You will be in a recovery area when you wake up from the anaesthetic. The recovery area is next to the operating theatre. A recovery nurse will keep a close eye on you. They will check your heart rate and blood pressure. You might have an oxygen mask on.
Once you have woken up and are stable, you will be taken back to your ward. You will be sleepy for a few hours after the operation. How long this lasts depends on the type of surgery you had and the length of your anaesthetic. Some people feel fine after an anaesthetic. Others can feel groggy, tearful, cold and sick.
On the ward
When you first go back to the ward the nurses will keep a check on you. At first they will do checks every 15 minutes. Gradually they check you less often, so that within a few hours it will be every 4 hours. The checks include your blood pressure, pulse, temperature and a check on your wound.
Some surgery for salivary gland cancer is done through the mouth, so the wound will have stitches but no dressing. You might have a dressing if your wound is on the neck or face. Your surgeon may just sprayed the wound with a protective clear spray.
Your doctors and nurses will check your wound regularly to make sure it is healing well. They will also check for signs of infection.
Removing stitches or clips
You might have stitches or clips that stay in for up to 10 days. These may be removed while you are still in hospital. But if you are recovering well enough, you may be able to go home before they come out. You will either go back to the hospital to have them taken out, or a district nurse can visit you at home.
Sometimes doctors use stitches that dissolve and don’t need to be removed. Your surgeon or nurse will tell you which stitches you have.
Tubes and drains
You may have one or more small tubes near your wound to drain fluid. Stopping fluid build up near the wound helps it to heal and reduces the chance of infection. Once there is no fluid draining your nurse will take the tubes out. This is usually within a couple of days.
You may have a drip in your arm. This keeps you hydrated. Once you are drinking and eating, your nurse will take it out.
You may also have antibiotics through your drip to help stop you getting an infection.
Your nurses will give you painkillers by drip or injection immediately after your operation. Once you are able to eat and drink you can take them as tablets or as liquid medicines.
You might also have painkillers through a drip that you control. This is called patient controlled analgesia (PCA). You have a tube connected to a pump that gives you a constant dose of painkiller. You then just press a button to give yourself more painkillers when you need it.
It's normal to feel pain for the first week or so. It is important that your pain is well controlled so that you can get up and about more quickly, breathe properly and sleep better. All of these will help you recover.
Eating and drinking
When you can start eating and drinking again after surgery depends on the type of operation you had.
You may have to wait a few days if you have a sublingual or minor salivary gland cancer, and you have had surgery through your mouth. This allows the wound inside your mouth to heal. You will have fluid through a drip until you can eat and drink normally again. You can also wet your mouth with small amounts of ice or water.
You may not be able to eat or drink for 7 to 10 days if you have had reconstructive surgery. During this time, you may be fed through a nasogastric tube. A speech and language therapist may help you if it is difficult for you to swallow.
Talking after surgery
It can be difficult to talk after salivary gland cancer surgery. This is usually temporary and most people are able to speak normally once the swelling and bruising has gone.
People most likely to have a problem include those who have:
- had surgery through their mouth
- had surgery to their jaw
- swelling or bruising around the nerves that control the tongue and lips
Having trouble speaking can be very frustrating. The team looking after you will be aware of this and will give you paper and a pen so that you can write down what you want to say. A speech and language therapist will see you if you continue to have problems with talking.
It can be particularly difficult to cope with surgery to your face. You might worry about how you will look after the operation. Remember that some surgeries are done through the mouth so not everyone will have a scar line.
Your face will be swollen after the operation. But this will settle down after a few days. The swelling may last longer if you have your lymph nodes removed.
Most people are able to go home within a week. But it depends on the type of surgery. You may still be tired and it will take a few weeks to fully recover.
Your nurse will arrange for stitches or clips to be taken out before you go home. You will also have an appointment to see your surgeon in the outpatient department. This is usually about 6 weeks after your operation.