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What you need to have at home after surgery

5 minute read
Woman at home after a surgery

Your doctor will want you to rest and recover after an operation. Get your home ready ahead of time for a smooth recovery.

Rosemary Black

By Rosemary Black

Every year, 15 million Americans have surgery, according to the American College of Surgeons. It’s easy to focus on everything you’ll need leading up to the day of your operation. But it’s also important to think about what you’ll need once you get home.

Chances are you have some help lined up. Maybe a family member or friend is staying with you for a few days. But there are things you can stock up on beforehand. Prepping ahead of time will make your healing process easier and less stressful.

“It is very important to plan for your recovery at home,” says Alexander Zuriarrain, MD. He’s a plastic surgeon with Zuri Plastic Surgery in Miami, Florida. “Everyone needs different items based on their surgery in order to have a successful recovery. And every recovery is unique.”

Here's a quick to-do list.

Fill your prescriptions

Try to have your medications ready for you ahead of time. “Most surgical practices have their prescriptions available at least 24 hours before the surgery,” says Dr. Zuriarrain. You might need antibiotics to prevent infection, pain relievers and more.

Did your doctor prescribe an opioid pain reliever just in case? You can wait to fill it if you choose to, says the American College of Surgeons. You might be able to manage your pain with an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. If your pain is bad and you need it during recovery, you can always have a loved one pick it up from the pharmacy for you. Some pharmacies even offer home delivery.

(P.S. Ask your doctor how to safely store opioids and correctly get rid of unused medication.)

Whether you have a new prescription or need a refill, The Optum Store can help you save on your blood pressure medication — and have it shipped right to your door.

Make an incision care kit

Keeping the surgery site clean is important for a smooth recovery. Many times, your dressing will be changed at your doctor’s office. To be extra safe, you can make a care kit before surgery to have at home. Include items such as:

It’s important to keep any incision site dry. You probably want to shower after coming home from the hospital. But you should wait at least 24 hours or until your doctor gives you the green light, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

If you had surgery on your foot, leg or arm, you can wear a cast cover. This keeps your bandages (or your cast, if you have one) dry when you shower or bathe.

Plan your meals

Stock your freezer ahead of time with ready-to-eat meals. Or buy ingredients that you can prep with little effort.

“Depending on what type of surgery you have, you may not be able to stand and cook for long periods of time,” Dr. Zuriarrain says. So you’ll want to make meal-time stress free.

Stock up on pain medication

Having pain after surgery is very common. Your surgical team’s goal is to minimize your pain, keep you moving and help you heal.

Your doctor will put together a post-surgery plan that will tell you which medications you need and how much of each to take. Common OTC pain relievers are ibuprofen (Motrin®, Aleve®) and acetaminophen (Tylenol®).

Consider renting or buying items

Is there any medical equipment you need at home? Ask your surgeon ahead of time. Some examples, depending on your surgery, include:

Shower chairs are helpful if you’re recovering from an operation such as a hip replacement. And cold therapy machines can be used to ice surgery sites such as knees, ankles and shoulders. You might be able to rent some of these items, or you may prefer to buy them.

Extra items to make your life easier

Your surgeon will fill you in on any other specifics you might need post-operation. But here are a few suggestions that will make your life easier and your home safer.

Cane. Are you having foot or ankle surgery? A cane can be helpful for getting around as you recover. You can pick up an inexpensive one at your local drugstore.

Wedge pillow. “Keeping your head raised at night can help with acid reflux and improve your breathing,” says Dr. Zuriarrain. If you’ve had a head, neck or chest operation, sleeping upright can also lower inflammation.

Physical therapy mat. A mat can help you do exercise at home once you’re allowed to do so. Remember: Never start any form of exercise without your doctor’s permission.

Comfortable clothes. Pulling a shirt over your head might be tough for a few days. Make sure you’ve got button-down shirts and zip-up hoodies in your closet. They’re easier to put on. Pull-on joggers and comfortable sneakers are also smart to have on hand.

If you’re having breast or abdominal surgery, you may need to wear compression gear during your recovery. Buy some that close in the front or back so you can put it on easily.

Slip-proof shoes. Invest in some non-slip, low-heeled, snugly fitting shoes or slippers.

Assistive tools. Consider getting some assistive devices such as a long-handled shoehorn, a long-handled sponge and a grabbing tool. These help you avoid bending over too far or reaching too high.

Night-lights. You want to lower the risk of tripping and falling. Invest in some night-lights that you can place around the house to make it easier to see where you’re walking. You may also want to remove throw rugs and area rugs that are easy to trip on.

There’s a lot to think about when you have surgery. If you have any questions before or after your procedure, talk with your doctor.

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Additional sources
Surgery statistic: American College of Surgeons (2021). “Safe and effective pain control after surgery”
Incision site: Cleveland Clinic (2021). “Incision Care”