About Your Recovery
Once your surgery is over, there's only one thing you need to do: start getting back to your life. Here's what you might expect as you recover, from the first day through the first few weeks.
When You Wake Up
When you wake up after surgery you may still have the IV in your arm to give you fluids and pain medication. You may have small bandages over your incisions. As you become more awake, you'll be given something to drink and eat (don't get excited – it's not a meal), and the staff will get you up to walk around a little.
When You Can Go Home
In addition to eating, drinking and being steady on your feet, you'll have to be able to urinate before you can go home. And you'll only be released if you have a responsible adult to drive you. You may also need to have someone staying with you for the first night. It’s a good idea to have someone stay with you for the first several days if possible, so you can ease back into activity.
Before You Leave
Before you leave, someone will go over your discharge instructions with you. These include what to expect over the first few days, how to care for your incision(s), a list of symptoms or warning signs, and a number to call if you notice any of them or have questions. You'll be pretty groggy from the anesthesia, so give this packet of information to the person taking you home or staying with you. Decide before surgery where you'll put it so you can find it if you need it.
If you're given a prescription for pain medication prior to the day of surgery, fill it, even if you don't think you'll need it. If you're given a prescription the day of surgery, have someone fill it for you. Some people find an over-the-counter pain reliever is all they need, but make sure to ask your doctor which medications are OK to use after surgery, as some can increase the chances of bleeding.
Plan to rest for the first few days after surgery. You probably won't need much encouragement; you'll be pretty tired. Have a pillow handy to put over your abdomen for support in case you cough, sneeze, or vomit (which can be a side effect of anesthesia). Your incision(s) may be sore for two or three days and may be swollen, bruised, tender, or numb. It's all normal and should go away within a few weeks. But if you have any concerns or questions, call the number you got from the hospital or your doctor. There are no stupid questions.
You can expect to tire more easily during the first week or two, but you'll notice improvement pretty quickly. Pay attention to how you feel, and ease back into your normal routine. If you need to work a shorter day, do it. You won't be productive at work if you're over-tired anyway. Depending on your occupation, full recovery may take anywhere from one to six weeks.
First Weeks Dos and Don'ts
There's a general principle behind what you can and can't do as you recover:
You want to prevent infection, enhance healing, and avoid brisk coughing and weight gain.
Now the specifics will make sense:
- Showering: Depending upon the type of repair you had, you may be able to shower in a day or two. Make sure to ask your doctor whether you need to keep your incision(s) dry and for how long.
- Walking: Do it. It increases circulation, which speeds healing, but doesn't strain the abdomen.
- Eating: A diet high in fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, along with drinking lots of fluids, will help avoid constipation (which can be caused by pain medication and inactivity) and the strain that goes with it. Ask your doctor about using a stool softener or laxative if you need it.
- Driving: The effects of anesthesia can stay with you for up to one week, impairing your ability to drive safely. Make sure you talk to your doctor about when it's safe for you to drive after the type of anesthesia you've had. You should never drive while taking prescription pain medication. Depending on your repair, driving may strain the incision, so check with your doctor.
- Lifting: Avoid it for at least the first few days. Then lift only very light objects that are easy to manage. As you slowly begin to lift more, use your knees and your back, not your abdominal muscles.
- Working: Some people return to work within a week. It will depend on the type of surgery you had and the type of work you do. But remember that you'll tire more easily at first. Consider working a partial day. If your work involves a lot of physical activity, you may not be ready to go back for a few weeks. Talk with your doctor about how and when to resume working.
- Sports: You will not be able to play sports or engage in strenuous exercise for a few weeks. It will depend largely on the type of surgery you had – and the type of activity. Make sure to ask your doctor about resuming exercise routines or playing sports.
- Sex: Ask your doctor when it's appropriate for you to resume sexual activity. Your physical comfort will provide a good guide.
Warning Signs After Surgery
If you notice any of the following, call the number the hospital gave you:
- Excessive sweating
- Difficulty urinating
- Worsening pain