For About and By Caregivers
Getting Ready for Joint Replacement

By Hilary Wright


Age is no longer the determining prerequisite for whether or not a person will receive joint replacement surgery. Constant athletic activity, a busy lifestyle, and the natural wear and tear of time on the body’s joints have made people of all ages candidates for this type of surgery. An amazing amount of advancements have been made through medical technology regarding this procedure, perfecting it to the point where recovery time has been cut in half for most people. However, even prior to the recuperative process, those who will be facing surgery will need to select a caregiver who will be able to assist them through all the different phases. 

If you’re about to step into the role of primary caregiver for someone who’ll be undergoing joint replacement surgery, you may want to consider doing a few things ahead of time in order to ready yourself for the task. After the surgery, most people will need round-the-clock care for several days and/or weeks (depending upon which joint was replaced and their age), since their mobility will be greatly reduced, possibly even nonexistent for a time. With this in mind, it will be important for you to speak with your employer to arrange for time off from your job. It really isn’t a good idea to work, even at home, while being a caregiver for someone since this will needlessly increase the amount of stress that you may experience. Whether you work for a major corporation or for a small, family-owned business, as a family caregiver (someone who is a spouse, child or parent), certain legal rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 protect your position. In other words, your employer is not allowed to fire you or put you on any type of probation should you need to take time off in order to care for a family member due to medical reasons.

If you’re a caregiver who will have to leave your own home in order to stay with a loved one while they recuperate, whether it’s only across town or across the country, it’s a good idea for you to speak with a trusted neighbor. While you’ll be busy with the day-to-day business of caring for someone, your neighbor will be able to keep an eye on your place, and contact you should an emergency arise. Be sure to get your neighbor’s telephone number as well, so you can check in with them at least once during the time that you are away. After you’ve squared things away with a neighbor or friend, you can then begin to think of what you’ll need to take with you. Keep in mind, you’ll have a lot of “down time” while you wait in the doctor’s office, in the hospital, and in a rehabilitation facility, not to mention when you’re hanging around your loved one’s home, so pack and plan accordingly. This can be a positive opportunity for you to do things you normally wouldn’t have a chance to do, like: reading the latest novel by your favorite author; creating a true novelty item in the way of a handwritten letter to a friend or family member; catching up on and organizing important, household paperwork; tending to a forgotten hobby or craft (however, make sure that it’s something small and easy to pack); catching up on sleep (some hospitals will let family caregivers stay in the room at night if room is available). Aside from the usual essentials that you should pack for your stay at the hospital or at a loved one’s home (such as comfortable shoes and clothes, as well as your own medications), it’s very important to place the following documents in a manila envelope for easy transportation: all of your loved one’s medical documentation; a listing of all medications, nutritional supplements, allergies, and health conditions; legal documents like a Durable Power of Attorney, a Living Will, as well as identification for yourself; insurance information and prescription cards, along with the contact names and numbers. You may also want to purchase a pre-paid phone card that you can use to make long-distance phone calls to friends and families while you’re in the hospital with your loved one.

As an appointed family caregiver, remember, unless your loved one is faced with several other medical issues, your caregiving responsibilities will only be temporary, with a recovery period lasting a few weeks as opposed to a few years. Many of your duties may include all or some of the following: helping your loved one stand, sit, lie down, or move throughout the home; provide help with bathing, hygiene, grooming, dressing, and feeding; go shopping, clean the house, cook the meals, do the laundry, and run errands important to the function of their home; keep track of all medical appointments, and provide transportation to and from each of these; pick up their prescriptions, administer medications, clean the surgical site and change the dressings; help them use assistive mobility devices such as canes or walkers, and know where these items are at all times; keep in constant contact with your loved one’s healthcare team, especially in regards to any changes, complications or concerns; help manage their finances by remembering to help pay or send in regular household bills, as well as tend to insurance paperwork related to their present condition. Also, make a list of your own questions that you would like to ask your loved one’s healthcare team, as well as make a list of things you would like to inform them about regarding your loved one’s condition, such as constipation, incontinence, or a noticeable change in their personality or disposition. If a member of the healthcare team tells you something that you don’t understand, don’t be embarrassed to ask for clarification. After all, you’re dealing with your loved one’s health, and that’s not something to be taken lightly.

After surgery, your loved will experience good days and bad days, so be prepared for both. The biggest reward as a caregiver is being able to witness the progress of your loved one. Prior to the procedure, they most likely endured constant pain when attempting to do the most basic things; however, as they recuperate, you’ll begin to see them experience the joy of rediscovering greater mobility without pain. Little by little, they’ll be more independent and will be able to become involved in activities of a more physical nature.  They may even be able to resume some beloved sports like tennis, hiking, swimming and walking. The time and care that you’ve put into being a family caregiver will be amply rewarded when you see your loved one not only back to doing their regular, day-to-day routine, but when they begin to enjoy life even more because they no longer experience the pain that held them back. You can take great pride in knowing that you made a difference, and that you were a part of this miraculous, life-changing event! 


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