You deserve support. Here’s how to ask for it.

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take a slow deep breath… and imagine that your child, or your beloved partner, is preparing to undergo a major surgery. How much support and care do you wish for them to have?  Would you make sure they had nourishing food and remembered to keep hydrated?  Would you encourage them to prepare themselves mentally and physically?  Would you spend generously on getting the support they need?  Would you be their ally and support through the process?

Ok. Now think about your own surgery and what kind of support you have in mind for yourself. Hm. Odds are, you do not reserve for yourself what you easily wish for your loved one.

What if you could treat yourself as the beloved one…

You’re going to need support to stay fed, hydrated, equipped, and encouraged.

For many of us, asking for that support presents its own challenge and require leaning into a different discomfort than the physical kind. Maybe you feel like you don’t need support, and should just soldier through this with a few cases of energy bars.  Maybe you imagine you don’t have many (or any) folks you can ask to go out of their way for you. More likely, it just feels uncomfortable to ask. And wouldn’t this mean that you’d be on the hook to help these helpers if your roles were reversed? (uh-huh).  If you’re really stuck on asking, enlist one friend or family member to help you organize the support. Or just stock up on energy bars and hope for the best!

Q: How much support will I need?

Ask your surgeon. They will likely give you a large range, because each person comes to this surgery with their own unique set of conditions (many are not bringing intentionality to the process as you are, now).

Aim to have help to cover the longer end of the given recovery timeframe

Can’t achieve that?  Arranging for a circle of support helpers can likely provide enough coverage. Or find a local agency that places health attendants, and see if you can find one that will have availability when you might need it.

When I replaced both my hips, I was fortunate to have my in-laws staying with us for 9 days, and then friends checking on me each day that my family was at work/school. During the first two weeks, I was mobile (with just mild discomfort) every day but found myself walking only 50-100 steps, as I felt pretty fragile, and was taking little tiny, restricted steps. So I was more than glad to have helpers answering requests. In the third week, I had folks visiting with ice and some take-out from restaurants I loved. By the fourth week I was fully independent. Of course, every surgery and patient is different.

Think about your early recovery as having four phases:

1. Initial recovery period:  Ask your surgeon how long you are likely to be feeling fragile and needing constant help. Aim for live-in coverage during this phase. This might be between one and three weeks, depending on the surgery and your condition.

2. Transitional period: A friend scheduled to visit each midday for [another week or somewhat longer]. Others on call in case you need more. They can drive you places, bring you ice, take you out to lunch or just have a brief social visit.

3. Remainder of the inflammatory period: Then a midday visit every second or third day until you feel you don’t need it.  I was told to expect an initial inflammatory period of 4-6 weeks, after which a profound decline in inflammation would leave me feeling less restricted in my gait. This was exactly my experience. Ask your surgeon when to expect that milestone when inflammation will settle.

4. General Recovery: You will likely be back to work at this time, and while you won’t need the kind of help you needed before, you will have other needs. Most important is to get clear on what what specific outcomes you are recovering towards, and to make an affirmative statement about your intention to get there, to a witness (a friend). In addition to whatever specific PT regimen you are assigned, getting an age- and fitness level-appropriate dose of aerobic exercise (walking, biking, and swimming being the gentlest options) should be considered as medicine and taken daily. Find exercise partners to help ensure you keep up your routine.

So I should be arranging for support now?

It depends how overscheduled your circle of helpers is. They may appreciate getting some dates on their calendar well in advance.

Of course, you can use Instacart for supplies and Uber for transport, but why deprive your friends the opportunity to be of service?  Allow yourself the experience of asking for support and receiving it. Oh, and be prepared that someone might cancel; life happens.

Action Steps

  • Get information from your surgeon about the likely stages of recovery you could expect.  Let your mind remain open to the possibility of a rapid and smooth recovery, while arranging for coverage so you neither worry about it, nor have to scramble later.
  • Make a list of friends and acquaintances you feel you could ask for help after your full-time helper(s) are gone. Bonus points if you can identify a few retired or work-from-home people who live near you and could swing by on short notice. It’s unlikely you’ll need it, but I think it has value for peace of mind.
  • Choose a tool for coordinating your helpers. I use Google Documents for my work and many personal projects, so that’s what I used to map out the days and weeks following surgery.  Feel free to look at mine. You can make a copy of this template and use it.


  • Other free choices include CaringBridge, which is especially good for coordinating support if you also want to send out messages to a list about your status. That comes in handy if don’t want to field many requests for the same updates. You can also use this to send your request for folks to hold you in their thoughts the morning of the surgery. That’s one of the five elements of the Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster program. We’ll discuss that in more detail soon.
  • Signup Genius or SignMeUp are also fine tools just for coordinating support, if you’re going to need a lot of rides or visits. There’s a bit of work setting up each ‘volunteer slot’, but they have extra features like automated reminders. I prefer Google Documents because with some folks I could share my the web-based document with my list of helpers and they could claim a day. With other folks, I was emailing or texting them, and I updated the list myself.  When in doubt, a paper and pencil work fine too!

Q: Are there folks who should NOT be on my list of supporters?

  • If you have friends with good intentions but poor follow-through, maybe best not to count on them for this. Or if visits with this friend leave you annoyed or drained. Some people just can’t help catastrophizing or being negative. Try to limit your contact with people who can upset you while you’re (let’s face it) fragile.

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