Caring for a loved one who is recovering from surgery can be scary. An open surgical wound must be kept protected and carefully monitored for signs of infection. It is a daunting responsibility to manage at home.
But with education and the support of Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio, caregivers can take on that responsibility with confidence.
“Having an idea of what to expect of the healing process decreases caregiver anxiety,” said Phyllis Cash, RN, BSN, associate director of home care for VNA of Ohio. “They may be thinking the wound should be healing within a few days. But the doctor may be thinking six weeks. In the doctor’s office, there is always such a rush. But when you have a nurse in the home, you can ask questions.”
For example, many caregivers are alarmed at the sight of blood and drainage in a wound. But, Cash said, blood is simply sign of good circulation. Redness around a wound may seem worrisome, but that is often an indication that the body’s immune system is doing its job, she said. Signs that should not be ignored include a foul-smelling odor or discharge that is thick and/or colored.
Cash said VNA of Ohio’s homecare nurses provide specific advice to caregivers based on their individual circumstances and home environment. In general, caregivers should:
- Keep the patient hydrated by encouraging him to drink plenty of water. Add extra protein to the patient’s diet. These steps can improve healing.
- If the patient is diabetic, be sure her blood glucose stays in the target range. Uncontrolled diabetes slows the healing process.
- Try to keep anxiety levels low. Patients can pick up on their caregivers’ tension, and stress is known to inhibit healing.
- Ensure the patient’s clothing is loose-fitting over the wound and dressing.
VNA of Ohio’s homecare nurses often handle wound-dressing changes. But, Cash said, they try to involve the patient’s caregiver as much as possible. According to the National Institutes of Health’s MedLine Plus, safely changing a wound dressing is a 10-step process:
- Remove all hand jewelry and wash hands thoroughly. Do this before handling the new dressing.
- Make sure to have all materials and supplies ready and staged on a clean work surface before removing the old dressing. Place a plastic bag nearby to discard used materials.
- Remove the tape from the old dressing. Using a medical glove, remove the old dressing and place it in the plastic bag.
- Wash hands again before touching the clean dressing materials.
- Gently clean the skin around the wound with a soft cloth or gauze pad soaked in saline or mild soapy water. Do NOT use skin cleansers, alcohol, peroxide or iodine as they can slow the healing process.
- If irrigating the wound is necessary, fill a syringe with saline or soapy water and hold it one to six inches away from the wound. Squeeze the fluid into the wound with enough force to wash out any debris. Dry the wound with a soft, clean cloth or piece of gauze using a gentle, patting motion.
- Apply the new dressing according to the physician’s instructions.
- Wash hands.
- Dispose of used wound dressing and other caregiving materials safely by “double bagging” them: Seal them up in a zipper-close storage bag or twist-tied bag, place that bag in a separate bag and seal it.
- Wash all laundry that may have been in contact with the wound or the old dressing separately from other laundry.
Physicians advise patients and caregivers to be on the look out for fever and other signs that the wound has become infected. But, Cash said, VNA of Ohio’s homecare nurses conduct thorough wound assessments in order to catch any problems before an infection can take hold.
“By the time you see a high temperature, you are severely into an infection,” she said. “You don’t want to wait for that.”
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Learn more about VNA of Ohio home healthcare services, or call us today at 1-877-698-6264.