If you and your physician have decided you need to have surgery on your arm or hand, there are some things you can do to prepare for it. 

What types of clothing are easiest to put on after surgery?

When using only one arm after surgery, loose fitting or elastic are often easiest to manage.  A cast or a surgical bandage may not fit into a small sleeve, so a larger sized shirt or one with cuff buttons may be needed.  A tank top with snaps sewn into the shoulder is helpful when shoulder motion is limited.  Sport bras and a camisole may be simpler to put on.  Slip-on shoes or Velcro –secured shoes are often easiest to wear as they may require only one hand. 

What are ways to be more independent with self-care tasks after surgery?

Large trash bags or other waterproof cast protector can be used to cover cast or bandages during bathing activities.  Consider toiletries with easy pump tops, electric razors for shaving and having assistance with washing, drying and styling hair.  If possible, practice self-care tasks with the opposite hand in the week prior to surgery.  Wipes and spray bottles can also be useful.  A washcloth or a sponge put on the bottom of the sink can be used to scrub against for one handed hand washing.  Hand sanitizer may also be helpful.

What other activities are important to consider after surgery?

Ask for easy-open tops at the pharmacy when medications are filled and store them in a safe place.  An alternative is to ask family or friends to divide out medication into a weekly pill container. 

Pillows, extra blankets or surgical foam pillows can be used to position the arm or hand.  Check with your surgeon to see if there are rules about sleeping positions.  Sometimes the most comfortable position will be sitting up such as sleeping in a recliner.

Prepare meals ahead of time and freeze them in small serving sizes to easily manage with one hand.  An electric can opener and food processor may also be helpful.

Driving will likely be restricted so consider pre-arranging transportation for doctor or therapy appointments.  While riding in the car, be aware of movements of the car that can be painful.

Make sure to ask your surgeon about follow up care for your surgery; it will be helpful to plan ahead and be well prepared.

What can a hand therapist do for me?

Recovering from a surgery takes time and patience.  While a hand therapist uses a variety of treatment approaches to assist with the return to normal arm or hand functions after surgery, a hand therapist can also assist in preparing for surgery.  If you have any questions, please contact Rehabilitation Services at North Country Hospital, 802-334-3260.

References: www.asht.org/patients/patient-education-resources

Johanne Champigny, OTR/L, CHT was the first occupational therapist at NCH when she joined the Rehab team in 1995.  She became certified as a hand therapist in 2015.  She works primarily with out-patients and is also the occupational therapy department supervisor.