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Postoperative care is the care you receive after a surgical procedure. The type of postoperative care you need depends on the type of surgery you have, as well as your health history. It often includes pain management and wound care.
Postoperative care begins immediately after surgery. It lasts for the duration of your hospital stay and may continue after you’ve been discharged. As part of your postoperative care, your healthcare provider should teach you about the potential side effects and complications of your procedure.
Before you have surgery, ask your doctor what the postoperative care will involve. This will give you time to prepare beforehand. Your doctor may revise some of their instructions after your surgery, based on how your surgery went and how well you’re recovering.
Ask as many questions as possible before your surgery, and ask for updated instructions before you’re discharged from the hospital. Many hospitals provide written discharge instructions.
Ask your doctor questions such as:
The answers to these questions can help you prepare ahead of time. If you expect to need help from a caregiver, arrange for it before your surgery. It’s also important to learn how to prevent, recognize, and respond to possible complications.
Depending on the type of surgery you have, there are many potential complications that can arise. For example, many surgeries put patients at risk of infection, bleeding at the surgical site, and blood clots caused by inactivity. Prolonged inactivity can also cause you to lose some of your muscle strength and develop respiratory complications. Ask your doctor for more information about the potential complications of your specific procedure.
After your surgery is complete, you will be moved to a recovery room. You’ll probably stay there for a couple of hours while you wake up from anesthesia. You’ll feel groggy when you wake up. Some people also feel nauseated.
While you’re in the recovery room, staff will monitor your blood pressure, breathing, temperature, and pulse. They may ask you to take deep breaths to assess your lung function. They may check your surgical site for signs of bleeding or infection. They will also watch for signs of an allergic reaction. For many types of surgery, you will be placed under general anesthesia. Anesthesia can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
Once you’re stable, you’ll be moved to a hospital room if you’re staying overnight, or you’ll be moved elsewhere to begin your discharge process.
Outpatient surgery is also known as same-day surgery. Unless you show signs of postoperative problems, you’ll be discharged on the same day as your procedure. You won’t need to stay overnight.
Before you’re discharged, you must demonstrate that you’re able to breathe normally, drink, and urinate. You won’t be allowed to drive immediately following a surgery with anesthesia. Make sure you arrange transportation home, preferably ahead of time. You may feel groggy into the following day.
If you have inpatient surgery, you’ll need to stay in the hospital overnight to continue receiving postoperative care. You may need to stay for several days or longer. In some cases, patients who were originally scheduled for outpatient surgery show signs of complications and need to be admitted for ongoing care.
Your postoperative care will continue after you’ve been transferred out of the initial recovery room. You will probably still have an intravenous (IV) catheter in your arm, a finger device that measures oxygen levels in your blood, and a dressing on your surgical site. Depending on the type of surgery you had, you may also have a breathing apparatus, a heartbeat monitor, and a tube in your mouth, nose, or bladder.
The hospital staff will continue to monitor your vital signs. They may also give you pain relievers or other medications through your IV, by injection, or orally. Depending on your condition, they may ask you to get up and walk around. You may need assistance to do this. Moving will help decrease your chances of developing blood clots. It can also help you maintain your muscle strength. You may be asked to do deep breathing exercises or forced coughing to prevent respiratory complications.
Your doctor will decide when you’re ready to be discharged. Remember to ask for discharge instructions before you leave. If you know that you’ll need ongoing care at home, make preparations ahead of time.
It’s very important that you follow your doctor’s instructions after you leave the hospital. Take medications as prescribed, watch out for potential complications, and keep your follow-up appointments.
Don’t overdo things if you’ve been instructed to rest. On the other hand, don’t neglect physical activity if you’ve been given the go ahead to move around. Start to resume normal activities as soon as you safely can. Most of the time, it’s best to gradually return to your normal routine.
In some cases, you may not be able to care for yourself for a while after your surgery. You may need a caregiver to help tend your wounds, prepare food, keep you clean, and support you while you move around. If you don’t have a family member or friend who can help, ask your doctor to recommend a professional caregiving service.
Contact your doctor if you develop a fever, increased pain, or bleeding at the surgical site. Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor if you have questions or aren’t recovering as well as expected.
Appropriate follow-up care can help reduce your risk of complications after surgery and support your recovery process. Ask your doctor for instructions before you have your surgery and check for updates before you leave the hospital. Contact your doctor if you suspect you’re experiencing complications or your recovery isn’t going well. With a little planning and proactive care, you can help make your recovery as smooth as possible.
Written by: Ann Pietrangelo
Medically reviewed on: Aug 08, 2016: Carissa Stephens, RN, CCRN, CPN
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