When you have elective surgery, you can put a lot of thought into who and where the operation will be done. But this is only one part of your surgical journey. Your recovery starts the moment you leave the operating theatre.

In this blog post, Dr Chris Smith-Brown, PHIN’s Clinical Advisor, explains what to expect on the day of surgery and our longer guide explains what to think about as you prepare for surgery and afterwards.

In hospital after surgery

If you have had general anaesthetic, sedation, spinal or epidural, you will be transferred to a recovery room.

While in recovery, you will wake up with a dressing, IV, oxygen and monitoring equipment. Your nurse will make sure you are as comfortable as possible, but you may still feel some discomfort.

Depending on the type of operation and your personal circumstances, you will spend about 45 minutes to 2 hours in the recovery area, where you will be monitored until you are sufficiently recovered to be transferred to the ward.

Your healthcare provider will explain the risk of complications of your type of surgery. These can include blood clots, deep vein thrombosis, chest infection, constipation or a sore throat

In a day-case area, nurses will continue to monitor your vital signs and general condition, including your blood pressure. When you are fully recovered you will be offered a drink and/or snack. You may be given some intravenous pain medication to manage any pain. You will usually stay a couple of hours after your procedure.

If staying overnight as an inpatient, friends and family will be allowed to visit, and you will be encouraged to move around the ward. Your physiotherapist may review your mobility and encourage deep breathing and coughing after surgery. You can still walk around the ward even with a catheter in place.

When the team are happy with your progress, you will be advised how to look after yourself when at home (including any red flags to watch for) and you will be discharged.

Before you leave the ward, the nursing staff will check they have a telephone contact number for you and arrange a suitable time for them to contact you in the next few days for a follow-up call. The nursing staff will also ensure that you have all the necessary medication (including blood thinning injections if appropriate) as well as any equipment needed (including stockings if appropriate).

The nursing staff will already have made arrangements with community nurses if further care is required at home.

At home after surgery

Once you are home, you can begin your pathway to recovery. You should follow the medical advice given by the healthcare professionals who look after you. For example, you will be encouraged to keep a routine and move more each day during your recovery after surgery until you return to normal. However, you will feel tired easily and we would suggest that you make preparations before your operation if further support from friends or family members is needed.

For 24 hours after surgery:

  • Do not drive or use machinery
  • Do not smoke or drink alcohol

If you have been discharged with anti-clotting stockings you are encouraged to wear these as prescribed by your team.

Take pain medicine and medication as directed by your surgical team. Pain is a common side effect of surgery and regular pain relief will improve your recovery time.

You will be advised about potential complications from the surgery and advised to contact the hospital or your GP. You may also have an outpatient appointment after surgery where your consultant can review your progress face to face or virtually.

Surgery can be a very stressful experience, and it's normal to feel a wide range of emotions afterwards. You may feel happy, relieved, anxious, or even scared.

General things to note:

  • Depending on the surgery, you will usually be advised not to lift anything heavy for 4-6 weeks after your operation. If you have small children (or care for grandchildren), then let them climb up on you rather than lifting them if possible.
  • You may be advised to avoid long haul flights for 4-8 weeks after major surgery. You should check with your surgeon and the airline and travel insurance policies.
  • You should not start driving again until you can safely complete an emergency stop. You must ensure you are not drowsy from prescribed painkillers and must always check with your insurance company before driving as your insurance policy may be invalid.
  • Stop smoking during your recovery period. You immediately improve your circulation and breathing. As well as boosting your recovery, this is a good opportunity to give up smoking permanently.

Additional resources

Was this article useful?