Managing pain

Pain medication will be ordered as needed.  Encourage patients to take the prescribed pain medication during recovery.  Pain can prevent patients from doing the activities that help with recovery.
Surgical site care

Instruct the patient to watch for any separation, bleeding, or signs of infection which include:


  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Drainage of fluid or pus
  • Heat at incision site
  • Fever (which is usually a temperature of 101ºF or higher)

​Education on caring for the incision:

Wash hands before and after touching your incision(s). Hand washing is the best way to prevent infection. It is normal to have some numbness around the incision for some time after surgery. This may subside as the incision heals. If the patient has have been sent home with staples in the incision, the doctor will  remove then at a followup appointment. If there is sterile tape over the incision, showering is permitted, but be gentle around the tape.  Use regular soap and water to wash the incision gently, and then pat the incision dry.  Do not pull, tug, or rub the tape. If the tape has not fallen off 2 weeks after surgery, then you may peel the tape off gently. Avoid exposing the incision to the sun. This can cause the incision to become red. Scars turn white over time without exposure to the sun. Follow the information from your doctor about any dressing changes or suture removal.

A possible complication of surgery is constipation (no bowel movement or stool over the course of several days).  Possible causes of constipation include: anesthesia and pain medications (which can slow the movement of the intestine); not drinking enough fluids; and abdominal surgery. Drinking fluids and eating fiber can help prevent constipation. Please notify your doctor if you are not passing any gas, have abdominal pain, and/or feel bloated.

Pneumonia prevention

Use an incentive spirometer to exercise lungs helps clear lungs of anesthesia gases after the procedure. Instruct the patient to use the incentive spirometer ten times every hour while they are awake as well as turning, coughing and deep breathing.
If you have an abdominal incision, splint the incision when exercising the lungs. Splinting an incision is a way to support the incision and surrounding tissues using a stiff pad or a small firm pillow placed over or against the incision on the abdomen. It is a way to immobilize or cushion those movements so that the lungs can expand or cough with a little less discomfort and reduce pain during coughing. Coughing will not affect the incision.

After the procedure, and when the anesthesia has worn off, get up and be active as soon possible. This will help the patient’s muscles stay strong and will lead to a faster recovery. Encourage patients to be active as soon as it is safe, which is usually in the evening after the procedure. Recommend that the patient walk, sit up in a chair, or at least turn frequently in bed.
Follow the specific activity instructions given by your doctor. Generally, patients should not lift objects heavier than 10 pounds for 6 to 8 weeks. Lifting heavy objects too soon may weaken the incision. Plan daily activity with rest periods. Do not expect energy levels to be the same as it was before surgery.

Preventing blood clots

Blood clots are more likely to occur when a patient is not moving for a long time, such as after an operation or during recovery in bed. A type of blood clot that can form during your surgical recovery is called a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and can lead to Pulmonary Embolism (PE), a clot that travels to lungs. One of the best ways to prevent blood clots from forming is to start being active as soon as possible. Patients may be given a medication that helps prevent these clots.


Instruct patients to resume their regular diet when they return home, unless their doctor has put them on a special diet. It is normal to have less of an appetite after surgery.
Choose high-protein foods to help the body heal. These may include such foods as chicken, beef, cheese, tofu, milkshakes, and ice cream. Drink lots of fluids and include fiber in the diet, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grain cereals or breads. Eating these foods and drinking fluids will help prevent constipation.  They also promote normal bowel function, especially if patients are taking narcotic pain medication. Take nausea medication as needed if it has been ordered by the doctor.  Notify the doctor if nausea or vomiting persists longer than 24 hours.


Advise patients to check with their doctor about when you will be able to drive.  Usually, patients will not be able to drive for 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. However, this can vary depending on the type of surgery they have had.  Never drive while taking narcotic pain medications.