While you are recovering on the ward, nurses and doctors will check your progress regularly. They will usually take your blood pressure, pulse and temperature, look at your wound and change the dressing as needed.
Your health care team will also help you with the following:
It is common to have some pain and discomfort for several days after surgery, but this can be controlled with pain medicines. Pain usually improves as the wound heals. Let your doctor or nurse know if you are in pain so they can adjust your medicines to make you as comfortable as possible. Do not wait until the pain is severe.
Pain relief options may include:
- an injection or ongoing infusion of local anaesthetic into the wound, near the spinal column (epidural), or near a nerve to block pain to a specific area of the body (nerve block)
- an injection of strong pain medicine into a muscle or under the skin
- a PCA (patient-controlled analgesia) device, which delivers a set dose of medicine through a plastic tube into a vein when you press a button
- tablets that can be immediate release (fast acting) or slow release (long acting); some tablets are taken regularly, others you can ask for if you still have pain.
Strong pain medicines can make bowel motions difficult to pass (constipation) so you may also be given laxatives.
Based on the surgeon’s recommendations, the nurses or a physiotherapist will encourage you to get out of bed and move around as soon as you feel up to it and it is safe to do so. Moving around as much as possible will speed up your recovery and reduce the chance of blood clots, chest infections and wound infections. A physiotherapist may teach you some breathing or coughing exercises to help keep your lungs clear.
Most people can start eating and drinking either the same day or the day after surgery. Some people begin by drinking clear fluids, moving onto other kinds of fluid, then plain foods and small meals. Other people receive nutrition through a drip or a feeding tube for a short while rather than eating. If you go home with a feeding tube, a dietitian will let you know the type and amount of feeding formula you need to take and how to care for the tube. If the cancer and surgery affect your digestive system (e.g. mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach, bowel), you will need to follow the dietitian’s advice about eating and drinking.
For more on this, see Nutrition and cancer.
The timing of your first shower depends on how you are feeling and the type of surgery that you have had. Some people shower the same day or the next day if they are up to it. The nurses will probably encourage you to shower as soon as possible because it is a good reason to get out of bed. They can help you if you need to remove dressings or cover them to keep them from getting wet. If you can’t get up and move, the nurses will help you bathe in bed.
Podcast for people affected by cancer
Prof Elisabeth Elder, Specialist Breast Surgeon, Westmead Breast Cancer Institute and University of Sydney, NSW; Chanelle Curnuck, Dietitian – Dietetics and Nutrition, Sir Charles Gairdner Osborne Park Health Care Group, WA; Department of Anaesthetics, Perioperative Medicine and Pain Medicine, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jessica Feeney, Nurse Unit Manager, Breast, Endocrine and Gynaecology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; A/Prof Richard Gallagher, Head and Neck Surgeon, Director of Cancer Services and Head and Neck Cancer Services, St Vincent’s Health Network, NSW; John Leung, Consumer; Rohan Miegel, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer Care, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; A/Prof Nicholas O’Rourke, University of Queensland and Head of Hepatobiliary Surgery, Royal Brisbane Hospital, QLD; Lucy Pollerd, Social Worker, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Suzanne Ryan, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Department of General Surgery, Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Rebecca Yeoh, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland.
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