After Surgery Frequently Asked Questions

Learn the answers to questions you may have about your post-surgery experience.

Where do I go after the surgery?

Your anesthesiologist and nursing staff will take you to the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU). Many people remember the term "recovery room,” and that purpose has not changed. The nursing team in this unit will help you recover from the anesthesia and surgery until you are medically stable and safe to be cared for in another environment.

The PACU nursing staff will monitor your vital signs frequently. You will be encouraged to breathe deeply and cough as necessary. You may receive extra oxygen to breathe through a mask. The mask can be removed as soon as it is safe for you. If you received a regional anesthetic for your operation, the PACU staff will ask you to move so they can check on your level of numbness.

How long will I spend in the PACU?

This varies on the type of surgical procedure and anesthesia type used. The average time for many patients in the PACU is about an hour. Nursing staff will notify your family and friends when you are admitted to the PACU after your surgery.

Can my family be with me in the PACU?

Family is not allowed in this primary recovery area. This allows the PACU nursing team to focus on you and your recovery. When you are taken to a secondary recovery area, or to your hospital room, you may have up to two people with you.

Will I shiver when I awaken from a general anesthetic?

There are a few reasons that you might shiver as you wake up from a general anesthetic. Your body's internal thermostat that keeps you warm is not working when you are anesthetized, so your temperature can decrease. This heat loss is a frequent cause of shivering. There may be other causes, such as the body's response to surgery, anesthesia or pain. If you do awaken shivering, we will warm you in the recovery room with a warming blanket, and you will receive medication to decrease the symptoms.

Will I feel nausea as I wake up?

Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that you will not feel sick to your stomach after surgery. Nausea after surgery is due to many factors. Some of these factors include your age or gender, anxiety level, reaction to anesthesia medications and the length of surgery. With new methods of anesthesia care and new anti-nausea medications now available, the chance that you will feel nauseous is much lower than it has been in the past.

How much pain will I have after surgery?

Each person feels pain differently, and people feel different amounts or types of discomfort after surgery. Please do not think you need to suffer in silence without communicating your discomfort. If you experience pain, the PACU nursing staff will give medication to you until the discomfort is tolerated. You will be asked about your level of pain, and if the medications or treatments made any difference. You may also use a machine called a patient-controlled analgesia pump (PCA). You will receive instructions on how it works and how you can best use it to prevent pain and discomfort from becoming intolerable.

Sometimes your anesthesiologist may recommend a regional anesthetic for certain types of surgeries (i.e., a total knee replacement) to help block pain sensations after surgery.

Where do I go after I leave PACU?

You will leave the recovery area only after your anesthesiologist and the nursing staff agree that it is safe. Where you go next will depend on the way you were scheduled for surgery.

If you are going to be an inpatient, you will be transported on a stretcher, or on your hospital bed, to the nursing floor. The hospital has both private and semi-private rooms; if you wish to stay in a private room make sure you inform the hospital staff when you are admitted.

If you are scheduled as an outpatient, and expect to go home that day, you will be returned to a secondary recovery room like the one you used before surgery. You may be seated in a lounging chair and have an opportunity to drink fluids.

The nursing staff will allow you to be discharged once they know it is safe for you. You may need to demonstrate that you can drink fluids or take food without severe nausea or vomiting. Your surgeon may have other requirements to meet before you can be safely discharged. The nursing staff will review all of your surgeon's instructions for how to care for yourself over the next few days and give you written information. Your family or companions are welcome to hear all of this information and all can ask questions. It is important that you know what to expect and what signs or symptoms to report to your surgeon immediately. You can opt to take your prescription to your local pharmacy or we can send your prescription to the Overlake Tower Pharmacy and your family member can pick it up before you are discharged.

You may be drowsy, weak or unsteady on your feet; that is why the hospital insists a companion take you home. Nursing or volunteer staff will take you in a wheelchair to the hospital entrance and help you transfer to your companion's car for your ride home.

If I have outpatient surgery, are there things I shouldn't do after I am discharged?

Your surgeon will identify any particular restrictions on your activity, and the nursing staff will review them with you before discharge. However, you have received relaxing drugs (tranquilizers, sedatives, narcotics) as part of any anesthesia. You should not drive or operate any heavy machinery for at least the next 24 hours. You should not drink alcohol or take other drugs without your surgeon's permission. You should not sign any legal papers, agreements or contracts.

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