What happens after surgery?

You may be taken to the intensive care ward or high-dependency unit for about 24 hours. This is because there is a risk the liver may bleed after surgery. The doctors and nurses will keep a close check on your blood pressure.

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

  • a drip (infusion) into a vein
  • an epidural
  • a nasogastric tube
  • a drainage tube
  • a urinary catheter.

You’re likely to have some pain after your operation, but this can be controlled effectively with painkillers. You will also have a dressing over your wound(s) for the first few days. Always let your doctor know if your wound becomes hot, painful or starts to leak fluid, as these are possible signs of infection.

You’ll be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible after surgery. While you’re in bed, it’s important to move your legs regularly to help prevent blood clots.

Most people are able to go home 3–6 days after an open resection operation, or 2–3 days after keyhole surgery. But it may take up to three months after a resection before you start getting back to normal.

After your operation

You may be taken to the intensive care ward or high-dependency unit for about 24 hours. This is because 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 you by keeping a close check on your blood pressure.

Drips and tubes

You may have some of the following for 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 (see below).
  • 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

You’re likely to have some pain and discomfort after your operation, 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.

To start with you’ll need a strong painkiller, such as morphine. This can be given to you by injection or through a pump attached to a needle in your arm which you control yourself. This is called Patient Controlled Analgesia (PCA) and you will be shown how to use it.

You may be given painkillers through an epidural for a few days after your operation. A small tube is inserted in your back into the space just outside the membranes surrounding your spinal cord. A local anaesthetic can be given continuously into this space to numb the nerves in the operation area.

Your wound

You’ll have a dressing over your wound(s), which may be left undisturbed for the first few days. After this you will usually have the dressings changed if there is any leakage from the wound. If necessary you can have any stitches or staples removed after you have gone home. This will be done by a district nurse in your own home or at your GP surgery.

Always let your doctor know if your wound becomes hot, painful or starts to leak fluid, as these are possible signs of infection.


Moving around

The nurses will encourage you to start moving around as soon as possible. You will usually be helped to get out of bed the day after your operation or sooner. While you’re in bed, it is important to move your legs regularly to help prevent blood clots. You may be given special boots to wear. These encourage blood flow in your legs and reduce the risk of blood clots. You will be encouraged to do deep breathing exercises. This helps to prevent chest infections. A physiotherapist or nurse will show you how to do the exercises.


Going home

The nurses will encourage you to start moving around as soon as possible. You will usually be helped to get out of bed the day after your operation or sooner. While you’re in bed, it is important to move your legs regularly to help prevent blood clots. You may be given special boots to wear. These encourage blood flow in your legs and reduce the risk of blood clots. You will be encouraged to do deep breathing exercises. This helps to prevent chest infections. A physiotherapist or nurse will show you how to do the exercises.Most people are able to go home 3–6 days after an open resection operation or 2–3 days after keyhole surgery.

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.

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.

Gentle exercise like 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 as you recover.

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.