How Can I Help My Spouse After IBD Surgery?

The First Days And Weeks After Surgery Will Be Easier With Your Help

Washing Dishes
You may have to take over the bulk of the chores around the house for a while as your spouse recovers from surgery. Photo © Stuart Miles

When your loved one has surgery for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the first days at home can be emotionally exhausting and physically difficult. But there is plenty you can do to help.

Many people with IBD, especially those who have Crohn's disease, will have some type of surgery to manage their disease. Surgery for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis can be very extensive and require a lengthy recovery period.

Recovery will be easier, and go quicker, when there is a strong support network to help your loved one care for him- or herself, go to doctor appointments and take care of household chores.

Preparing for the Homecoming

There is plenty to do before your spouse undergoes surgery. Spend the time before surgery or when your loved one is still hospitalized to prepare your home. Depending on your specific circumstances, this preparation can take many forms. In general, you will want to imagine what will be needed for someone who cannot walk far, reach high above his or her head or take a shower alone. Try bringing essentials, such as food, clothing, medication, eyeglasses and activities (books, puzzles, TV remote), within easy reach.

You should not have to invest a lot of money in preparing to bring your spouse home from the hospital, but some accommodations may make sense. A shower chair, for example, may help, or installing bars in the bathroom to aid getting on and off the toilet or in and out of the bath.

Check with your insurance carrier or your surgeon's office to see if such items are covered.

Other items which may be helpful, but are not likely to be covered by insurance, include an extra TV, rollaway bed or small refrigerator. So, see if you can borrow them or buy them secondhand. If you have many steps in your home, you will need to decide where your spouse will spend most of his or her time -- on the main floor, upstairs or downstairs?

Some forethought about how to make the space more comfortable will go a long way toward making recovery smoother.

If the home is prepared properly, it will reduce the temptation to go up and down stairs or to lift or carry heavy items. Too much activity too soon may not be appropriate. Always check with the surgeon and enlist the surgeon's help in getting your spouse to understand his or her temporary limitations.

After Coming Home

After coming home from the hospital, your spouse will be uncomfortable, in pain and may not be very interested in hobbies or other activities. Pain medications can have varied effects, and your spouse may not be able to take part in more complicated activities. Be prepared to take over most of the household duties for a while, especially those that require lifting. Check with the doctor when your spouse can return to housework, driving and other activities. In many cases, it will be several weeks before those tasks can be safely undertaken again.

Eating After Surgery

You may not know until after surgery if your spouse will require a special diet.

If you can, check with the surgeon before the operation to learn what foods should be in your pantry and refrigerator. Your spouse may not have much of an appetite, so you may have to do a little coaxing at mealtimes. If the doctor has prescribed a particular diet, be sure to follow it as directed.

Eating is an important part of recovery, and nourishing foods should be on the menu. Meals should be a pleasant experience, so try to enjoy that time together and eat as a family, even if your spouse doesn't have much of an appetite.


Help your spouse keep track of medications, especially those for pain.

Managing pain properly by taking medications on time will help the recovery from surgery go more smoothly and minimize discomfort as much as possible.

If You Must Go Back to Work

If your spouse will be alone during the day, be sure to provide an easy way to contact you or other friends and family nearby. You'll want to be available if an emergency situation arises. Aside from that, being home alone all day can get lonely; your spouse may rely on you a little more for companionship. Check in with him or her during the day if you can.

In some cases, a visiting nurse service may be helpful. Insurance may cover a visiting nurse, especially for someone who is very ill or who has a new ileostomy or colostomy. Check with your insurance carrier and your surgeon's office to get as much information as you can, and find out if you will qualify for a visit (or several) from a visiting nurse. Having someone to check on your spouse during the day is a great comfort for both of you.

Communication Is Key

Most of all, respect your spouse's condition, but also be sensitive to your own needs. You will want to communicate your concerns to one another as the recovery process continues. If you notice that your spouse is having difficulty, such as a depressed mood, or is not recovering as quickly as expected, get in touch with the surgeon or gastroenterologist as soon as possible.

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