Lifting a heavy box

Post-op Instructions

As some of you know, I underwent surgery last week (Yes, I am feeling much better now. Thanks for asking.). As part of my post-op instructions, I was warned not to lift more than five pounds.

My Take

With a PhD in ergonomics and five years of materials handling research under my belt, I could easily understand the logic behind this limit. A five pound lift, especially if it was asymmetrical, jerky, or uneven, could easily pop a stitch.

But then the first time I had to raise myself out of chair, I realized that this exertion was a lot more effortful than a five pound lift. It was definitely asymmetrical, uneven, and required a lot of muscle tension around my body.

Then when I had to lift my head off the pillow of my bed, I realized this was also a significant exertion and – even worse – involved the muscles where my surgery occurred. This was probably the most dangerous of them all.

And yet, neither of these common body motions were included in my post-op instructions, despite being the most important and relevant to warn about. I knew this instinctively because of my education and experience. But the typical patient would be at significant risk.

During just the first few days, I was forced to get up and down from chairs, beds, and otherwise maneuver myself around the house many times. Each time, I could feel the stress under the stitches. Despite trying my best, it was unavoidable. And every fifth time or so, I was not sufficiently attentive and I would exert well beyond the safe level before realizing my mistake (especially if I had just taken a dose of my pain meds).

The opposite also emerged. Each time that I survived an overexertion of various kinds, I was less careful with the standard, carefully exerted, symmetrical, even, five pound lift. And it was terribly inconvenient so my powers of self-delusion kicked in as well.

I seem to have survived the experience. But I worry about patients who have less metacognitive awareness of ergonomics. They need more precise instructions. But not so much that they are incomprehensible or impractical.

Sounds like a case for user-centered design to me.

Your Turn

I know many of you are in the health care domain. Is this something that received a lot of attention? It may sound less important than the team communication requirements in an operating theater or shift change handoff meetings. But it seems pretty important nonetheless.

Image Credit: Nemo

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