After You Leave the Hospital
These are general guidelines suggested by our surgeons. If your doctor suggests something different, please follow his or her specific recommendations.
Recovery from surgery is different for each patient. Factors that may influence your recovery include your age, the type of surgical procedure you had, and your general health. However, there are two main restrictions after surgery that apply to everyone:
- Do not drive until you obtain approval from your surgeon/doctor. It is unsafe to drive while you are taking pain medications because your reflexes are delayed. Your doctor may also have other concerns about your driving related to the type of surgery you had.
- Do not lift objects weighing more than 5 to 10 pounds until you have approval from your surgeon/doctor. For example, items that may fall into this category include the Sunday paper, a gallon of milk, or a family pet. You should also avoid pushing or pulling anything that strains your abdominal muscles.
Resume your normal activities slowly. Let your body be your guide as to what you can and cannot do. If your legs become swollen, avoid sitting or standing for extended time periods and elevate your legs when you are relaxing. Take frequent rest breaks. It may take you a few months to return to your pre-surgery activity level. Walking is a great exercise for increasing circulation and endurance.
Unless instructed otherwise, you may take showers. Be sure to rinse any soap residue off of your incision and pat your skin dry. If you have a dressing in place, keep it clean and dry. If you have steri-strips on your incision, pat them dry if they get wet. Do not remove them until they fall off. Do not soak your incisions in a bathtub. Have someone close by the first time you shower, in case you feel dizzy and need help.
You will probably experience some pain or discomfort around your surgical incision. This usually lessens gradually over the first few weeks following surgery. Sensitivity around the incision may last for several weeks.
When you leave the hospital, you will be given a prescription for pain medication or instructed to take over-the-counter Tylenol® or Extra-Strength Tylenol®. Take your medication as directed on the bottle when you begin to get uncomfortable during the initial recovery period. Pain is much easier to control before it becomes severe. Do not worry about becoming dependent on your medication as you will only need to take it for a few weeks.
Remember to bring your pain medication when you come to clinic for follow up. You may want to take some if you have to wait for a while or if you have a minor procedure done. Pain medications are not available in the clinic.
Constipation--difficulty moving your bowels--may be a side effect of pain medication. If this occurs, notify your doctor. A stool softener or increased fluid intake may be recommended.
Your appetite may be smaller after you have surgery. However, good nutrition is a must for good wound healing. If you cannot tolerate three meals a day, try several small nutritious snacks throughout the day. Your appetite will slowly increase. Dietitians are available and will provide you with diet education.
Drinking alcohol after surgery is strongly discouraged, especially while you are taking pain medications.
Do not smoke! Smoking tightens your blood vessels, slows down the healing process, and makes you more susceptible to other complications.
The University of Chicago Medicine offers a smoking cessation program. There are also local groups in your area affiliated with the American Cancer Society. Let us know if you are interested and we will supply you with information.
You should have a follow-up appointment to see your surgeon in clinic after your surgery. In general, this takes place in the first few weeks following your discharge from the hospital. Please call the office if you do not have an appointment set up. Clinic visits are a very important part of the surgical process. It is crucial that your doctor monitors your recovery progress.
Returning to Work
Please discuss your return to work plans with your surgeon at your clinic visit. If you wish to return to work before your first post-operative visit, please discuss this with your doctor before you are discharged from the University of Chicago Medicine or call your doctor's office.
The length of time you will need before returning to work depends on the specific procedure, the demands of your job, and your overall physical strength.
If you have a medical emergency or experience serious symptoms, call (773) 702-1000 immediately and ask for the resident on call for your doctor, or go to your local emergency room. Serious symptoms include:
- Fever of 101 degrees or higher
- Nausea, vomiting, chills
- Shortness of breath or calf pain
- Constipation or abdominal distention
- Pain that is unrelieved by medication
- Increase in incisional redness, drainage, swelling, oozing, or tenderness