Being discharged from the hospital after cancer surgery may trigger a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, you may feel happy to be going home. On the other, you may be frightened to leave the peace of mind and support network a hospital setting often provides, with your care team of nurses, doctors and clinicians who know your diagnosis and personal treatment plan tending to you, all under one roof. To help you avoid feeling lost or overwhelmed once you arrive home, it’s important to be your own advocate and ask questions before you leave the hospital, says Stephanie Moore, DNP, APRN, ACNS-BC, Advanced Practice Provider and Clinical Nurse Specialist at our hospital in Tulsa.
“ Usually, our patients are here for a long period of time, and then we send them home. And that can be anxiety-inducing.” - Stephanie Moore, DNP, APRN, ACNS-BC - Advanced Practice Provider and Clinical Nurse Specialist
That’s why Moore advises patients to talk to their care team about the following five areas before leaving the hospital:
Before you’re discharged, make sure you know what medications you’re supposed to take, and when. “When you’re in the hospital, nurses are bringing you your meds around the clock,” Moore says. “But when you’re home, you or your caregiver is in charge of maintaining that schedule.”
Also, before you leave the hospital, talk to your care team about your medication regimen, to make sure it’s not changing. Sometimes, medications given in the hospital may be discontinued or changed once the patient returns home.
Another critical question patients should consider asking is when they should follow up with a medical oncologist or other care team members after leaving the hospital. These follow-ups are often vital to cancer patients’ continual post-treatment care and survivorship. “The patient could risk getting lost in the system otherwise,” Moore says. “Although that rarely happens in today’s world, having that appointment in mind to know when to come back is really important.”
Surgical site care
It’s important to make sure you and your caregiver know how to care for your surgical wounds once you return home. Ask your nurse to go over the cleaning and dressing process with you, and, if you’re going home with a feeding tube or oxygen tank, ask for instructions on how to use and care for this equipment before you leave.
Most cancer patients experience pain at some point, whether it’s from a tumor or surgery. While pain management techniques like pain pumps and nerve blocks are often offered, many patients are prescribed narcotic pain medication for a designated amount of time. It’s important to know how to take these medications, how they work and the risk of dependency. Also, make sure to find out who you can call if your pain medication doesn’t work or stops working suddenly.
Many people sleep better once they’re out of the hospital, because they’re not regularly woken up by the din of beeping machines and by care team members taking vital signs or bringing medications. But some cancer patients may have trouble sleeping because of pain, indigestion or breathing complications once they return to their own bed. Many lung cancer patients, for example, cannot sleep flat on their backs because of tumors pressing on their respiratory organs, so they need to elevate their beds in order to breathe without difficulty. Talking through possible scenarios in advance with your care team may help you avoid sleepless nights later.
Healing from cancer surgery doesn’t end when you leave the hospital. To help facilitate a smooth transition from hospital to home, be proactive about asking questions and getting the information you need before you’re discharged. “I like to give patients a survivorship care plan that includes a summary of their treatment and their follow-up care,” Moore says. “It’s a good summary of where they are now and what they need to do to move forward.”