What happens after surgery?

When you wake up after surgery you will probably feel drowsy. You may have some tubes attached to your body, such as a drip (intravenous infusion) to give you fluids until you are eating and drinking normally.

You may have some pain after your operation but this will be controlled with painkillers. Depending on the surgery you have had, it may be uncomfortable to sit down at first. This will improve as your wound heals.

You will be encouraged to move around as soon as possible after surgery, which will help you to recover quicker.

Your wound may be closed with clips, stitches or staples. They are usually removed after you go home by a nurse at your GP surgery.

How long it takes you to recover from surgery will depend on the type of operation you have had. Most people recover without any problems but tell a doctor straight away if you feel unwell or have:

  • bleeding
  • symptoms of an infection, such as a cough or discharge from your wound
  • swelling and redness in a limb.

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.


Possible complications

This will depend on the type of operation you had. The most common complications after surgery are:

  • a wound infection
  • bleeding in the operation area
  • a chest infection
  • a blood clot.

The nurses will monitor you for these. Let them know straight away if you:

  • have any bleeding
  • feel unwell
  • have symptoms of an infection, such as a cough or discharge from your wound
  • have swelling and redness in a limb.

Most people who have surgery go home without complications. But if you do have any problems when you get home, let a doctor know straight away.


Going home

This will depend on the type of operation you had. If it’s a small operation, you will be ready to go home after a couple of days.

After a bigger operation, it may take up to two weeks.

You’ll be given an appointment to attend an outpatient clinic for your post-operative check-up. If you have stitches, clips or staples in your wound, these are usually taken out 7 to 10 days after surgery. Your practice nurse or a district nurse can do this.

Some people take longer than others to recover from their operation. We have more information about getting ready to go home from hospital.

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.

If you have a stoma

Adjusting to a stoma takes time but most people manage well with support from their stoma care nurse.