Post-surgical or other high pain events:
1. If at all possible prepare ahead of time. Nursing a person in pain is more than just sitting beside them; there is a lot to do. If you are organized, it will help a great deal. Here is what you will want at a minimum:
>>Pre-made shakes that come in individual portions like Slim-fast. The reason is that narcotic pain medication must be taken with food or it will cause severe gastric distress. In the middle of the night, this is the best solution because it is readily available. Also, the fiber in these drinks will help with the constipation caused by narcotic pain medication.
>>A thermometer to look for any fever spikes
>>A notebook to record pain levels, fever and time of pain medication. Don't be ashamed to tie a pencil to it. You would be surprised how chaotic it can get.
>>A minimum of two ice packs. I prefer to use the old-fashioned round and floppy hot water bottles because they are strong, but you can use Ziploc freezer bags if you wish. The mixture that I like best is two parts water to 1 part rubbing alcohol. I am told that in a pinch you can use 1/3 cup of 80 proof vodka for two cups water, although I have never tried that. You want those frozen in advance.
>>Ask to get her prescriptions for pain medication before the surgery that way you are not having to leave her to run out and get them. I nearly totaled my car trying to get my wife's pain medication, and that delay meant she went into one of the most frightening pain storms that I have ever seen.
>>A timer or alarm clock. You think you will remember when the next dose will be. But don't trust that.
2. Advocate for your partner even before she comes home. Do whatever you need to to keep her as pain free as possible while she is hospitalized. Make sure that they don't send her home in pain, otherwise the trip will be hell. And be sure that you understand the discharge instructions thoroughly. Put the number that she is supposed to call in case she has problems in your cell-phone so there is no mad scramble trying to find the phone number.
3. Your primary job is to help your partner avoid a pain storm. They feel unmanageable and you can do nothing more than watch helplessly as your partner writhes in pain. Two secondary jobs you may want to take on are helping her groom to whatever extent makes her feel better and monitoring medication side-effects. Narcotic pain medication makes many people extremely constipated. During the fuzzy days immediately post-surgery, your wife may not notice and it could end up being a week. You don't even want to think about how that kind of constipation is resolved. So, keep that on your radar.
4. You have two weapons to help you keep a pain storm at bay: controlling swelling and managing pain.
5. You control swelling through ice and by religious use of whatever anti-inflammatory her doctor prescribes. This will be something like a high dose of ibuprofen and will be prescribed in addition to a narcotic pain reliever. Many people mistakenly think that the only purpose of this anti-inflammatory is so that they have something to wean themselves onto as they get off the narcotic pain medication. It is very important to give this medication on time and every time. For the first three days, every time you are awake, rotate ice twenty minutes on and twenty minutes off. This will make a world of difference.
6. Set an alarm for the middle of the night and give your beloved her pain medication then as well. I had thought that obviously my wife needed her rest and I could just let her sleep until she woke on her own. The problem is that what wakes her is pain, and it usually takes almost two hours to get her pain down to a tolerable level if we deviate from the prescribed schedule.
7. Doctors are not prescribing real pain medication that much anymore, so you may be tempted to skip doses during the early days if she is feeling better. I do not encourage this. It takes twice as pain medication to get a person out of a pain storm as it does to prevent the storm from happening.
8. Here are a few things you should know about post-surgical pain. It is always worse at night than during the day. It peaks the evening of the second day you come home from the hospital. Coincidentally, that is the time when most of us expect to feel better. So this huge disparity between what we think we should feel and what we actually feel can make a person recovering feel that desperate and hopeless. It helps a lot if you can remind her that this is the worst it will ever get.
9. I hope that you do not reach a place of un-managed pain, but if you do, here are some tricks that I have learned for helping a person get through the worst part of a pain storm. What you want to do is temporarily flood her nerves with other novel sensations that make it harder for her brain to record all of the pain signals. You have to change the sensation at least every twenty seconds for it to have any impact.
10. My wife usually has surgery on her lower legs, and here is the routine that I use if she hits a pain storm: I squeeze spots higher on her leg until I hit the same nerve that is screaming further below. You know you have found the spot when for about five seconds she experiences less pain. On that spot, I alternate between a firm grip, running the tines of a comb or a fork in swirls and light slapping (the latter was at her insistence.) Occasionally, I will mix in a few seconds of ice if one of those has lost its edge. This is rather exhausting, since you must change every 10 to 20 seconds. But it can help bridge the time between the onset of severe pain and pain medication kicking in.
11. Encourage her to make whatever sound she needs to make or approximate that breathing women are supposed to do in childbirth. Anything to keep her from holding her breath. When she holds her breath, her body tightens in on itself and that increases pain over the long run.
12. Above all, don't be shy about calling her doctor. And be willing to do the talking. Many patients are anxious telling their doctors about their pain and will suffer rather than pick up the phone.
13. Control access to your wife based on your wife's wishes, and especially her level of introversion or extroversion.My best friend's wife is a social butterfly. So when she recently had a mastectomy, she wanted everyone there. When my wife is in pain, she doesn't even want her own mother in the room. She wants me, a firmly closed door and darkened room. My job is to not allow her to guilt herself into allowing visitors when she is not up to it. Here is the tricky thing: If you are new to the relationship or if you haven't been that close lately, your wife may want someone else's care. It sucks, but suck it up and be there for her in whatever way she will allow.
There is nothing that makes me feel as helpless as watching my wife suffer. I would far rather just absorb the pain myself.
But I have discovered that while going away physically or emotionally may be less painful for me, it is selfish and actually adds to my wife's suffering. Being strong for her does not mean hiding my feelings. In fact, my tears of frustration and pain often give her validation or permission to express her own emotions. All that being a husband and a good man requires that I stay by her side in body, mind and heart and that I do what is within my power to ease her pain, offer her comfort and support her.