Recovering after pelvic exenteration

It can take a while to recover after pelvic exenteration. After the operation, you will have some drips and drains in place. You will need painkilling drugs for a few weeks after the operation. Your nurse will encourage you to move about. They will show you leg movements and breathing exercises, and will help you get out of bed.

A stoma nurse will help you change your stoma bags. It can take a while to get used to living with a stoma. You’ll need support when you go home after surgery. The hospital staff can arrange help for you if you live on your own. Nurses will visit you at home to help look after your wound and stomas.

Try to take things slowly after your operation. Over time, you will be able to do more and you will have more energy. It may take up to 12 weeks after surgery before you start to feel better. It may also take up to six months after surgery for your body to heal. Only do as much as you feel able to.

What happens after the pelvic exenteration operation?

After the pelvic exenteration operation, you will be in an intensive care or high-dependency unit for the first few days. You will probably be in hospital for about two to three weeks.

When you wake up after the operation, you will have dressings on your tummy (abdomen).

You may also have the following:

  • A drip going into a vein in your arm or neck (intravenous infusion). This will give you food and fluids until you are able to eat and drink again. It may also be used to give you painkillers.
  • A fine tube going into your back (epidural). This may be used to give you drugs that numb the nerves and stop you feeling sore.
  • A fine tube that passes down your nose and into your stomach or small intestine. This is called a nasogastric tube. It allows any fluids in the stomach to be removed, so you don't feel sick. You may need this for a few days.
  • One or more drainage tubes coming from your wound to collect any extra fluid or blood. These will be removed when the amount of fluid draining has reduced.
  • A bag covering your colostomy.
  • A bag covering your urostomy or a tube coming from your urostomy (depending on the type of urostomy).

Pain control after pelvic exenteration

You will need painkilling drugs for a few weeks after the operation.

To begin with, you’ll be given painkillers into a vein (intravenously) or into the space around your spinal cord (epidural anaesthesia). The painkillers are usually given continuously through a pump. The pump may have a hand control with a button you can press. This is to give yourself pain control if you feel sore. This is called patient-controlled analgesia (PCA). It is designed so you can’t give yourself too much painkiller (overdose), so it’s okay to press it whenever you’re uncomfortable.

It’s important to let the doctor or nurses on the ward know if you are in pain, so that the dose can be increased or the painkillers changed as soon as possible. When you are ready to go home, your pain will be controlled with tablets and you will be given a prescription of painkillers to take.

Getting moving after pelvic exenteration

You will be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible after the operation. This is an essential part of your recovery. When you’re in bed, it is important to do regular leg movements and deep breathing exercises. A physiotherapist or nurse will explain these to you.

A few days after your operation, your nurses will help you get out of bed and sit in a chair. Once all your drips and drains are out, you’ll find it easier to move around and take short walks around the ward.

Stomas after pelvic exenteration

After a few days, you will start being able to do more for yourself. Your stoma nurse will teach you how to change your stoma bags. You may feel worried about doing this to begin with, but most people find they get used to caring for their stoma.

Learning to look after a stoma takes time and patience, and no one expects you to be able to cope straight away. Like anything new, it will get easier with time and practice.

Going home after pelvic exenteration

When you go home, you will need extra help and support for a few weeks as your body heals. If you live alone and don’t have anyone who can stay with you, tell the hospital staff so they can arrange help for you.

A district nurse will visit you in your home to help you care for your wound and stomas. You will also continue to see your stoma nurse. They will support and advise you while you are learning to care for your stomas.

Recovery from pelvic exenteration takes a long time. It may take about 8 to 12 weeks after your surgery before you really start to feel better. Build up your activities slowly and only do as much as you feel able to. Your surgeon or nurse will tell you what things to avoid doing until you have had time to heal. As time goes on, you’ll begin to feel stronger and have more energy.

How long it takes you to return to work depends on the type of job you do. Ask your surgeon if you are unsure of how much time off you’ll need. Many people don’t feel completely healed for up to six months after surgery, and it can take a year or more to fully adjust.

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