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After surgery

Find out how you’ll feel, about post-surgery complications and your follow up appointments.

When you wake up after your operation

After a big operation, you wake up in the intensive care unit or a high dependency recovery unit. You usually move back to the ward within a day or so.

In intensive care you have one to one nursing care. In the high dependency unit you have very close nursing care. Your surgeon and anaesthetist also keep an eye on your progress.

These units are busy and often noisy places that some people find strange and disorienting. You'll feel drowsy because of the anaesthetic and painkillers.

Your wound

You have dressings over your wounds. Most people have 1 or 2 wounds after open surgery. After a couple of days your nurse changes the dressings and cleans your wounds.

Your stitches or clips stay in for at least 10 days. The nurse usually takes them out before you leave. You can go home with the stitches in if your wound’s still healing and you’re otherwise well. The practice, district or hospital nurse then takes them out. This could be at home or you might need to go back to hospital.

Before you go home, the nurse gives you information about how to care for the wound.

Tubes and drains

When you wake up, you’ll have several tubes in you.  This can be frightening, so it helps to know what they’re for.

You may have:

  • drips to give you blood transfusions and fluids usually through a vein in your neck
  • wound drains to drain any blood or fluid
  • a chest drain to help your lung expand if you’ve had your stomach and part of your food pipe removed (oesophagogastrectomy)
  • a nasogastric tube down your nose and into your stomach to drain it and stop you feeling sick
  • a tube into your bladder (catheter) to measure how much urine you pass
  • a small tube into a artery to check your blood pressure

You might also have an oxygen mask on.

Electronic pumps can control any medicine you have through your drip.

Painkillers

It’s normal to have pain for the first week or so. You have painkillers to help.

Tell your doctor or nurse as soon as you feel any pain. They need your help to find the right type and dose of painkiller for you. Painkillers work best when you take them regularly.

Immediately after surgery you might have painkillers through a drip into the bloodstream that you control. This is called patient controlled analgesia (PCA).

Or you might have painkillers through a small thin tube that is put into your back. This tube is connected to a pump that gives you a constant dose of painkiller. This is called an epidural.

You get painkillers to take home. Follow the instructions your nurse gives you about how often and when to take them. Contact your doctor if you still have pain or if it gets worse.

Eating and drinking

Immediately after surgery you can’t eat or drink and will take fluids through a drip. When you can drink again, start with sips of water. This is usually within 24 to 48 hours.

You’ll gradually build up what you can drink and eat. Most people are able to eat small amounts within a week or so.

Some people need a feeding tube to help them maintain their nutrition. It can go into the small bowel or into a vein (a drip). 

You’re likely to go home with a feeding tube in place. You keep the tube in for 4 to 6 weeks whether or not you’re using it, just in case you have any problems. 

You’ll see the dietitian most days while you’re in hospital. You can contact them once you get home if you have any problems.

Vitamin B12 injections

We need vitamin B12 to make blood. The stomach produces a substance called intrinsic factor that lets us absorb it from our food.

Removal of all or part of the stomach means you can‘t do this anymore.  So, you’ll need to have regular injections of vitamin B12. You usually have them 3 monthly. You’ll have regular blood tests to see if you need them more often.

You could have your first injection before you leave the hospital. Then you’ll get these injections from your GP.

Getting up

Your nurses and physiotherapists help you to move around as soon as possible. They check you’re doing your breathing and leg exercises. This helps you recover.

You might be sitting in a chair within 12 hours of your operation. The day after, you’ll be walking around your bed. And within a few days you’ll be able to walk along the hospital corridor.

Making progress

During the first few days after your operation, you’ll start to feel better. The drips and drains will come out, you’ll start eating and can move about better.

You’ll begin to feel like you’re making progress. Most people go home about 10 to 14 days after the operation.

Going home

You’ll need help when you first go home. The dietitian will talk to you and your family about what to eat. It can take some time to find what works for you.

You’re likely to feel very tired for several weeks and sometimes months after your surgery. It helps to do a bit more every day.

Try:

  • sitting for less time each day
  • walking around the house a bit more each day
  • building up to walking outside

What you can do depends on how fit you were before your surgery and any problems you have afterwards. Talk to the physiotherapist or your doctor if you’re unsure about what you should be doing.

Contact your doctor or specialist nurse if you have any problems or symptoms you’re unsure about.You’ll have follow up appointments to check your recovery and fix any problems. They’re also your opportunity to raise any concerns you have.

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.