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Open Drainage of a Joint: Before Your Surgery

What is it?

Surgery to drain and clean out a joint or joints is done when there is a serious infection in the joint. The infection is called septic arthritis. The surgery removes infected fluid and material from the joint. This type of surgery is often done on knee, hip, and shoulder joints.

Depending on which joint is affected, a doctor may choose to use arthroscopy. This is a way to find problems and do surgery inside a joint without making a large cut (incision). Your doctor puts a lighted tube with a tiny camera and surgical tools through small incisions near the infected area. The camera is called an arthroscope, or scope. Then the doctor may use tools to clean out and drain the infection from the joint. Small stitches may be used to close the incisions.

If you have open surgery, the doctor will make a cut in the skin near the infected joint. The infected fluid and material are removed. The doctor will close the skin with stitches or staples. You will have a scar on the area. The scar will fade with time.

Your doctor may leave a small tube, called a drain, in the joint. This removes extra fluid. You will probably have the drain for about a day. Your doctor will give you instructions on how to care for it.

Most people go home a few days after surgery. When you return to work will depend on the type of work you do. It will also depend on whether you had arthroscopy or open surgery and which joint was affected.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • You may need to shower or bathe with a special soap the night before and the morning of your surgery. The soap contains chlorhexidine. It reduces the amount of bacteria on your skin that could cause an infection after surgery.
  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance care plan. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about when to bathe or shower before your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You will be asleep during the surgery.
  • The surgery will take about 1 to 1½ hours.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

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