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.
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.