Coming home from the hospital is always a transition, no matter how long you were there, and no matter how mild the ailment that landed you there. It is described well in The Chosen, when the protagonist returns home from the hospital: “The world jumped into focus and everything looked suddenly bright and fresh and clean, as it does on an early morning with the sun on the trees, and there was newness everywhere, a feeling that I had been away a long time in a dark place and was now returning home to sunlight” (p. 95).
It’s a glorious description. Even so, coming home from the hospital can be a little tense. If the patient is your elderly loved one, like your mom, you will likely want jump in and help out with getting her discharged quickly, and learning what you can to help take care of her at home. You may be the person to help keep track of her new health regimen. And you may be the lucky one who gets to bring your mom over the threshold of her cherished home. After all, returning to one’s own premises and to one’s own routines is a big deal. That’s part of why it’s so important to make the transition smooth and enable her to function well at home.
Here are some tips to make sure that the transition happens smoothly.
Before You Leave the Hospital:
- Learn about her illness or ailment. This includes the diagnosis, the nature of the ailment (is it going to be chronic?), the treatment plan thus far and going forward – including some basics, like how often do the doctors want her monitored (blood pressure and the like)? It also includes finding out what you can expect, both medically and personally, from your mom in the next little while. Find out from the doctor and the hospital staff if she is going to need additional help at home. Can she be left alone?
- Learn about her medication regimen. Take advantage of the fact that the hospital is teeming with medical personnel and review all of the prescriptions with them, confirm dosages, and find out what they would be looking for in terms of potential side effects or unexpected reactions. One key question is whether your mom must be monitored for levels in the blood (via blood tests) – one example where this kind of monitoring is critical is blood thinners. Note that seniors are often already taking medications, so a stay in the hospital might entail a change in dosages or a change in medication altogether. Use this time for information gathering about her medications and their dosages, including both the new and the familiar, and then set things up accordingly (a calendar pill box does wonders, for example) later on.
- Prepare for “just in case.” The statistics are that many people – seniors, in particular – who return home from the hospital return there, so it’s important that you know what symptoms would indicate a need for additional or enhanced care, and whom to call if your mom’s situation worsens. Plan to take her back to the doctor to check on her recovery within a week or two (depending on the medical recommendation, of course) of returning home.
Once you arrive to your mom’s home, you have a lot more leeway to figure out how best to herald the grand return home. Follow her lead as revealed in her level of enthusiasm and confidence. Is she overjoyed to get home? Nervous about the potential for relapse? Excited to take charge? Or looking to you to do that? Can she physically and emotionally handle a celebration?
Make sure that recommended modifications to her home – if there are any – are completed now. If you need to install a bar in the shower, for example, or rearrange the furniture for greater comfort during convalescence, now is the time to do it.
Then, once you’ve taken care of the medical side of things, and she has unpacked and reacquainted herself with home, sit down to a cup of coffee or tea, and chat – not only because it’s nice, but also so that you can gauge how comfortable she is with being alone at home, and take your cue what to do next from your conversation.