How to help yourself to recover after an operation

Most of us have at least one operation in a lifetime. Although you're putting yourself in your doctor's hands in hospital, you can help yourself too by being prepared. And once you're out of hospital, knowing the dos and don'ts will increase your chances of getting back to normal more quickly.

Most of us have at least one operation in a lifetime. Although you're putting yourself in your doctor's hands in hospital, you can help yourself too by being prepared. And once you're out of hospital, knowing the dos and don'ts will increase your chances of getting back to normal more quickly.

You'll be offered an assessment in person or over the phone before your surgery. Questions you might like to ask include:

- Should I stop taking any regular medications before surgery, and if so when?

- How long am I likely to be in hospital for?

- How long do I need to stop eating and drinking before I come to hospital?

- Do I need medicine to prepare me (eg to clean out your bowel before colon procedures) and how do I get it/take it?

- Do I need swabs to check I'm clear of MRSA? Lots of people carry this germ on their bodies without knowing it, and for some operations you'll need to get the all-clear first.

Remember, for minor procedures under sedation, you won't be able to drive home so you'll need to make arrangements to be collected. If you don't have anyone, the hospital may be able to arrange transport. Hospital websites or leaflets will usually tell you about visiting hours and parking arrangements. Pack to protect your modesty - wards may be same sex, but visitors aren't!

Weight a minute!

Whatever surgery you're having, the risk of complications is lower, and your recovery time will be quicker, the closer you are to your ideal weight. Speak to your GP if you're going to have surgery routinely for help in losing weight.

General, regional, local - what's in an anaesthetic?

The medical term 'anaesthetic' means something that makes you lose sensation. With a general anaesthetic, you'll be completely unconscious and won't have any idea what it happening. Local anaesthetic usually uses an injection to numb a small area, but the rest of you is fully alert. A regional anaesthetic numbs all the nerves serving one part of your body (eg an arm, a leg); a spinal anaesthetic numbs the lower part of your body completely, so you can have fairly major surgery without feeling a thing; and sedation makes you drowsy but doesn't knock you out completely. Some operations are almost always done under one kind of anaesthetic or another. But others can be done under, say, spinal or general. If you have certain medical conditions such as lung or heart problems, your doctor may advise that an alternative to general anaesthetic would be safer if it's possible.

When can I get back to normal?

That very much depends on what operation you've had, what your general health is and what's 'normal' for you. A walk to the shops might be a day or a couple of weeks - bungee jumping may be a while longer! Some very general key targets (but check with you medical team for your circumstances) are:

  • Hip replacement - home after three to five days; off crutches or frame after four to six weeks; back to work after six to 12 weeks; driving after six weeks
  • Knee replacement - home after six to 10 days; off crutches or frame after three to six weeks; light housework only for three months; driving after four to six weeks (when you can bend and control your knee well enough)
  • Hysterectomy - home after one to four days for keyhole surgery, longer if you have a big tummy scar; no heavy lifting for three months; driving after three to eight weeks (check with your insurance company as well as your doctor).

Avoiding clots

A clot on the leg called a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, which can travel to the lung, is a common possible complication of some surgery. The biggest risks come from surgery on your legs or pelvic area, with hip replacement a particular risk. DVT on its own can cause really nasty symptoms, but an even bigger risk is if the clot breaks off and travels to your lungs, where it gets stuck and causes a potentially fatal condition called pulmonary embolism, or PE. Every patient is assessed for their risk of DVT when they go into hospital. After some surgery (eg on your legs) you may be given a course of injections or tablets to reduce this risk. You may also be given special stockings to wear. Getting up and about as soon as possible (under your doctor's advice) will reduce this risk further, as well as help build your strength up.

With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.