Surgery: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover from your surgery. But each person recovers at a different pace.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Allow your body to heal. Don't move quickly or lift anything heavy until you are feeling better.
  • Rest when you feel tired.
  • Your doctor may give you specific instructions on when you can do your normal activities again, such as driving and going back to work.
  • Be active. Walking is a good choice.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet when you feel well. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • If your bowel movements are not 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.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • You should be able to take your regular medicines again soon after surgery. Your doctor may give you instructions on when to restart certain medicines, such as aspirin or a blood thinner like Coumadin.

Incision care

If your doctor told you how to care for your cut, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:

  • You will have a dressing over the cut (incision). A dressing helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this.
  • If you have strips of tape on the cut the doctor made, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • If you had stitches, your doctor will tell you when to come back to have them removed.
  • If you have skin adhesive on the cut, leave it on until it falls off. Skin adhesive is also called liquid stitches.
  • Change the bandage every day.
  • Wash the area daily with warm water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. They can slow healing.
  • You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it oozes fluid or rubs against clothing.
  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery. Pat the incision dry. Don't swim or take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.

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 call line 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.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You are short of breath.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You cannot pass stool or gas.
  • You are sick to your stomach and cannot drink fluids.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You have signs of a blood clot in your leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through your bandage.

Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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