Depending on the extent of the surgery, and your general health, you may be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit after your surgery.
This is a precautionary measure – the care you receive is very similar to that provided on the surgical ward.
Your breathing and vital signs will be monitored closely. You’ll have a facial mask or small tubes in your nostrils giving you extra oxygen, usually for several days. You’ll probably have a drain in your abdomen to safely remove any excess fluid.
The tube passed through your nose into the stomach will remain in place, and will sometimes be secured to low, periodic suction until bowel activity starts up again. You won’t be able to eat or drink anything for at least the first couple of days (although you’ll usually be able to suck ice chips or have small sips of water).
You’ll get pain medication, such as morphine. Often this is delivered via a machine called a PCA (patient controlled analgesia), which allows you to press a button and deliver small doses of the drug. The machine is programmed so you can’t give yourself too much.
You’ll be encouraged to be as mobile as possible after surgery to accelerate your recovery, and reduce the risk of complications. You’ll usually be helped into a chair, and possibly take a small walk, the morning after your surgery.
Because of the incision and possible pain in your abdomen, you may need encouragement to take deep breaths after the operation; the nurses and physiotherapists will help you with exercises that expand your lungs.
You’ll need to remain on an intravenous drip to keep you hydrated until you're able to eat and drink normally. After any type of bowel surgery the bowel is sluggish and immobile, and must be allowed to rest before re-introducing your diet. Some surgeons will wait for signs the bowel is working again (usually ascertained by listening with a stethoscope for bowel sounds), and some will just wait a few days before allowing gradual resumption of fluids and then food.
If you’ve had a stoma created, the stoma therapist (specialist nurse) and the nurses on the ward will care for it initially, and teach you how to do so before you are discharged. Everyone is sensitive to the psychological implications of having a stoma, and you’ll be given help and support to adjust, whether it’s temporary or permanent.
Before discharge, ensure you’re clear on the following:
- Wound care
- Stoma care (if relevant)
- Level of activity, particularly heavy lifting
- Driving (don’t forget to also check with your car insurance company in case they have any restrictions following an operation)
- Symptoms for which you should seek further medical attention
- Any changes to your regular medication
You’ll be given afollow-up appointment to check your progress. You may also need to be see another specialist, such as an oncologist (cancer specialist), for further treatment.