

Help around the house

Maintain the clean area you created and stay on top of frequent chores like dishes and laundry. Some patients are able to manage some light housework, but as healing should be their main priority, caretakers should be willing to help. Patients may be sent home with drains that need to be emptied. Overcome your fear of fluids and play nurse until your patient is capable of emptying them. If there are other creatures in the house - children, pets, plants, anything alive that the patient prefers to stay alive - volunteer to help with maintaining them too.

Organize and monitor medications

Create a medication schedule if the surgeon’s team did not. Include the time of day, dosage, frequency and whether the patient must take the medication on an empty stomach or not. Some doctors recommend taking pain meds on a regular basis to manage pain before it becomes a problem. Don’t be afraid to ask the surgeon’s team any questions about this important aspect of healing. Arrange medicines in chronological order based on when they should be administered. Use technology to set reminders for medication, drain maintenance or any other daily tasks that need to be completed.

Keep them hydrated and well-fed

Water is The Best drink for flushing anesthesia out and keeping the body functioning for healing. A hydrated body will heal faster and with less pain, aiding in processing pain management medicines more efficiently. Many patients experience difficulty processing waste - aka pooping - and water will help keep EVERYTHING moving.

Patients can’t heal on water alone: they need protein! Depending on their surgery, they honestly may also need fats. Check with the doctor for specific suggestions. Generally speaking, nourishing whole foods like vegetables and lean protein are excellent choices. Barring any dietary restrictions, chicken breast and eggs are great fuel for recovery. Patients may also appreciate the convenience of protein bars - as long as they are not full of processed sugar - or shakes. Be mindful of sodium levels; salt will make that healing body swell right up.

Fresh pineapple and 100% pineapple juice are also key ingredients in efficient rehabilitation. This fruit is very high in bromelain, which combats swelling and will make your patient more comfortable.

Assist with follow-up appointments

In a few days they will most likely need to return to the doctor’s office and they might need help. At this point they may no longer be a sack of potatoes and might have graduated to the ambulatory level of a newly upright toddler. You can steady them as they navigate their home, the sidewalk and getting into whatever mode of transportation you’re using. Maybe they have questions about the healing process; you can document them in a notebook or your phone and help them remember to ask the doctor at the appointment.

The last stitch

Remember, this list is not all-inclusive. Every patient is different, although there are a few basic needs that are universal. Some plastic surgeons in New Jersey, USA, wrote an article that might also be helpful for you. Even if you’re not a naturally nurturing person, think of this experience as a way to generate good karma for yourself. One day you might be the one leaving the hospital and in need of some support.

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