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My View: Surgery can be tricky when you live alone

By Sharon F. Cramer

Although there are many times of the year when being a solo is difficult, near the top of the list is the holidays.

Last year at this time, holidays were coupled with recovering from surgery – alone. Remembering my journey through the recovery maze is still vivid. But I developed some solutions for before and after surgery that might benefit other solos.

After getting the news that major surgery (hip replacement, in my case) is required, one must take the initiative throughout one’s health odyssey. This means reorienting, to focus on post-surgery benefits of regaining strength or functionality, rather than self-pity.

As I got ready mentally, my home – with help from others (e.g., moving chairs, things in the refrigerator, closets) – did, too.

Before surgery, I assembled a two-week “care team” of family and friends for after I returned home. People signed up for a day to help me, with the understanding that they would call, then stop by sometime on that day to lend a hand, depending on their time available, and what they liked to do.

I tailored my requests to what I needed, and how comfortable I felt asking each person for help. This meant peace of mind for me, and friends were reassured to know that I was receiving help.

I stocked up on thank you notes and stamps, promptly expressing my appreciation.

Another recent patient chose not to call on friends, and instead contracted with a local agency for home health services.

Family members of another acquaintance relocated to our area for several weeks, to give him at-home help during his recovery.

Any model that fits your needs and your budget can work – just set it up in advance.

Re-entering your own home after surgery is surreal – things you took for granted suddenly become impossible.

As I was putting on my socks today, I remembered a year ago, when such a task was beyond my ability.

There was a lot to keep in mind last year at this time, as I tried to follow the advice of the doctors and physical therapists. I found it very helpful to create simple charts to keep track of medications and exercise, because both changed quite a bit over the first few weeks.

Although it seemed like I should understand everything perfectly, I had a few concerns. The medical hotline available through my insurance company (available 24/7) gave me quick answers.

Just as light changes coming through your window in the course of a day, I went through many subtle shifts of emotions as I recovered.

If you are a solo, some of the emotions will have to do with being alone, or imagining how different it would be if an unavailable loved one was with you.

I gave myself permission to be changeable and accept nuances. Foods, books, puzzles and movies I enjoyed helped me make the most of my recovery time. I put people and things into my life that improved my outlook.

One of the benefits of being a patient is being with family and friends who come to assist. I treasured their gift of time.

I did not know, a year ago, whether I would be a precocious healer, or have a recovery fraught with setbacks. A year later, looking back, I realize I’m on the other side of the healing process. Now, finally, I can lend a hand rather than receive one.

Sharon F. Cramer, Ph.D., SUNY distinguished service professor emerita at Buffalo State, is enjoying travel again, thanks to her new hip.

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