As most of you know, we spent the better part of the week nursing our 22 year old son after his ski accident. He sustained a badly fractured femur requiring a long surgery which entailed significant blood loss. He also had a mild concussion, pulmonary contusion, and a broken rib. He is stable and improving. But his course has illustrated several important things about nourishing those who are recovering from illness or injury. I thought we might take a moment and discuss them here, especially since it has been on my mind.
When people come home from the hospital, most of time, their IV is removed. They will come home adequately hydrated. However, that can quickly change, since their capability to hold down food and drink is often limited. Your job as caregiver is to help minimize nausea which may be interfering with hydration, and to provide appropriate enticing liquids for them to sip. If your “ patient” did not come home with anti-nausea medication, and needs it, do not hesitate to call their doctor. Most of the time this can be prescribed over the phone, but sometimes, nausea heralds a concern, and the patient will be asked to come in for an evaluation.
Another way to minimize nausea and maximize intake is to avoid overuse of narcotic pain pills. The most common are lortab and percocet, aka hydrocodone and oxycodone. These are necessary with early post ops, but they can cause nausea and constipation. Ask your doctor how they should be used if you are not sure.
Sick or injured people do not always know what they need. It is up to the caregiver to encourage them in the right direction. In this regard, many patients will not want to drink as much as they ought. So you have to be clever.
Hydration of the unwell is best accomplished gradually and continually. This way they are more apt to tolerate it. It is also best accomplished by fluids which contain some sugar and some electrolyte (like IV fluid!) .
For starters, let’s do water. Some who cannot drink water can drink soda water, aka plain club soda. Even more can drink this with a splash of fruit juice or a wedge of lemon or lime. Some do well with dilute fruit juice. Decaf instant iced tea works well. Oftentimes having it quite cold will help, but this is suboptimal if your patient is chilled. Some do better with frozen cubes of the aforementioned drinks.
On the other hand, many patients prefer hot drinks. Herbal tea is the go-to here. You can make it more appealing by adding honey or agave, and a little lemon. Decaf coffee is not a bad choice, but lots of caffeinated coffee is dehydrating.
Some patients prefer savory or salty drinks. This is an advantage since it will better expand their intravascular volume. Here broth is the best solution, unless they can take something like Bloody Mary mix, or salted tomato juice. The best of all is a brothy chicken soup, just like tradition teaches us. Nowadays organic broth mix is widely available commercially in chicken, beef, and vegetable flavors.
You can also hydrate your patient with watermelon if they like it. Most fruits will help, and a smoothie of fruit, ice, water, juice, and even plain yogurt can be very agreeable, even to one who is sick.
When patients are doing well enough to take solid food, there are a few key nutritional points to bear in mind. Healing from illness and injury takes more resources than ordinary life - lots more resources. A man needing 70 g of protein a day will come to need over a hundred. He will need more nutrients too, though he may not necessarily need more calories. Therefore, everything a recovering person eats should be nutrient rich. Leave the top ramen, Pepsi, and white bread for another day - like NEVER. Present choices such as chicken, salmon and red meat, but prepare them in a way that is easy to eat. For the meat and chicken, cook it well, ground or in small pieces. For salmon, consider getting canned salmon and making it up like tuna fish salad with mayonnaise, relish and olives. But beware, if your patients are picking at their food or dairy containing drinks, the dishes cannot stay out too long, or they will spoil. The last thing you need is a recovering patient with food poisoning. With the same goal in mind, don’t put too much on a serving plate. Start with a small serving and get seconds if you need to. And, for best results, offer small quantities of food quite often.
Caregiving is hard work. With a little forethought and a few tricks of the trade, your well hydrated, well nourished patient will have the best chance at an optimal recovery.