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After surgery, you can recover quickly and safely. You may have been an inpatient (staying in the hospital overnight) or an outpatient (going home the day of surgery). In the facility, follow instructions from your surgeon, nurse, and other healthcare providers. Work with them so that your stay will go smoothly. This will allow you to go home as scheduled. At home, help your body heal by staying comfortable, taking care of your incision, eating well, and resting. Also, know when to call your healthcare provider if a problem arises.
Use the guidelines below to remind yourself what to do after surgery. Be sure to follow any specific post-op instructions from your surgeon or nurse.
Follow-up care is an important part of a successful surgery. Your doctor needs to see that you’re healing and recovering well. Ask when to return for your first follow-up visit.
You’ll receive medication to control pain. You may be given IV or oral medication. Or you may have a PCA (patient controlled analgesia) machine. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions on how to use the PCA.
Tell your nurse if the medications don’t reduce pain or if the pain suddenly gets worse.
Preventing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This is a condition in which a blood clot forms in a deep vein, often in the leg. If the clot breaks loose and travels to a lung, severe health problems and even death can result. Patients who undergo surgery have a high chance of developing DVT. So to prevent DVT, your doctor will prescribe one or more of the following:
Anticoagulant. This is medication that prevents blood clots. It is given to you before and right after surgery by injection or through an IV. Or you take the medication by mouth.
Compression stockings. These are elastic stockings that fit tightly around the ankle, gradually reducing in pressure as they go up the leg. This helps keep blood flowing toward the heart, so that it is less likely to pool in the legs and cause a blood clot.
Ambulation (getting out of bed and walking). As soon as you’re able, you’ll be helped out of bed by your nurse. Moving around improves circulation and helps prevent blood clots.
Exercises. Simple exercises while in bed or sitting in a chair can help prevent DVT. Move your feet in a circle or up and down 10-30 times an hour to improve circulation.
Sequential compression devices (also called intermittent pneumatic compression devices). Special sleeves that can be inflated are wrapped around the legs or around the feet. Air tubes connect the sleeves to an electric pump. The pump inflates and deflates the sleeves. As the sleeves inflate, they gently squeeze the leg or foot muscles. As they deflate, the muscles are released. This action promotes blood circulation and prevents blood clots.
Nausea and vomiting. This is common after surgery. If you are having problems with nausea and vomiting, be sure to tell your nurse or surgeon so that you can be treated.
Preventing pneumonia. To help clear your lungs and prevent pneumonia, you may be taught deep-breathing and coughing exercises. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions on how to do the exercises and how often to do them.
Incision and drainage tube care. The nurse will change the dressing over your incision. You may also have a tube that drains fluids from the surgical wound. To prevent germs from getting into the incision and drainage tube, avoid touching them. Before you go home, your nurse will teach you how to take care of your incision and drainage tube at home. Make sure you understand the instructions.
Blood tests. After surgery you’ll likely have blood drawn. This is to make sure you’re healing well and aren’t developing problems such as high blood sugar (hyperglycemia).
Urinary catheter. During surgery, a tube (catheter) may have been inserted through your urethra into the bladder to drain urine. After surgery, the surgeon will determine when the catheter can be removed, usually before you go home. If you go home with the catheter in place, the nurse will teach you how to take care of the catheter at home. Be sure to ask any questions about catheter care before you leave the hospital.
Pain management. Take your pain medications as directed, before the pain becomes severe. Don’t take medication more often (overdose is dangerous) or less often (which is less effective). Taking pain medication at night can help you get a good night’s rest.
Preventing DVT and pneumonia. DVT and pneumonia can still occur even after you go home. Follow the discharge instructions you were given in the hospital. For preventing DVT, this may include continuing to wear compression stockings, using a compression device, or taking medication. For preventing pneumonia, this may include keeping up with the breathing and coughing exercises you learned in the hospital.
Incision and drainage tube care. Follow instructions you received in the hospital about when it’s safe to shower. Until then, keep the incision dry. Watch for signs of infection. Signs include increased redness, swelling, smelly discharge, or drainage from the incision. Keep your incision elevated above heart level, if you’ve been told to do so. If you have a drainage tube, care for it as instructed.
Activity. At your follow-up visit, ask your doctor when it’s safe to return to your regular level of activity. Work up to your former level of exercise slowly so you don’t get overtired or stress your surgical site.
Returning to work. Going back to work depends on your surgery and the type of job you do. Your surgeon will decide when you can return to work. It’s often 4 to 6 weeks after major surgery, and a few days after minor surgery. Wait 7 days before you return to work.
Driving. Do not drive until your surgeon tells you that you can. This is because some medications, such as those for pain, can cause you to be drowsy.
Get good nutrition. Healthy eating helps your body heal. But you may have some nausea after surgery. So try to eat what seems good to you. If you have a special diet before surgery, ask your doctor if you should follow it while you recover.
My follow-up visit is scheduled for:
Call 911 right away if you have any of the following:
Shortness of breath
Pain, swelling, redness, or warmth in the calf or thigh
Otherwise, call your surgeon immediately if you have any of the following:
Increased pain or pain that is not relieved with medications
Drainage, redness, or swelling around the incision
Incision opens up (cover it with a clean dressing or cloth)
Drainage tube falls out (do not try to put it back in)
Severe nausea and vomiting
Fever of 101°F or higher