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After Surgery

After your surgery, you will be taken to a recovery area, called the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU), the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), or you may return to the outpatient surgery area where you will be discharged once your anesthesia wears off sufficiently. Wherever you are taken for your recovery, you will be closely monitored as you wake up from anesthesia.

It’s normal to feel some pain and discomfort during recovery, but you will be given medications and other treatments to help with this. You and your nurse will work together to help manage your pain, whether you need ice, heat, compression, massage, elevation, music, or other treatments.

The following may apply to you after your surgery is complete:

  • As the medication wears off, the area of your surgery may hurt or burn.
  • If your pain is not controlled, tell your nurse or medical team. You might have patient-controlled analgesia (PCA), which allows you to manage your own pain medication, or an epidural.
  • If you have nausea or vomiting after surgery, we can give you medication to help you feel better.
  • You might have a mild sore throat after surgery, especially if an airway or tube in your windpipe helped you breathe during the operation.
  • You may wake up with a small tube (catheter) in your bladder that is used to drain urine, especially during a surgery where you will be under general anesthesia for a long period of time. This catheter is usually only temporary and will be removed later.

After You Leave the Hospital

When you are discharged, you will likely need a friend or family member to help you during your recovery and help you adhere to post-op instructions. You will be given a copy of those instructions to take home, along with a list of prescription medications and how to take them once you go home.

The discharge process takes about two to three hours, and if you have any questions during this time, please ask. We want you to be comfortable and confident about your post-op home care. Remember that everyone recovers differently - depending on their age, diagnosis, and other contributing factors. Allow yourself to recover and be gentle with yourself.

Once you return home, you will receive a phone call from one of our Marshall support nurses to ensure you understand all your discharge instructions, including how to take your medications. During this time, you can ask any questions you have.

Your Role in Recovery

Anyone who needs surgery wants their life to “go back to normal” as quickly as possible. You can take an active role in ensuring you heal faster and return daily activities as soon as possible. Recovery from surgery is relatively straightforward, so long as you follow your medical team’s discharge instructions.

You should become more active as soon as the doctor says it is okay. Rest when you feel tired. To speed recovery, you will be asked to breathe deeply and do some simple exercises. Be sure to follow your post-op instructions, as this is paramount to recovering as quickly as possible and avoiding any common complications.

These guidelines can help you recover more quickly:

  • Deep breathing, coughing, and using an incentive spirometer (IS), a breathing tool, can help clear your lungs, aid circulation and help prevent pneumonia. Depending on your surgery, you may try holding a pillow over the incision for support. A respiratory therapist will instruct you on the importance of the IS and how to use it.
  • Range-of-motion exercises and moving your legs while you are in bed will help your circulation and help prevent complications.
  • Walking will help your circulation as well as help other body functions return to normal. You will likely need to be assisted the first time you walk.
  • Healthy eating can help speed your recovery. If you are in the hospital, you may have an IV, and your diet will slowly transition from liquids to soft, pureed foods, to solids. If you are recovering at home, start by eating small amounts of easy-to-digest foods. If you have given a special diet, be sure to follow it.
  • Pain management can actually speed up your recovery. If your pain is not relieved, or gets worse, notify your doctor. Most oral pain medications take 20 minutes to take effect; do not wait until you are in pain to take them.
  • Constipation is a common side effect with some pain medications. Eating whole fruits and vegetables can help (not juices, as these do not contain fiber), as well as drinking extra fluids, unless you are instructed not to do so.

Incision and Dressing Care

When you go home, you may have a dressing over your incision. You will be shown how to care for the incision and the dressing.

These are some of the things you can do to speed up the healing process:

  • Keep the incision clean and dry. You will be told when you can safely shower.

  • If the incision is on your leg, arm or head, you may be told to keep it elevated.

  • Wash your hands before and after touching the incision area. This helps prevent infection.

  • If you have a drainage tube, follow the instructions given to you.

  • It's normal to run a slight fever and for the incision to be slightly red and swollen the day after surgery.

Call Your Surgeon If:

  • You have a fever over 100°F, or 37.5°C.

  • Your incision becomes redder, swollen, painful, or has a foul discharge.

  • Your incision bleeds a lot or opens.

  • You feel excessively sleepy, dizzy, or groggy.

  • You have side effects from your medication, such as nausea, vomiting, redness, a rash, or itching.