The first few days after surgery
This page tells you what to expect for the first few days after your surgery and anaesthetic. There is detailed information below about
Just after your surgery
You are likely to be sleepy just after your operation. How quickly you recover depends on the type of surgery you have had and the type and length of the anaesthetic. People vary in how they feel afterwards. Some feel fine but others may feel groggy, cold, sick or a bit confused. Immediately after your operation you spend a short time in the recovery area of the operating theatre so the nurses can keep a close check on you. Once they know you are OK you go back to the ward. The nurses there will continue to keep a close check on you.
You will have a dressing over your wound. After some types of surgery you may have some tubes near your wound to drain any fluid that builds up. You may also have a drip giving you fluids into a vein until you can eat and drink normally. You may also have a tube in your bladder called a catheter until you can get up to pass urine normally.
You will have painkillers and these usually control pain well after surgery. Tell your nurse if you don’t think the painkillers are working well enough. Any pain gradually gets better as your wound heals.
Breathing and leg exercises help to prevent chest infections and blood clots. Your nurses or a physiotherapist will teach you how to do the exercises. You may have antibiotics to prevent a wound infection.
Eating and drinking
How soon you can eat and drink again depends on your type of operation. You may be able to eat on the day or you may have to start slowly and build up gradually.
Getting up and about
It is good to start moving around as soon as possible. This helps you to recover and reduces the chances of problems such as chest infections or blood clots. Most people get up the same day or the next day. As soon as you feel up to it, you can have visitors.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the surgery section.
You are likely to be sleepy. Exactly how sleepy you will be and how quickly you recover depends on the type of operation, and the type and length of your anaesthetic. People vary in how they feel straight after a general anaesthetic. Some feel fine but others feel
- A bit confused
- A bit tearful
When you first go back to the ward the nurses will carry on checking you – at first this will be every 15 minutes. They gradually check you less often as you recover, so that within a few hours they check you every 4 hours. These checks include your blood pressure, pulse, temperature and your wound.
You will have a dressing over your wound. You may have some tubes near your wound to drain any fluid that builds up. You will have a drip giving you fluids into a vein until you can eat and drink again. You may also have a tube in your bladder called a catheter. This will stay in until you can get up to pass urine normally.
Pain can now usually be very well controlled after surgery. Your doctors and nurses will give you painkillers by drip or as tablets or medicines if you need them. For some operations you may have an injection of anaesthetic into nearby nerves (a nerve block). This can work very well to control pain. You may also have a small pump attached to a drip do that you can give your own pain medicine as you need it.
It is important that pain is well controlled, so do tell your nurse if you don’t think it is working well enough. As well as making you more comfortable, the painkillers also help you to move around and breathe properly, which will help your recovery. Any pain will gradually get better as your wound heals. There is more information about controlling pain in the cancer and pain control section.
There are some possible problems after any surgery. These include
- Wound infection
- Chest infection
- Blood clots
- Fluid collection around the wound
Your doctors and nurses will do their best to prevent you getting these complications. They will ask you to help yourself too. Getting up and moving about as soon as possible after your operation helps to prevent chest infections and blood clots. A physiotherapist may also teach you breathing exercises to help prevent chest infections. And to help prevent blood clots they will teach you leg exercises and give you elastic stockings to wear while you are in bed. Your nurses may give you an injection just under the skin to minimise the risk of blood clots forming.
You may have antibiotics to help prevent infection. You may have them through your drip at first. But once you are eating and drinking, you can take them as tablets.
You may also have drainage tubes close to the wound to stop fluid collecting around the operation site. This is important because, as well as being uncomfortable or painful, fluid that does not drain away can become infected.
Below is a short video showing breathing and circulation exercises after surgery. Click on the arrow to watch it.
View a transcript of the video showing breathing and circulation exercises after surgery (opens in new window)
How soon you can eat and drink again will depend on the type of operation you have had. Most people can drink and then eat on the day of their operation. After some operations, such as bowel surgery, you may not be able to eat until the next day. This is because your bowel takes time to start working again.
When you do begin eating and drinking you may need to start slowly. Your nurses may suggest that you start with sips of water as soon as you are fully awake and then build up gradually. They will tell you when and what you can eat and drink. They may give you a carbohydrate rich drink to give you energy and help your recovery.
How quickly you can get out of bed and move around depends on the type of operation you have had. For most operations you will get up the same day or the next day. The nurses and the physiotherapist will tell you when you can get up and will help you if you need it. It is good to get moving as soon as possible. This helps you recover and reduces the chances of other problems, such as chest infection and blood clots.
Seeing people after an operation can be tiring. But as soon as you feel up to it, you can have visitors. It may help to tell people beforehand whether you are likely to have a drip or any other tubes so that they know what to expect. This is especially important for children.
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