Postoperative Care Checklist for Patients

Every day people across the country must undergo some form of operation. These procedures range from minor to major surgeries with varying degrees of risk. Although there are profound differences in the types of operations that people must undergo, there are some commonalities as well, such as basic postoperative care. Although postoperative care is tailored to suit specific surgeries, there are certain aspects of postoperative care that are the same or similar at a very basic level. People who are undergoing some form of surgical procedure should understand what postoperative care is and why it is important for a safe recovery.

What is Post-Operative Care?

When a person has surgery, whether at a surgical center or a hospital, care is needed to ensure a safe and timely recovery. This type of care is referred to as postoperative care and it begins immediately following one’s surgical procedure. Successful postoperative care requires the knowledge and diligence of the attending physician, nurses and other healthcare practitioners, such as staff with monitor tech training, for example. In addition, patient cooperation also plays an important part in their postoperative care. Postoperative care is ongoing, continuing until the patient has recovered.

What Postoperative Complications Might Occur?

Following a surgical procedure, there are a number of potential complications that patients and their doctors must be aware of. These complications range from minor to life-threatening. For people who have undergone surgery with the use of a regional or general anesthesia, there are additional complications that may or may not occur. In general, postoperative concerns include pain, infection, and lack of energy. Some patients may experience shortness of breath that occurs as a result of a partially collapsed lung, and atrophy of muscles over time. Swelling in the legs or calf and pain may be signs of a blood clot in the legs. This can become an even greater threat if the blood clot moves into the lungs as it can result in pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal. Other complications that patients may face include additional breathing and lung complications, bleeding from a surgical site, shock, and urinary retention. Side-effects caused by anesthesia may include, but are not limited to, feelings of confusion or delirium, soreness of the throat, nausea, vomiting, cardiovascular collapse, injury to the nerves, respiratory depression, headache, backache, and even death. One’s surgeon and anesthesiologist will typically discuss potential complications with the patient prior to conducting surgery.

What to Expect in the Hospital

One thing to expect is the physician and the nurses routinely monitoring vital signs following a procedure. For example, a person who has successfully completed monitor tech training and has received the appropriate certification may check for cardiac arrhythmias. If required the doctor will also control pain with the help of some form of pain medication. Initially following the procedure this will occur in a post-op room or a post-anesthesia care unit or PACU. If a person has been given anesthesia, symptoms such as grogginess, nausea, and confusion are common. Not everyone experiences these things. From here, patients who have had an inpatient procedure will be taken to a regular hospital room where they can expect further monitoring of their temperature, heart rate, and other vitals, including oxygen levels. Regardless of whether a person has had an inpatient or outpatient procedure, they will need to demonstrate the ability to breathe normally, urinate, and drink. People who are in the hospital for longer periods may also be expected to walk some to avoid the formation of blood clots.

Questions to Ask the Doctor Before Going Home

Before being discharged following a surgical procedure, patients need information to ensure continued recovery. Often this information concerns what can and cannot be done at home. For example, a patient will need to know how much physical work or activity they are able to safely do and how long any limitations may last. The doctor will typically review medications with them; if not, the patient shouldn’t hesitate to ask what medications they will be taking, why, and when they should be taken. In addition, if there are any questions about medications, they should be asked at this time. Questions about follow-up care must also be addressed prior to departing the hospital or surgery center. Ask who will provide follow-up care after the discharge and get any pertinent information, such as phone numbers and addresses. Patients will also want to know what to do if there are changes. They should question what potentially harmful symptoms to look out for, and which symptoms or changes are to be expected. Another question to ask the doctor is at what point medical help should be sought if things do begin to change, and if they should call their doctor or visit an emergency room. In general, patients should ask any questions that they may have, and express any concerns.

Postoperative Recovery at Home

Although a patient has returned home following a procedure, their postoperative care must continue. The most important aspects of at-home postoperative care and recovery include keeping all follow-up appointments and following instructions as provided. Medications must be taken as prescribed and not discontinued unless instructed to do so. One must follow dietary instructions as provided, and avoid alcohol while recovering and taking medications. One should not drive a vehicle if taking medications or if they feel dizzy, drowsy, or unwell. Otherwise driving may resume when the doctor feels that it is safe to do so. It is often advisable to have someone available to help around the house and with care needs determined by the procedure that was performed. It is also important that one calls their doctor or seeks emergency care if there is an increase in pain, abnormal bleeding, or a fever has developed.

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Written by and last updated Mar 30, 2017

Last reviewed by on Nov 25, 2017