This one small step can be key to recovery
Sometimes you're so focused on the larger issues regarding a hospitalization of yourself or a loved one that a small detail might fall through the cracks. I saw that happen recently with a patient with a complicated health situation.
There were many details we had to navigate with this patient: his mental challenges, his fear of going into the hospital for needed surgery due to high COVID rates, his fear that doctors would change his carefully balanced psychotropic medications post-op as had happened to him in the past with disastrous results. We prepared a comprehensive medical profile and care plan for him; I accompanied him as an advocate to his preoperative appointments and, because of his mental disability, I received permission to have a private nurse advocate with him in the hospital as much as needed. While we navigated several serious issues with his care, including communicating at one point to have him sent back to the ICU, it was a small thing that surprised me the most. I found out that after spending four days at the hospital, he had not been bathed or moved out of bed. When I asked why, I was told that he had not been feeling well so he refused. I was shocked.
Movement's role in recovery
Getting up and moving around as soon as possible after surgery is important for recovery. Just the simple act of walking can help reduce the risk of infections, blood clots and pneumonia. It can also prevent muscle weakness, reducing the need for rehab.
While looking out for your own health or that of a loved one in the hospital, it's easy to get caught up in the big things, like making sure the patient is responding well to medication. But we have to remember for ourselves and those we love that a little thing like walking is important as well.
When I was a critical care nurse, I never asked my patients if they wanted to get up and walk around. I asked them when they wanted to do it. I didn't give them a choice. It is hard work to get better from major surgery and the longer people stay in bed, the weaker they get. I cannot emphasize that enough.
Make walking a priority
Many hospital staff have limited time to spend with patients these days. So while they understand the need for a patient to get up and move around, they may not have time to argue with a patient who is not being compliant. That's where you come in.
If you're the patient, make sure that if a staff member asks if you want to get up and walk around, that your answer is yes. Even if you can only take a few short steps at first, every little bit of movement helps.
If you find out a loved one hasn't moved from their hospital bed, ask why. If they're refusing to move, make sure they understand how important it is to their recovery. If they say that no one is coming to help them get out of bed, politely talk to the nursing staff or their doctor to let them know what you're being told.
Finally, if rehab is needed, explore all of your options. Our patient who initially refused to get out of bed went on to recover at home and go to outpatient rehab. We preferred this option due to the high rates of COVID in rehab facilities. If your doctor is recommending rehab, make sure you know all of your choices including home, outpatient or inpatient care. What you choose may depend on a variety of circumstances including your insurance coverage, your mobility and whether you live alone. It's also good to consider whether the professionals handling your rehab will have access to your medical records. This can be important in keeping the lines of communication open with your doctor and making sure you receive the right treatment plan.
In the meantime, if surgery or illness lands you or a loved one in the hospital, remember that if a nurse or other health care provider asks if you want to get up and walk around, your answer should be a resounding, "Yes!" It's a simple step that can make a world of difference in your recovery.
• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, she recently founded Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services (SeniorsAlone.org), a not-for-profit organization that serves the area's senior orphans. She also is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates, www.northshorern.com. Contact her at (312) 788-2640.