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Friday, April 19, 2024

Tips to Make Recovering From Surgery or Illness Easier

It's both optimistic and idealistic to believe that when we get sick and need help, our friends and family will rally, pitch in, and lend a hand. Sometimes it works—if you have a support system nearby and the illness is on the shorter side—but what about when we need help for months? What about when those months fall during a global pandemic?

Providers are administering about 3 million vaccine doses every day, and as of April 8, nearly 20 percent of the US population was fully vaccinated. Also last week, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shared his list of what he will and won’t do now that he’s vaccinated. Indoor restaurants, movie theaters, and airplane travel are still on his no list.

While Fauci is being prudent, many Americans are making plans again for everything from dinners with friends to family reunions. Cautiousness around Covid-19 exists on a spectrum, and as we continue to navigate our way through the pandemic, it’s important to recognize that preferences are extremely individual, and we should honor and recognize everyone’s needs, especially among more vulnerable populations. Someone who lives alone might be more cautious, knowing there’s nobody in the house to help. Single parents might also be more cautious, knowing there isn’t someone on deck to pick up the slack. The same for people with preexisting conditions that make them more at risk for complications.

I live alone, and after scheduling a major surgery that required an eight-week recovery, I knew I'd need help with everyday tasks. Two friends offered to stay with me during those first two weeks, but I struggled to map out the next six. Like almost everyone, almost everywhere, most of my local friends are maxed out juggling work and home life during the pandemic. I felt uncomfortable asking for anything extra when just navigating the basics seems like a lot.

Relying on friends for two months of help with rides, cooking, cleaning, and dog walking was out of the question, not to mention the risk to both sides after almost a year of social distancing. It felt awkward to go from only socializing outside to asking friends to come inside my house, not for a game of cards or a home-cooked meal but to help change bedding and vacuum. So, what to do when you can't do it all?

Know Who to Ask for Help

As I cobbled together a list of my recovery needs, I thought about my friend Alice de Chelley. De Chelley has a disability that requires assistance with physical tasks, though she tried to do it all herself for years. "I pretended I didn't need help," de Chelley says. "But then I had a breakdown when I was 40 years old, and I had to change my thinking."

After coming to terms with the fact that cooking a meal wiped her out—not including the energy required for shopping and cleanup—de Chelley discovered that her disability qualified her for home health care. Receiving financial help was a tremendous help, but when it wasn't enough to cover her needs, de Chelley realized she was more comfortable paying out of pocket for additional services instead of relying on friends.

"With a friend you might downplay what you need because you don't want to burden them," de Chelley explained, "but it's different when you're paying someone." I hadn't considered that, but it makes sense. "Goodwill is a beautiful thing," she said. "But you might not get your needs met. You have more control when you're paying people."

Supplies Can Come To Your Door

As I prepared for my post-surgery recuperation, it became clear that despite the pandemic upending our lives in so many ways, it also gave us adaptations to shelter in place. We have more tools than ever to simplify our lives and having food delivered to our doors is one of those things.

Many city dwellers have had grocery delivery services in place for decades, but more rural areas have only implemented grocery delivery and curbside pickups within the past year. Companies like Instacart aren't without complications—primarily for gig workers—and while they provide a useful service for homebound folks, they aren't the only option.

While the pandemic hasn't been good for much, many smaller and locally owned stores now provide shopping and delivery services while also providing stable employment and benefits. Many stores now offer curbside options, which opens up an entire world for people who can drive (or be driven) but who might lack the physical strength or stamina to walk through parking lots and stores safely.

When Supplies Alone Aren't Enough

Cooking isn't compatible with everyone's recovery, and some people need ready-to-eat options. Websites like Meal Train help organize calendars, but comfort foods are often what shows up. Comfort foods can do wonders for the heart and soul, but they often load soups and casseroles with carbs, fat, and sodium, which aren't exactly the nutrient-dense foods a body needs to restore itself. And while meal calendars are great, they don't consider what a person will be in the mood to eat (when they might be queasy from medication) or what their bodies will be able to process.

For people with the energy to do minimal cooking and reheating, meal delivery services are another option. I was personally too tired immediately following my surgery to manage any sort of cooking—yes, even when most of the work had been done for me—but I found great freedom in the nutritious smoothies, oat bowls, and harvest bowls offered through Daily Harvest, which has complete nutrition information on their website.

Meal replacement options aren't enough to live on, but because keeping the body's tank full during recovery is so important, they're smart to have on hand. Grocery store aisles are full of bars loaded with nuts and seeds and high in healthy omega-3s, which fight inflammation and reduce the risk of blood clots, both of which are important after surgery.

Some meal replacement bars are formulated for athletes who eat them on the go, so they're designed to be easily digestible. This is also a bonus after surgery when the body's systems aren't exactly running at their peak. Nutrition bars have come a long way in recent years, and there are many specialty options. Some bars are high in protein and low in carbs, while others satisfy a sweet tooth but are low in sugar. Look around and you’ll find something that’s a fit for your needs and your taste buds, both important when you’re cooped up at home recovering.

We Do More Than Eat, Right?

We do! Watching movies and binging our favorite series are probably two of the most popular get-well activities, but that gets old after a few days. Reading is a close third, but reading—in the traditional sense—isn't always the best activity depending on what a person is recovering from.

What is reading in the non-traditional sense? E-readers and audiobooks, both of which experienced a surge in sales during the pandemic. E-readers can be more user-friendly than hardcovers and paperbacks for several reasons—they have adjustable font size, easy-on-the-eyes backlighting, and weigh less than most books.

The Washington Post reported that in 2020 the highest book sales were in the categories of dystopias, social justice, and steamy romance, suggesting we want our harsh realities with a shot of escapism. In addition to reading, another way to access parallel universes is in our own minds.

Take a Vacation From Yourself

Sure it sounds weird if you haven't done it, but if you've engaged in regular mindfulness practice then you know the benefits. Many hospitals such as Mt. Sinai, Cleveland Clinic, and Mayo Clinic endorse meditation as a pre-surgery practice to promote relaxation, healing, and positive outcomes. I tried it, and it worked for me.

UC San Francisco offers free guided imagery to support various ailments, including stress, pain, headaches, post-traumatic stress, and radiation.

Getting Well Doesn't Have to Be Hard

The internet is jammed with questionable medical advice, and most doctors say, "Stay off there!" However, some people have experienced what you're going through, and they have wisdom to share.

Liya Shuster-Bier has experienced cancer from the perspective of caregiver, patient, and survivor. "I did 5 years of unwanted R&D," she says. When Shuster-Bier's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, tasks kept coming up that the family didn't know how to navigate. "Why didn't the hospital just give us the information," Shuster-Bier said, "Why don't doctors give you shopping lists?" Shuster-Bier and her family made it up as they went along.

When Shuster-Bier was diagnosed with Stage 2 Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, she knew there had to be a better way and so she hatched the idea of Alula from her hospital bed. While they gear Alula toward cancer patients, there are useful resources for anyone dealing with a serious medical condition. Alula's main mission is to "make cancer less lonely," which during the pandemic is no easy feat, but they're thinking of everything so you don't have to.

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