What happens after surgery?

When you wake up after surgery you will probably still be very drowsy. You may not remember much about the first few hours. You may have some tubes attached to your body, such as a drip (intravenous infusion) to give you fluids until you’re able to eat and drink normally. A nurse will check your blood pressure regularly. The nurses will give you drugs to help control any pain or sickness. Always let them know if you’re in pain or feel sick.

When you’re fully awake, the ward staff will help you get up and move about, which will help you to recover quicker.

Your wound will be closed with clips or stitches. If it feels hot or painful, bleeds or leaks fluid, let your doctor know straight away.

You may find you need time to regain and rebuild your physical and emotional health. Your doctor will explain what to expect.

After your operation, try not to expect too much of yourself. How long it takes you to recover will depend on the type of operation you have had.

After your operation

When you wake up after surgery you will probably feel quite drowsy. You may not remember much about the first couple of hours after you wake up. A nurse will take your blood pressure regularly. Depending on the type of operation, you may have some tubes attached to your body. If you had a small operation, you may not have any tubes at all.

You may have some of the following, but not everyone will need all of these:

  • A drip (intravenous infusion) to give you fluids until you are eating and drinking normally.
  • A tube (drain) in your wound to drain extra fluid into a small bottle. This is usually removed after a few days.
  • A small tube (catheter) in your bladder that drains urine into a collection bag. It is usually removed when you start walking around.
  • A tube going up the nose and into the stomach (naso-gastric tube) to remove fluid from the stomach until the bowel starts working again.

Pain

You may have some pain after surgery, but this will be controlled with painkillers. You may have painkillers:

  • as tablets
  • as injections
  • through a tube into a vein in your hand or arm (cannula), which is connected to a pump
  • as a continuous dose into the spinal fluid through a fine tube and a pump (epidural).

The pain control you need will depend on the type of operation you’ve had. Always let the nurse know if you are still in pain.

Painkillers occasionally make it difficult to have a bowel motion (constipation). If your bowels aren’t moving, let your nurses know. They can give you medicines to help them move more regularly.

After an APR, it may be uncomfortable to sit down. This will improve as the wound heals.

Moving around

After your operation, you’ll be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible. Even if you have to stay in bed, it’s important to do regular leg movements and deep-breathing exercises. A physiotherapist or nurse will explain these exercises to you.

To reduce the risk of blood clots, you will wear special stockings. You may also be given injections under the skin of a drug (heparin) that prevents blood clots.

Feeling sick or being sick

The nurse will give you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) injections or drugs to control any sickness. If you still feel sick, tell the nurse looking after you.

Wound care

Your wounds may be closed with stitches, clips or staples. They are usually removed after you go home by a practice nurse at your GP surgery. Some surgeons use dissolving stitches that don’t need to be removed.

Sometimes your surgeon may use a flap of tissue to close the wound, instead of stitches or clips. This is more likely if you have already had radiotherapy. If your doctors used a flap of tissue to close your wound, you will need to lie on your side for 3 to 4 days after your operation. This reduces pressure on your wound and helps it heal.

You will be able to sit on your bottom for five minutes at first.

As things improve, you slowly increase this amount of time.

Your doctor will give you advice about how often to change position when sitting.

You may be given antibiotics to help prevent any wound infection. While you are in hospital and after you go home, tell your nurse or doctor straight away if your wound:

  • becomes hot
  • becomes painful
  • bleeds
  • leaks any fluids.


After surgery

Pain

You may have some pain after surgery, but this will be controlled with painkillers.

You can also have pain killers as tablets or as injections, or through a tube into a vein in your hand or arm (cannula) connected to a pump. The pain control you’llneed will depend on the operation you’ve had. Some people have a continuous dose of painkiller into the spinal fluid through a fine tube and a pump. This is called an epidural. Always let the nurse know if you are still in pain.Before you go home, your pain will be controlled by tablets. You’ll be given a prescription for painkillers you can take at home as needed.

You may still have some aches and twinges close to the scar for several weeks after surgery.

Feeling sick (nausea) and being sick (vomiting)

The nurse will give you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) injections or drugs to help control any sickness. If you still feel sick, tell the nurse looking after you.

Moving around

You will be encouraged to get up fairly soon after your operation. The ward staff will help you with this as you may need some help to wash and go to the toilet. Once you are moving about more freely, you’ll probably be able to manage this for yourself.

Moving around will help you recover more quickly and help reduce the risk of complications.

Breathing and leg exercises can also help reduce the risk of problems that can happen after surgery, such as chest infections and blood clots. Your nurse or physiotherapist will teach you these exercises. You may also be given medication to help prevent blood clots forming in the first few days after your surgery. This is known as an anti-coagulant. It is given as an injection into the tissues just under the skin, usually in your tummy.

Wound care

The wound is closed using clips or stitches. These are usually removed after you go home by a practice nurse at your GP surgery. Some surgeons use dissolving stitches that don’t need to be removed. These will dissolve completely when the area is healed. You may be given antibiotics to help prevent wound infection.

It's important to let your nurse or doctor know straight away if your wound becomes hot, painful or begins to bleed or leak any fluids, even after you go home.

Scars

Your scar may feel itchy at first. It will look like a red line, which may feel a bit lumpy. This will gradually fade over time.

After surgery you will have to take things slowly and easily to build up your strength. This is doable and you will do it and get through it.

Christine, affected by cancer


Possible complications of surgery

The most common complications after surgery are a wound infection, bleeding, a chest infection or a blood clot.

The nurses will monitor you for these. Let them know straight away if you feel unwell, have any bleeding, or notice swelling and redness in a limb. You should also tell them if you have symptoms of an infection, such as a cough or discharge from your wound.

After open surgery to the kidney, some people develop a bulge along their scar. Doctors call this an incisional hernia. It can happen because of weakness in the muscles around the scar.


Going home

How long you stay in hospital depends on the type of operation you have and how quickly you recover. After laparoscopic surgery, most people are home within 2–5 days. After an open operation, most people are home within 5–7 days. It’s common to feel more tired than usual for about six weeks after the operation. Most people feel fully recovered after about 12 weeks.

Your surgeon or nurse can tell you when you’ll be able to get back to doing everyday activities, like shopping, gardening, driving, having sex, playing sport or going to work.

Back to Surgery explained

Surgery for kidney cancer

Surgery may be the only treatment you need. The operation you have will depend on the stage of the cancer.

Who might I meet?

A team of specialists will plan your surgery. This will include a surgeon who specialises in your type of cancer.