What happens after surgery?

After a liver resection or transplant operation, you will be in intensive care or a high-dependency ward. Liver surgery is a major operation, so the nurses and doctor will monitor you closely.

You‘ll be encouraged to start moving about soon after your operation. The nurses will take care of any drips and drains you have and will check your wound regularly. You may have a fine tube going into your back or into a vein giving you continuous painkillers through a pump. This is until you can take painkillers as tablets.

After a resection you usually go home up to about a week after surgery. You will need to avoid lifting heavy loads for at least eight weeks to allow your wound to heal. Try to eat well, get plenty of rest and take some gentle exercise to help your recovery.

After a transplant, you will be in hospital for a few weeks and recovery takes longer. Your doctor or nurse will tell you what to expect and give you advice.

After your operation

After your operation, you will usually be taken to the intensive care ward or high-dependency unit for about 24 hours. This is routine with major operations. The liver has a very good blood supply and there is a risk that it may bleed after surgery. The doctors and nurses will monitor this by keeping a close check on your blood pressure. If you have a liver transplant, you will usually be in intensive care for a few days.


Moving around

The nurses will encourage you to start moving around as soon as possible. You’ll usually be helped to get out of bed the day after your operation or sooner. While you’re in bed, it’s important to move your legs regularly and do deep breathing exercises. This helps to prevent chest infections and blood clots. Your physiotherapist or nurse will show you how to do the exercises.


Drips and tubes

You may have some of the following for up to a few days:

  • A drip (infusion) into a vein in your arm or neck to give you fluids until you’re eating and drinking again.
  • A thin tube going into your back to give you painkilling drugs that numb the nerves and stop you feeling sore. This is called an epidural.
  • A tube that goes up your nose and down into your stomach (nasogastric tube). The nurses use this to remove fluid so you don’t feel sick.
  • A drainage tube to remove fluid from your wound, allowing it to heal properly.
  • A small, flexible tube going into your bladder to drain urine into a bag. This is called a urinary catheter.


Pain

There are effective ways to prevent and control pain after surgery. You will usually have painkillers given into your back for the first few days. During surgery, the anaesthetist puts a fine tube into your back and connects it to a pump that gives you a constant dose of painkillers.

Some people may have their painkillers given into a vein (intravenously) through an electronic pump, which gives you a constant dose of painkiller. If you feel sore, you can give yourself an extra dose by pressing a button but it’s set so you can’t have too much. This is called patient-controlled analgesia (PCA).

When you no longer need the epidural or PCA, you will have painkillers as tablets. Let your nurses and doctors know if you’re in pain, so they can give you the dose of painkillers that’s right for you.


Your wound

The nurses usually keep your wound covered with a dressing for the first few days. They will check it regularly to make sure it is healing well. After about ten days, they remove your staples or stitches. You may have this done by a district nurse who visits you at home after you leave hospital.


Going home

Most people are able to go home 5–8 days after their resection operation or 2–3 days after a laparoscopic resection. After a liver transplant, you will usually be in hospital for a few weeks. When you go home, you’ll have regular checks to make sure your body isn’t rejecting the new liver.

You will need painkillers for the next few weeks. It may take up to three months after a resection before you start getting back to normal. You need to avoid lifting heavy loads, such as shopping, or doing things like vacuuming or gardening for at least eight weeks to give your wound time to heal. Your specialist will tell you when you should be able to drive again. Recovery takes longer after a transplant and your doctor or nurse will tell you what to expect.

Make sure you get enough rest and eat well. This will help your recovery. Your liver specialist will advise you not to drink alcohol for about three months while your liver is regrowing. After a transplant, you need to avoid alcohol and smoking.

Gentle exercise, such as regular short walks will help build up your energy and you can gradually do more as you recover. It is usually fine to have sex anytime after the operation if you feel ready. You may find you’re just too tired or that your sex drive is low, but this should improve with time.

Some people take longer than others to recover. It depends on your situation, so don’t be hard on yourself.

At your check-up at the outpatient clinic, your doctor will check on your recovery and talk to you about the results of your operation. This is a good time for you to talk about any problems you’ve had after the operation, although you can contact them sooner if you are unwell or worried about anything.

Back to Surgery explained

Who might I meet?

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