What to expect after oesophageal surgery
This is a general overview of what to expect. The process varies from hospital to hospital, and everyone will respond to surgery differently.
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- Your recovery time after the operation will depend on your age, the type of surgery you had and your general health.
- When you wake up after the operation, you will be in a recovery room near the operating theatre or in the intensive care unit.
- Most people will need a high level of care. You can expect to spend time in the high dependency unit or intensive care unit before moving to a standard ward.
- You will probably be in hospital for 7–10 days, but it can be significantly longer if any complications occur. It generally takes 6-12 months to recover from an oesophagectomy.
- Talk to your treatment team about any concerns you have about caring for yourself once you return home. If you think you will need home nursing care, ask hospital staff about services in your area.
- You will have some pain and discomfort for several days after your surgery. You will be given pain-relieving medicines to manage this.
- Let your doctor or nurse know if you’re in pain so they can adjust your medicines to make you as comfortable as possible. Do not wait until the pain is severe.
- You may have a dressing over the wound. Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about how to keep the wound clean when you go home, to prevent it becoming infected.
- After surgery you will have several tubes in your body, which will be removed as you recover. You may have a drip inserted into a vein in your arm to give you pain relief and to replace your body’s fluids until you are able to drink and eat again. You will have a tube down your nose into your stomach (nasogastric tube) to drain fluids from the stomach. You may have a tube from your bladder (catheter) to collect urine in a bag. You may also have a feeding tube.
- You will be unable to eat or drink straight after surgery. Your doctor will tell you when you are able to start eating.
- It is common for a temporary feeding tube to be inserted at the time of your surgery. You can be given specially prepared feeding formula through this tube while the join between the oesophagus and stomach heals.
- Once you begin eating, it is common to start with fluids such as soup, and then eat soft foods for a few weeks. When you are ready, you can try eating some solid foods.
- You may be advised to eat 5–6 small meals or snacks throughout the day.
- The hospital dietitian can prepare eating plans for you and work out whether you need any nutritional supplements.
- For more information about eating after surgery, see Managing side effects of oesophageal cancer.
- Your health care team will probably encourage you to walk the day after surgery. They will also provide guidance on suitable activity levels as you recover from surgery.
- Gentle exercise has been shown to help people manage some of the common side effects of treatment, speed up a return to usual activities and improve quality of life. Ask your doctor or nurse if there are any suitable exercise programs available in your area.
- You will have to wear compression stockings for a couple of weeks to help the blood in your legs circulate and reduce the risk of developing blood clots.
- You will most likely need to avoid driving for a few weeks after the surgery and avoid heavy lifting.
- It is important that your pain is controlled to help avoid problems with breathing that can lead to pneumonia.
- To reduce the risk of pneumonia, a physiotherapist will teach you breathing or coughing exercises that help keep your lungs clear.
- You may also be taught how to use an incentive spirometer, a device you breathe into to help your lungs expand and prevent a chest infection.
Prof David Watson, Senior Consultant Surgeon, Oesophago-gastric Surgery Unit, Flinders Medical Centre, and Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor of Surgery, Flinders University, SA; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian, Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gastrointestinal Cancers, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Christine Froude, Consumer; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Interventional Endoscopist and Consultant Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Grant Wilson, Consumer; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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