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.
So many times, nurses treat patients whose lives have been touched by drug or alcohol abuse. But what happens when the nurses themselves are addicts? Sadly, this happens more often than you might think. The American Nurses Association (ANA) has estimated that 10% of nurses suffer from a drug dependency, which could amount to around 300,000 addicted nurses.
Why do nurses abuse drugs and alcohol? For the same reasons other people abuse drugs and alcohol. One of these reasons is stress. Nursing can be a highly stressful profession. People with stressful jobs sometimes turn to alcohol and drugs to try to cope. Of course, using drugs and alcohol to deal with such stress can lead to dangerous repercussions for nurses and their patients.
Why Nurses Shouldn’t Try to Treat Themselves
Nurses are accustomed to achieving things and getting things done. Many nurses assume they can treat their addictions just as they handle other things in their lives. They treat other people in the course of their jobs, so they assume they can treat themselves as well.
This could be a mistake – a grave mistake. If nurses are drinking heavily and stop drinking abruptly – if they go cold turkey – their bodies could revolt. The symptoms could include DTs (delirium tremens), which can cause confusion, hallucinations, heart problems, and even death.
Instead, nurses with addictions might want to consider seeking help at dual diagnosis treatment centers. (A dual diagnosis occurs when people have both a substance abuse problem and a condition such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression.) Such treatments might help their clients address their drug and alcohol abuse. Why shouldn’t nurses try to seek the same help themselves?
Addiction Also Hurts Patients
Unfortunately, health care workers’ addictions can hurt more than the health care workers themselves. It can also hurt their patients. If nurses abuse alcohol or drugs, the nurses might:
Take frequent absences from work. This could create staffing shortages where not enough nurses are available to care for patients at a doctor’s office or medical facility.
Not be physically present when patients need them. This could be because the nurses are occupied using drugs or alcohol and not in the office or on the floors of the hospital.
Be too distracted by hangovers or drug cravings to focus on their patients’ needs.
Forget to administer their patients’ medications, give them the wrong dosages, or give them the wrong medications entirely.
Steal medications from their patients.
This last consequence points to the widespread nature of opioid addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 1.9 million Americans struggled with problems related to prescription opioids in 2013. Nurses seem especially vulnerable because they often have ready access to such drugs. But addiction does not discriminate. It harms all types of people from all walks of life, hurting their health, relationships, jobs, and other areas of their lives. It’s simply the nature of the beast.
Opioids’ qualities can also contribute to this abuse. As we’ve said, nursing is stressful. Opioids are drugs that can relax people and produce effects that temporarily relieve stress, so nurses might turn to these drugs in times of crisis. A popular television show, Nurse Jackie, depicted a fictitious nurse using drugs in this way.
In real life, there is help for such drug use. Professionals at rehab centers acknowledge that stress and addiction often go hand-in-hand. The professionals can work with their clients to find ways to relieve stress that don’t involve drugs.
Opioids also provide painkilling effects. Since nursing can be incredibly physically demanding, many nurses struggle with pain. Some nurses turn to opioids to handle this pain. Some become addicted to them.
Doctors are also prescribing large numbers of opioids, increasing the likelihood of addiction even more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2012, medical professionals issued 259 million prescriptions for painkillers. Nurses are just some of the millions of Americans who have access to such powerful drugs and have experienced their effects.
What Can Nurses Do?
Fortunately, addicted nurses can find help. On a state level, nurses can contact state boards of nursing and state nursing associations, such as the Massachusetts Nurses Association. They can direct nurses to programs and other treatments to help address their addictions. They could also help nurses if they are facing discipline for their actions.
Other help is also available. On a national level, websites such as AddictedNurse.com can help nurses with substance abuse and other issues. Other nursing and medical organizations offer resources for nurses who are dealing with substance abuse or recovering from it.
Nursing can be a tough profession. Substance abuse is also tough. But there are different kinds of resources and care, such as dual diagnosis treatment centers, that can help nurses seek the treatment they need to help themselves and their patients.
See Our Champions of Nursing Diversity
Sign up now to get your free digital subscription to Minority Nurse