When it comes to having surgery, many people will think mostly about the operation itself more than the postoperative recovery period. As a nursing professional, you will know that this is actually only half the battle! The surgery itself can be the easier part, as it is done in a very controlled environment and within a set timescale.
Postoperative recovery on the other hand is not so simple. There can be a whole range of issues that crop up for your patients, which can cause them discomfort or even result in the surgery being a failure. With this in mind, it is vital to find ways to care for your patients in a way that makes any post-op period a success.
This is an area within nursing that has seen many changes over the years in how it is approached. This has affected not just the patients themselves, but also you as the nursing staff who look after them.
What exactly has changed in postoperative care?
- Rehab has become more essential – for your patients, the essential role that rehab plays in recovery from surgery has grown over the years. The importance of not only accessing the right kind of rehab but also taking advantage of it is very important to your patients. This has been made easier over the years, as more hospitals make rehab exercises and sessions open for your patients to engage with. This will not only get them moving around but also give them specific exercises to help recover faster.
- Diet is key – healthy eating has seen a much-improved profile in recent years and this has also been seen in postoperative recovery. For patients, it is key that they remember to eat the right foods and follow a diet rich in the right minerals to help their body heal. Of course, this has also affected hospitals, where healthy food is now expected to be served to patients.
- Education – when it comes to changes in how nursing care is done post-op, patient education is a key factor. Now, more than ever, you would talk to the patient after the op to inform them of what they can do to help speed up their recovery. This not only allows you to provide a better level of care for them, but also helps make the surgery an overall success.
- Increased postoperative pain awareness – when it comes to being a nurse, one of the big challenges that you will face is helping the patient to deal with any post-surgery pain. There have been many advances in this area, from closer monitoring of post-op patients’ pain levels to finding alternative ways of helping patients to manage pain.
- Advice around too much sun for patients – while you will be aware that some vitamin D and fresh air is good for recovery, it has been found that too much sun is not great for post-op wounds. An excess of UV rays can actually harm the tissue around surgical scars, and damage the area. With this in mind, it is much better to enjoy any trips outside for patients in moderation and to consider advising the use of sunscreen to help protect the relevant areas of the skin.
One area within postoperative pain relief for the nursing and medical profession that is seeing change is the move away from opioid-based pain relief. As noted above, patients are now far more likely to be advised by medical staff to rely more on alternative therapies or less addictive painkillers to help them recover in the long term. Advances made by Dr. Erol Onel in this area have seen effective pharmaceutical options to help patients experience less risk when managing post-op pain.
Naturally, the way that you care for your patients and the way they themselves interact with the recovery process has seen considerable change. As time goes on, innovations such as the development of non-opioid pain relief could bring even more change, which will lead to you being able to provide a much better level of care to any patients in your charge.
Nursing is hard work at any time; however, switching to the night shift can really take its toll on your health, resulting in extreme tiredness, which can affect your concentration, and sleep disruption, which can affect your energy levels. Night work can cause mental as well as physical upsets, so it’s very important to prepare yourself for a change of shifts beforehand and to really look after yourself once you’re working overnight on a regular basis. Here are a few things that you can do to help yourself stay healthy and fit.
Respect Your Sleep Cycle
Your natural circadian rhythm has to make a big readjustment on night shift, when you’re meant to be alert and working during a period you are normally asleep. One thing that may help is installing blackout blinds wherever you plan to sleep during daylight hours. Screening out daylight may make it easier to get to sleep. A sleep mask and ear plugs may also prove useful. Also, there are a few other things that might help, some of which are practiced by seasoned travelers who frequently move through several different time zones on long-haul flights.
Schedule Your Sleep
Once your schedule is embedded in a period of night working, it will actually help you to maintain a consistent timetable. Try to do this even on your nights off, if you know that you will be working the shift for, say, ten weeks in a row. Setting up a regular regime can help enormously, and there’s no harm in building in a nap. Try doing some light exercise and then having a shower after your shift. Aim to sleep for four or five hours and then have a nutritious meal. You can always have a final short nap: two hours should be enough for you to feel refreshed and ready for work. If you find it difficult to sleep during daylight hours, you can always take melatonin, a supplement used to combat jet lag.
Exercise for Better Health
Don’t be misled into thinking that you should give up your exercise routine when on night shift – quite the opposite. You don’t need to do a full gym workout; however, light exercise will make you feel better, and there are some clever aids that will help you become fitter more quickly. One way to feel great while working out is to wear a compression shirt to get extra support for your back, arms, and shoulders, provided by the clothing’s built in compression features. You can also get support for other body areas, depending on the kind of exercise that you prefer. Compression wear is also worn as a lifestyle choice – for example, compression socks will support your legs while you’re on your feet at work.
Exercise may sound impossible to nurses working 12-hour shifts, but being consistent can help you maintain your energy and keep you at your best. If you can’t do a workout on the days that you are on shift, you can always opt for a brisk walk or a gentle yoga session. Any low-impact activity is better than none. On your days off, you can always take a trip to the gym or try out some weights.
It’s tempting to fill up on lots of food at mealtimes on the basis that this might benefit your energy levels; however, be warned that regular heavy, stodgy meals will actually have the opposite effect. Your stomach will feel uncomfortably full, and if you wash down greasy food with gallons of caffeine, you’re on a self-destructive path that may make you more sleepless than ever.
To avoid energy drain halfway through your shift, try to eat frequent small nutritious snacks that include plenty of minerals and vitamins, such as salads, nuts, fresh fruit, or dishes with lots of vegetables.
You probably already bring a bottle of water with you to work, but if not, it’s good to consider doing so. Drinking water can help you to stay alert and may reduce your level of tiredness during your shift. Other nutritious drinks include herbal teas, with reduced or no sugar, and fruit or vegetable juices, with reduced sodium. Avoid alcohol before, during, and after work as well as soft drinks that are loaded with sugar. Like caffeine, sugary drinks will give you a temporary boost that will wear off pretty quickly during your working hours.
Look After Yourself
The key message, then, is look after yourself when you’re working night shifts and be aware of the likely impacts on your personal well-being. Be prepared and you’re likely to cope well and recover quicker.