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After surgery

It can help to know what to expect when you wake up. You may have a drip going into a vein in your arm or hand. You could feel quite drowsy at first.   

When you wake up

After your operation you usually wake up in the recovery room in theatre. You go back to the ward as soon as you're awake and your temperature, blood pressure, pulse and breathing rate are stable.

You'll feel drowsy for a while because of the anaesthetic and painkillers. 

Tubes and drains

You may have a drip in place to give you fluids until you are eating and drinking again. To help prevent any infection in your wound you may have antibiotics given through the drip.

You might have a tube (catheter) put into your bladder while you are in theatre. Depending on the operation you've had, this may only stay in overnight. Or you may need it in for a longer period of time. The catheter will drain urine from your bladder. You won't have to go to the toilet or use a bedpan for a wee. The tube will stop urine from coming into contact with your wound.

If you have had lymph nodes removed from one or both groins, you will probably have a tube called a drain coming out of each groin wound. This drains fluid that collects in the groin area and helps to prevent swelling and infection. Each drain connects to a bottle to collect the fluid.

It usually stays in until no more fluid is coming out. Sometimes you may have the drain removed when only small amounts of fluid is draining out. The time this takes varies and the drain may stay in for up to 14 days.

Eating and drinking

You should be able to eat and drink as soon as you have got over your anaesthetic. If you have had a drip to give you fluids, this can come down once you are eating and drinking again.

Your wound

You may or may not have a dressing covering your wound. Some surgeons prefer to leave the wound uncovered so that it can be regularly cleaned with warm sterile water. Your nurse will do this for you. Other surgeons like the wound covered for a few days. If you do have a dressing over the wound your nurse will change the dressing and clean the wound regularly.

Your wound may appear bruised or swollen, this will gradually get better but can take a couple of weeks. 

The stitches are usually soluble, so you don't have to have them taken out. Sometimes they don't dissolve and will be removed when the area has healed – after at least 10 days.

Looking at the vulva

Some women may choose to look at the vulval area soon after surgery, others may prefer to wait. There is no right or wrong way and It is important that you are ready.

Your nurse can be with you the first time you do this.

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.

Getting over surgery

You should get over a small operation quite quickly.

It will take longer to recover after a bigger operation. You should allow at least 6 to 8 weeks to get over it. Do bear in mind, though, that it takes longer than that for some women to recover. If it is taking you a while, you aren't doing anything wrong. Some people just heal more quickly than others. Talk to your surgeon or nurse specialist at your follow up appointment if you are at all concerned.

This is an awkward place to have surgery. You will find moving around difficult at first. It is a good idea not to walk too much for the first few weeks, as this will put a strain on the healing wound and can be painful.

Prevention of blood clots and chest infection

You’re usually up and about the day after your operation. When resting it is important to keep doing the leg and breathing exercises you learned before your surgery. This is important as helps to reduce the risk of blood clots and chest infection.

You may also have compression stockings to help prevent bloods clots and you might need to continue wearing them when you go home. Some people might also have injections after their operation to prevent blood clots.

Keeping comfortable

You may find it better to lie propped up on your side, rather than try to sit. An air cushion can make sitting more comfortable. You should try to only sit on your wound for short periods of time. 

To keep the area clean and as comfortable as possible, you could try:

  • having short warm baths as often as you like - don't put any perfumed bath products, soap, creams, lotions or talc on the wound area
  • rinsing your vulval area after passing urine by pouring a jug of warm water over while you are sitting on the toilet
  • using a hairdryer on a cold or cool setting to dry the area instead of a towel
  • taking a stool softener, such as lactulose, to make sure you don't get constipated

Your wound will probably heal without any problems. But if you develop oozing, a discharge that smells, heavy bleeding or have increasing pain, contact your doctor straight away. You may have an infection and need antibiotics.

Tips when you are at home

  • Wear loose clothing, it may be more comfortable to wear a skirt without underwear or with boxer shorts.
  • Avoid having sex until the wound has fully healed. Your surgeon will let you know when your wound had healed at your follow up appointment.
  • Avoid using perfumed soaps and creams on the vulval area.
  • Continue with exercises advised by your physiotherapist.
  • Do not drive until the wound has healed.

Possible problems after surgery

There is a risk of problems or complications after any operation. Many problems are minor. It is important that you let your doctor know of any problems as soon as possible so you can get the treatment you need.

Follow up appointments

You'll have regular appointments to check on how you are recovering. This is your opportunity to ask any questions about your recovery and get help if you have any problems or concerns. 

Last reviewed: 
25 Apr 2019
  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (9th edition)
    L Dougherty and S Lister 
    Wiley Blackwell, 2015

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