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Learning About What to Expect at Home After Surgery

What do you need to know when you leave the hospital after surgery?

Each person recovers from surgery at a different pace. Your discharge plan will help you leave the hospital safely. It will outline the care you need. And it will give you information about the things you'll need to do at home.

Make sure you get your plan in writing. Look for information on:

  • What your medicines are and how to take them.
  • When you need to see the doctor again or get any follow-up tests.
  • How and when to change bandages.
  • What to do about any pain or infection.
  • How active you can be. This may include physiotherapy.
  • How to prevent falls.
  • Things you can eat or drink and things to avoid.

What do you need to know about taking medicines?

Your doctor will talk with you about restarting your medicines. The doctor will also tell you about taking any new medicines.

  • If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, be sure to talk to your doctor. You will be told if and when to start taking those medicines again.
  • If your doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
  • If you aren't taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.

How can you take care of your incision?

If you have a cut (incision), follow your doctor's instructions. If you didn't get instructions, follow this general advice:

  • You'll have a bandage over the cut. This helps the incision heal and protects it.
    • Change the bandage daily or more often if needed.
    • If you have strips of tape on the cut, leave them on until they fall off.
    • If you have stitches or staples, your doctor will tell you when to have them removed.
    • If you have skin glue (liquid stitches), leave it on until it falls off.
  • Gently wash the area daily with warm water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol.
  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery. Before showering, cover the bandage with a plastic bag or use another method of keeping it dry. Pat the incision dry if it gets damp. Don't swim or take a bath until your doctor tells you it's okay.

When can you be active again?

One of the most important things you can do for yourself after surgery is to get up and move around several times a day. But be careful not to do too much.

Here are some tips:

  • Don't move quickly or lift anything heavy until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Taking short walks is a good way to help your body heal.
  • Rest when you feel tired.

Your doctor may give you instructions on when you can do your normal activities again, such as driving, having sex, and going back to work.

What do you need to know about eating?

If your doctor told you when you can start eating and what foods you can eat, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:

  • You can eat your normal diet when you feel well. Start with small amounts of food.
  • If your bowel movements aren't regular right after surgery, try to avoid constipation and straining. Drink plenty of water. Your doctor may suggest fibre, a stool softener, or a mild laxative.

What do you do if you have pain or problems with your incision?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • Bright red blood soaks through the bandage over your incision.
  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.