Why I make coffee for my post-op patients.

Dr. Shenker shares a tried and tested post-operative tool.

The Cosmetic Surgery Clinic, Dr. Robert Shenker

There are quite a number of nice gestures to be done for patients while they are in the recovery room after surgery. A warm blanket is always appreciated. A comforting word or a gentle touch helps too. So does pain medication, and the company of a loved one at the bedside. But over the years in my private aesthetic practice, I have discovered a tool that never fails to bring a smile and a contented sigh to my patients in the moments after surgery: coffee!

I talk to all of my patients in the recovery room after surgery. I check on their level of discomfort, their level of anxiety, and I answer their questions. Some time ago I began to notice a trend. Patients in the recovery room had mild headaches, they felt wrung out, sluggish and just not quite like themselves.

One day several years ago, while having one of those post operative conversations in the recovery room, I happened to be drinking one of my regular “in between operations” cups of coffee. I saw the patient’s eyes widen with joy and expectation. They very tentatively asked me, “Is that coffee? Can I have one?”

So I made that patient a coffee. Of course, it had to be safe. By this time they were wide awake and resting in bed. The coffee wasn’t too hot, and the risk of spills was low. They hugged the cup, breathed in the aroma, groaned with pleasure and drank it down. And they immediately perked up. So began my experiment with coffee in the recovery room. Now I offer it to everyone.

Most of us have at least one cup of coffee in the morning. It gets us going. It makes us feel awake and alive. Of course, every patient who comes for surgery has to be NPO (from the Latin, nil per os), meaning they must have nothing to eat or drink for six to eight hours before surgery. That prohibition includes drinking coffee. What inevitably happens is that by the time the patient gets to The Cosmetic Surgery Clinic for surgery, even if they are the first patient of the day, they are hungry, anxious and caffeine deprived. By the time that patient reaches the recovery room a few hours later, the caffeine deprivation alone can make them feel rotten, never mind the fact that they’ve had an operation.

Here is a list of the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal:

  • Headache
  • Sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Cramping
  • Lack of concentration
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities

Isn’t that a nasty constellation of problems? Who wants to have to deal with all that while trying to recover from surgery at the same time? Sometimes I think that the only thing worse than my patients not having their coffee on the day of surgery would be me not having mine.

Initially, my nursing and anaesthesia staff were quite skeptical. None of them had ever heard of giving patients coffee in the recovery room within the first half hour after waking up from surgery. However, it didn’t take very long for them to become believers. Where they used to walk in to recovery room and see half asleep, cranky, irritated patients, they now see patients who are wide awake, smiling, feeling very much like themselves, and preparing to go home to continue recovering.

So what’s the secret recipe? First we start out with fresh beans from our friends at a local coffee shop just across the street (thanks Katherine and the gang at DVLB!). We grind those beans just before we brew. We make espresso. We make lattes. We make cappuccinos or flat whites. We make americanos and machiatos, and we can even make a cold brew. Want sugar? No problem, but I have introduced hundreds of patients to putting maple syrup or honey in their coffee. Most patients are skeptical at first, then try it and never go back to the artificial sweetener they used to use.

So, with time and experience comes some innovation. It turns out that not all the care we give our post op patients comes from a surgical textbook. Some of it is common sense. Some of it is just being friendly, and some of it comes from sharing a comforting cup of coffee.

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