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. Always let the nurses 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.

Most women are able to go home 3–7 days after their operation. This will depend on the operation you had and how quickly you recover.

You can usually have the stitches on your wound removed after about seven days. A nurse can do this at your home. So that it can heal properly, you shouldn’t have sex for at least six weeks after the operation.

This can be a difficult time if the operation has affected your fertility (ability to get pregnant). Your clinical nurse specialist or our cancer support specialists can help support you.

When you wake up after surgery

Knowing what will happen when you wake up after your operation can help you feel less anxious. It also prepares your family and friends for what to expect.

You will probably feel quite drowsy and may not remember much about the first couple of hours after you wake up. A nurse will take your blood pressure regularly so you might be aware of the blood pressure cuff tightening on your arm every so often.

Depending on the operation you have you may have some tubes attached to your body. If you had a small operation you may not have any tubes at all. Here’s a list of the most common types of tubes to have following an operation:

  • A drip (intravenous infusion) to give you fluids until you are able to eat and drink normally. This may only be for a few hours or a few days, depending on the operation you’ve had.
  • You may have a tube (drain) in your wound to drain excess fluid into a small bottle. This is usually removed after a few days.
  • A small tube (catheter) may be put into your bladder so that urine is drained into a collection bag. The catheter is usually removed when you start walking about.
  • Some people may have a tube that goes up the nose and down into the stomach. It’s called a naso-gastric tube and is used to remove fluid from the stomach until the bowel starts working again.

Not everyone will need all of these.


Pain

It’s normal to have some pain or discomfort for a few days after surgery, but this can be controlled effectively with painkillers. It’s important to let your doctor know as soon as possible if the pain isn’t controlled, so that your painkillers can be changed.

You may be given painkillers through an epidural for the first day after surgery. This is a small, thin tube that’s inserted in your back into the space just outside the membranes surrounding your spinal cord. An epidural will give you continuous pain relief.

Or you may have painkillers through a pump known as a patient-controlled analgesia pump (PCA pump). A PCA pump will be attached to a fine tube (cannula), which is placed in a vein in your arm. You can control the pump yourself using a handset that you press when you need more of the painkiller. It’s fine to press the handset whenever you have pain, as the pump is designed so that you can’t give yourself too much painkiller. You will be shown how to use this type of pump.

Some painkillers can cause constipation. Let your nurse know if you have difficulty opening your bowels.


Wind and constipation

Some women have difficulty opening their bowels or have uncomfortable wind for a few days after the operation.

Tell the nurses if you have this. They can give you medicines to relieve discomfort and constipation. Constipation and wind usually get better once you’re up and moving around more. Drinking plenty of fluids and eating high-fibre foods can also help ease constipation.

We have more information to help you cope with wind and constipation.


Your wound

You usually have staples or stitches removed after about seven days. A district nurse or practice nurse can do this after you go home. Sometimes dissolving stitches are used.


Going home

Most women are able to go home 3–7 days after their operation. This will depend on the operation you had and how quickly you recover.

Before you go home you’ll be given an appointment for the outpatient clinic to see the surgeon and specialist nurse. They check your wound is healing properly and you are recovering well.

They will also tell you more about the results of your operation and any further treatment you might need. This is a good opportunity to ask questions and to discuss any problems. If you have any difficulties or worries before your appointment, phone your ward nurses or hospital doctor.


Physical activity

You’ll still be recovering for some time after you go home and will need to take things easy for several weeks. It can take three months or more to fully recover, and longer if you’re having chemotherapy as well.

Avoid strenuous exercise or heavy lifting for at least 12 weeks. Your physiotherapist or specialist nurse will give you advice about this.

Build up your energy levels gradually. Taking regular walks is a good way of doing this. You can increase the amount you do as you feel able.

We have more information about how physical activity can help with your recovery after treatment.


Driving

How soon you can drive will depend on the extent of the surgery you’ve had and how quickly you recover. You’ll need to feel comfortable wearing a seatbelt and be able to carry out an emergency stop if necessary. Some insurance policies give specific time limits, so it’s a good idea to contact your insurance company to check you’re covered before driving again.


Sex

Your surgeon will usually advise you not to have sex for at least six weeks after your operation. This is to give your wound time to heal properly. After that you’ll be able to get back to your usual sex life. But it’s not unusual to need more time before you feel ready, especially if you’re having other treatments as well. We have more information about the female body and sex.


Early menopause

If you were still having periods before your operation, having your ovaries removed will bring on an early menopause. This may cause physical changes such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness. We have more information about menopause.


Fertility

Fertility is a very important part of many people’s lives, and not being able to have children can seem especially hard when you already have cancer to cope with. It can help to discuss your feelings with a partner, relative or close friend, or with your specialist nurse. Your specialist nurse or GP can usually arrange counselling for you.

We have more information about cancer and fertility for women.

Back to Surgery explained

Surgery for ovarian cancer

There are different types of surgery used to treat ovarian cancer. Your specialist doctor will talk to you about these.