After your operation

Knowing what will happen when you wake up after your operation can help you feel less anxious. Most people will be cared for in a high-dependency unit for a few days after their operation. You will probably feel quite drowsy and may not remember much about the first day or two after your operation.

Usually the day after your operation the nurses will help you get out of bed and encourage you to move around. A physiotherapist will also give you deep breathing and leg exercises to do.

You usually have some drips and tubes in place. These help to give you fluids, food and painkillers, and remove fluid from your wound. You won’t usually have anything to drink or eat for the first 48 hours after surgery.

You can usually go home 10 to 14 days after your operation. You will still need to rest for a few weeks so your wound can heal. You will have a follow-up appointment at the outpatient clinic so your doctor can check your recovery.

After your operation

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. How quickly you recover will depend on the type of surgery you’ve had.

Most people will be cared for in a high-dependency unit for a few days after their operation. You will probably feel quite drowsy and may not remember much about the first day or two after your operation.

The nurses will encourage you to start moving around as soon as possible. They’ll usually help you to get out of bed the day after your operation. 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. A nurse or physiotherapist will show you how to do the exercises.

Drips and tubes

After the operation, you may have some of the following for a short time:

  • A thin tube going into your back (epidural). This can be used to give you painkilling drugs.
  • A drip (infusion) into a vein in your arm or neck to give you fluids until you’re eating and drinking again. It may also be used to give you painkillers.
  • A fine tube (naso-gastric tube) that goes up your nose and down into your stomach or small intestine. It drains fluids so you don’t feel sick. You may need this for several days.
  • A feeding tube (jejunostomy), which goes into the small bowel through a small cut in the abdomen. It is used to give you food and nutrients until you’re able to eat again.
  • A small, flexible tube into your bladder to drain urine into a bag (urinary catheter).
  • A drainage tube from your wound to drain fluid and blood.

Drinking and eating

You won’t usually have anything to drink or eat for the first 48 hours after surgery. You will then have small sips of clear fluids. The amount of fluids will be slowly increased. After a few days, when you’re able to drink enough, you’ll start to have light foods and then normal food in smaller-sized meals. This gives the new joins made during surgery some time to heal.

Some people go home with their feeding tube still in to make sure they get enough food and nutrients and don’t lose weight. Before leaving hospital, your nurse or dietitian will show you how to use your feeding tube. If you have a carer, they can have training too.

Pain control (analgesia)

After your operation, you’ll need painkilling drugs for a few days.

To begin with, you may have an epidural. This is given into the space around the spinal cord to numb the nerves in the part of your body where the surgery is carried out.

If you are having an epidural, the anaesthetist puts a fine tube into your back before the operation. They connect the tube to a pump to give you a continuous dose of painkillers. Because the tube is very fine, you can still lie on your back when you have an epidural in place. You are also able to sit up and walk around while having this type of pain control.

Some people are given painkilling drugs into a vein (intravenously). These can be given continuously through an electronic pump.

You may have a hand control with a button you can press to give you a boost of painkilling medicine if you feel sore. This is called patient-controlled analgesia (PCA). This is designed so that you can’t have too much painkiller (an overdose), so it’s okay to press it whenever you are sore.

When you no longer need the epidural or PCA, you have painkillers as tablets or liquids.

It is important to let your doctor or nurse know if you are in pain so that the dose can be increased, or the painkillers changed, as soon as possible.

Pain can usually be well controlled with painkillers.

Wound care

The wound is closed using clips or stitches. These are usually removed 7 to 10 days after your operation. Some surgeons use dissolving stitches that don’t need to be removed. These will dissolve completely when the area is healed. You will have a dressing covering your wound, which may be left undisturbed for the first few days. It is 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.


Going home

You’ll probably be ready to go home about 10 to 14 days after your operation. You’ll still be recovering for some time after you go home and will need to take things easy for a few weeks.

Try building up the amount you do gradually. Gentle exercise, such as regular walks, will build up your energy. You can increase the amount you do as you feel better. Some people take longer than others to recover. It depends on your situation so don’t be hard on yourself.

Avoid lifting heavy loads like shopping, or doing vacuuming or gardening, for at least eight weeks to give your wound time to heal.

If you feel able, it’s usually fine to drive four to six weeks after your operation. Some insurance policies give specific time limits. You should not drive until you can drive safely and perform an emergency stop. It’s a good idea to contact your car insurers to check you’re covered before driving again.

If you feel ready, it is usually fine to have sex from about four weeks after the operation.

We have more information about going home from hospital, which explains how to get support once you’re home.

Following your operation you will feel very tired so you need to listen to your body and rest when needed. I found this out the hard way as I was trying to do too much too soon.

Donna


Outpatient appointment

You will have an appointment for a check-up at the outpatient clinic. The ward staff may give you this appointment before you leave hospital.

At this appointment the 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. You should contact your doctor or specialist nurse sooner if you are unwell or worried about anything.


Emotional support

You can contact your specialist nurse if you need advice or support after your operation.

Sometimes you may want to talk to someone who’s not directly involved with you. Call our cancer support specialists on 0800 808 00 00 if you need to talk. They can also give you details of support groups in your area.

You may find our Online Community helpful. There you can talk to others who are going through similar experiences.

Back to Surgery explained

Eating after your operation

After surgery for stomach cancer, it may take time to adjust and eat well again. Your doctor or dietitian can give you advice.