Surgery went well, now what?

Surgery is behind you, now the road to recovery lies ahead.

You have the discharge and care instructions following surgery; how do you take an active role in your recovery to avoid complications and heal properly?

After a surgical procedure, the road to recovery can range from a mild inconvenience to a grueling, multi-month-long process. Oftentimes, the most important piece of advice sounds like common sense– follow your doctor’s instructions. Sounds easy enough, right?

The Importance of Staying on the Path to Recovery

No matter which way you look at it, surgery is often an invasive, inconvenient change upon our lives and our daily routine. Whether the surgery is cosmetic, preventive, or the result of a health-related event, the trauma experienced by the body is just that– trauma. Don’t make the mistake of taking the situation lightly. It’s important to understand the essential role of the recovery period.

Proper post-operative care and recovery that results in a positive experience has important outcomes down the line. Let’s look at 5 ways to increase your chances of a positive recovery experience.

1. Practice Forward Thinking

There are a lot of moving parts immediately following surgery. There may be residual pain left over from the surgery itself, or there may be grogginess caused by the anesthetics used for pain management. You may also be eager to get out of the door and start your recovery process in the comfort of your own home.

We recommend being proactive and forward thinking when approaching your surgery date– writing down any questions you may have for your doctor ahead of your scheduled surgery. Think critically about your day to day routine– how will your upcoming surgery affect the way you go about your daily tasks? Preparing questions in advance, while you are clear-headed, allows you to consider potential situations you may face down the line. Some examples of questions you may want to ask include: “Do I keep the incision covered or open to air?”, “When am I able to bathe?”, “How often do I clean my incision and by what means?”, and “Am I able to exercise during the recovery process?”

It may also be helpful to generate a list of items which will be convenient to have on hand, once you get home from surgery. Fluids, easy to prepare foods, quality bandages, (doctor approved) topical solutions, prescriptions or over the counter pain medications, are all great things to add to your list and may save you multiple trips to the store following your surgery. Ask your doctor if they have a list of helpful items to stock up on for your recovery process.

2. Follow All of Your Doctor’s Instructions

Time and time again, medical professionals have seen that patients will often follow the instructions that appear to be useful but disregard the ones that may cause inconvenience. Increase your chances of a successful recovery by not glossing over any instructions simply because you don’t think they apply to you. Every instruction is important, and not following even seemingly trivial steps may have negative consequences down the road. Whatever the instruction may be, there’s a good reason for it and historical data to back up why your doctor is telling you to follow it.

3. Check in With Your Doctor’s Office If You Are Unsure

Up until this point, you’ve done everything right– you wrote down questions before surgery, asked them during your discharge, and have been following the instructions provided by your doctor. Life always tends to throw curveballs and no matter how well prepared you are, there may be a situation or scenario that you are not fully prepared for. If confronted with one of these unforeseen situations, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor’s office. Oftentimes, the doctor’s assistant or nurse will have been asked the same question multiple times and knows the right procedure and advice to deliver to you. We recommend taking this step before scouring the internet to find answers, which may turn up information that 1) does not apply to you or 2) may be harmful to your recovery process.

4. Do Your Best to Prevent Infection

Arguably, the most important problem that postoperative recovery instructions are trying to solve, is preventing infection of your surgical site. Surgical site infections (or SSIs) can quickly develop into a more serious issue, ultimately prolonging your recovery period, and quite possibly landing you back in the hospital for an extended period of time (more on SSIs here).

Proper hygiene (as dictated by your doctor), proper handwashing, appropriate wound dressings, and limited touching of the surgical site are all ways you can do your part in preventing surgical site infections. Keeping foreign objects/material away from your surgical site and application of (doctor approved) antimicrobial or antiseptic solutions are further ways in which you can increase your chances of a successful recovery. Remember to ask your doctor before application of any solution to your surgical site. While over the counter antimicrobial solutions are typically mild, they may cause more harm than good for your particular situation. Always check with your doctor and err on the side of caution.

5. Listen to Your Body

When all is said and done, you know yourself better than anyone. Be in tune and pay attention to your body. Inspections of your surgical site (avoiding touching as much as possible) are a helpful way to ensure that your recovery process is proceeding as planned.

Redness, swelling, or increasing pain around the site may all be ways that your body is trying to signal to you that things are not going as planned. Pus, drainage, foul odor emanating from the site, or the onset of fever/chills may also be signals that you need to contact your doctor and make an appointment for consultation. Vigilance and attentiveness to the signals of your body are a surefire way to increase your chances for a successful recovery.

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