Arriving home following an operation is usually a time of great relief. The surgery is complete, you’ve been discharged from hospital and you’re now looking forward to recovering in the comfort of your own home. The worst is over.
Or so you thought. But according to a 2010 study published in the Journal Archives of Surgery, more than 40 percent of all patients who experience complications after surgery experience them at home1. And half of those complications occur within nine days of patients leaving the hospital1.
There are a number of different reasons for this relapse including
- complications at the surgical site (the incision),
- infections, and
- blood clots2.
A good surgical recovery is more than just lying in bed at home for a few days. It involves good planning, good nutrition and some of the tips mentioned below.
1- Eat smart
One of the best things you can do for your body in the days and weeks following surgery is provide it with the nutrition that it’s going to need to heal quickly.
Unfortunately, up to 62% of surgical patients are malnourished before surgery. As such, imagine how much more depleted they will be after surgery.
During and after surgery the body goes into a hypermetabolic state where it starts to break down protein and fat to get all the nutrients it needs. After surgery, the body can become depleted so it’s vital to get even more calories than usual. Doing this will help keep your recovery on track, keep post-operation complications to a minimum, and reduce the chances of becoming malnourished.
Key nutrients to focus on include:
Protein – A major component of skin and muscle tissue. Collagen, the substance in the skin that’s responsible for building scar tissue is primarily made from protein strands. Meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs are the best source of protein.
Vitamins and other nutrients – Vitamins C and A and zinc boost wound healing. The amino acid glutamine boosts energy levels and helps our immune system. Calcium is an essential mineral for bone repair/soft tissue healing. Your appetite won’t be great at this time so taking a post surgery supplement is going to be the best way (if not the only way) for you get all of these vitamins and minerals in the appropriate amounts during this period of healing.
After surgery people often neglect their diet either because
- they’ve lost their appetite,
- they’re still suffering from postoperative nausea, or
- the physical act of eating can be painful.
Before leaving the hospital, speak to your doctor or healthcare provider. They should be able to provide you with helpful tips on how to maintain your appetite to get the calories that you need, including taking supplements after surgery. Your doctor can also prescribe you a short course of anti-nausea medication for the first few days, which might help.
2- Stay on top of your pain
Postoperative pain will be a constant for the first few days or weeks following an operation. This doesn’t mean that you will be in excruciating pain every single day but it is reasonable to expect at least a little bit of discomfort. But think ahead and put in place a good pain management plan with your doctor before you leave the hospital. Don’t wait until the pain hits before you do something about it.
· Before your operation or during your pre-surgery meeting speak to your doctor about your pain management options for your at-home recovery. Ask them what types of pain medication you should be taking and for how long. Get the prescription filled before you get home.
· Many patients have some hesitation about taking painkillers for fear of overdosing or becoming addicted to them but doctors can usually prescribe different types of non-addictive pain drugs. Be sure to mention this to them if it’s important to you.
Good pain control after surgery helps in many ways. Pain control can
- help you get out of bed faster,
- speed up the recovery process, and
- reduce your risk of developing complications like chest infections or blood clots3.
3- Stay hydrated
Food may not be at the top of your list but fluids certainly should be. Staying well hydrated will help with constipation, stop dehydration, and flush medications out of the body faster. It also aids in maintaining a steady blood pressure. For the first few days, stick to water. Many people find it useful to carry a water bottle with them at all times so they can drink throughout the day.
4- Don’t do too much, too soon
A couple days after the surgery you may notice that you feel much better than expected. You suddenly get the urge to use all that boundless energy to return to your pre-surgery routine. Resist the temptation.
It’s normal to feel pressured to get back to your day-to-day activities but doing so too early can be damaging to your health. By pushing your body into normal activities, you risk injuring yourself, opening unhealed surgical wounds, tiring yourself out, and setting back your recovery. If your doctor instructed you to take a few weeks off following the procedure, then stick to that schedule. It will pay off in the long run.
5- Don’t stay in bed
Although this sounds counter-intuitive to the advice above, it’s not. Don’t rush out of bed to resume strenuous activities. However, do get out of bed to walk around the house, walk to the kitchen to make yourself a small snack, or take a stroll around the yard. Whatever you do, just move. In the United States, DVT (blood clots in the legs) and PE (when the clot travels to the lungs) result in up to 600,000 hospitalizations a year, and nearly 50,000 individuals die annually as a result of a PE4.
Clots are more likely to happen in the first few days after surgery when people are bedbound and stay in one position without moving around. People who have had surgery on their lower limbs like the knees or hip are at greater risk of developing a clot.
Lastly, follow all the post-discharge instructions that your doctor gave you. Practice good wound hygiene, always wash your hands before and after touching the wound, do a few breathing exercises daily, and keep mobile.
1- NPR. Many Surgical Complications Show Up After Patients Get Home. November 20, 2012. David Schultz. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/11/19/165488673/many-surgical-complications-show-up-after-patients-get-home
2- Kazaure HS, Roman SA, Sosa JA. Association of Postdischarge Complications With Reoperation and Mortality in General Surgery. Arch Surg. 2012;147(11):1000–1007. doi:10.1001/2013.jamasurg.114 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamasurgery/fullarticle/1392155
3- Lee, S. Y., Ro, D. H., Chung, C. Y., Lee, K. M., Kwon, S.-S., Sung, K. H., & Park, M. S. (2015). Incidence of Deep Vein Thrombosis after Major Lower Limb Orthopedic Surgery: Analysis of a Nationwide Claim Registry. Yonsei Medical Journal, 56(1), 139–145. http://doi.org/10.3349/ymj.2015.56.1.139. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4276747/
4- Cleveland Clinic. Pain control after surgery. 10/02/2017. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11307-pain-control-after-surgery