Care-giving for an Elective Surgical Patient in the Age of COVID-19

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Dr. Mark McFarlandMark W. McFarland, DO

As a busy spine and orthopaedic surgeon, I write articles that typically address information needed by patients regarding their musculoskeletal condition, treatment, or surgery. Due to the unprecedented times in which we’re living with COVID-19, I’d like to address the needs of family members or friends helping out and caring for surgical patients. Whether you are simply driving someone to the hospital for a procedure and taking them home afterward, or will be someone’s caregiver 24/7 after surgery, there have been significant changes to the surgical process of which you need to be aware before your loved one ever enters an operating room.

Access to the patient while in the hospital will be greatly restricted – gone are the days (at least for now) of sitting with the patient in Pre-op, hanging out in the surgical waiting room with your pager, talking with the surgeon post-op in the consultation lounge and sitting with the patient in the recovery area until you are told to fetch the car to take them home.  More than likely, you will have to wait in the car while the patient is having their procedure or possibly in a designated area set up for surgical waiting, outside the hospital.  Bring plenty of snacks, reading material and your electronic devices to keep you occupied as you wait.  This measure helps to protect you as well as the patient, surgeon and the hospital staff from COVID-19. 

If you are allowed to accompany the patient inside the hospital (one example – the patient is cognitively impaired and may become agitated/combative without your presence), your temperature will be taken upon arrival and you will be given a mask to wear the entire time you are at the hospital with the patient.  You may also be asked to don personal protective equipment or PPE, like a gown, face shield or gloves. You may still be restricted to access certain areas of the hospital, but will be given instructions by the hospital surgical staff on what you can or can’t do.

Communication about patient post-operative care –  Before COVID-19, surgeons would talk to the patient caregiver immediately after surgery, letting them know how the procedure went, any issues to watch for during recovery, and to generally provide reassurance to the caregiver about their patient.  Unless you are allowed into the hospital with the patient under the special exceptions outlined above, this communication with the surgeon will now take place over the phone.  Immediately after your patient’s surgery is completed, your surgeon will contact you by phone to update you on the patient’s condition, the outcome of the surgery and to answer any questions you may have.  What remains the same is you will be provided with a packet of written post-operative instructions for the patient, important phone numbers and guidance for red-flag symptoms post-surgically.

As hospitals slowly ramp up surgical cases to pre-COVID-19 levels, there are sure to be more changes to their caregiver/responsible person policies.  We’ll keep you up-to-date on everything you need to know as a caregiver, so you can feel confident and prepared.

 

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