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After Surgery

Recovery begins immediately after surgery is complete, and continues during the days that follow.

Vital Signs

After surgery, we closely monitor the patient’s blood pressure, pulse, temperature and breathing. A nurse frequently checks on the patient, and a machine continuously tracks vital signs. If the patient’s heart rate or breathing rate changes significantly, an alarm sounds.

Diet and Digestion

Starting to Eat

After surgery, a nurse places a stethoscope on the patient’s stomach to listen for bowel sounds. We don’t allow the patient to eat or drink until the nurse detects those sounds. After that, we give ice chips or small sips of water. Based on what the patient can tolerate, we progress from clear liquids to solid foods.

IV Tube

During surgery, we might give pain medicines and fluids through an IV tube. Once the patient can take fluids, solid foods and pain medicines by mouth, we stop the IV fluids (but we might leave an IV tube in place for a while, if we think we might need to use it later).

Healthy Diet

A well-balanced diet helps the healing process. If you aren’t sure what or when the patient should eat, ask a nurse.

Bladder and Bowel Activity

Bladder and bowel needs depend on the type of surgery performed.

After surgery, we might drain the patient’s urine with a Foley catheter—a small tube we insert into the bladder. Sometimes, we place the catheter while the patient is asleep in the operating room.

For a short time, the patient might use a bedpan for toileting.

It might be a few days before the patient’s bowels return to normal function. Use of pain medicines and/or low levels of physical activity after surgery can cause some constipation. If constipation becomes a problem, discuss it with the patient’s health care provider.

Surgical Coverings

Depending on the type of surgery performed, the patient might have stitches under the skin and/or we might use adhesive Steri-Strips on the skin to hold the incision together. Steri-Strips often stay on until they fall off on their own. We might cover the incision with a clear or gauze dressing, which usually comes off in a few days.

Ask Us Questions


For safety, we encourage you to ask about medicines that we give the patient, especially new medicines. Ask us:

  • The name of the medicine.
  • What the medicine is for.
  • If there are any side effects.

IV Fluids

If the patient is receiving fluids through an IV tube, and you have questions about how slowly or quickly the fluid is moving, ask a nurse.

Pain Management

Most people need some pain relief during the first days or weeks after surgery. The length of time a patient uses medicine or other techniques for pain relief depends on the type of surgery performed and the person’s pain tolerance.

Many members of the patient’s health care team—including the surgeon, anesthesiologist and nurses—help address pain and discomfort that arise. Medicines and other pain-relief techniques can help a great deal.

About Pain

  • Pain is how someone’s body responds to surgery or injury.
  • Pain can range from mild to severe. It can include different kinds of feelings, such as dull aches or sharp, stabbing sensations.
  • Everyone feels pain differently, and pain medicine works differently for everyone.
  • Pain medicine works better if the patient takes it before pain gets severe.
  • Taking pain medicine regularly (including at night) is important to prevent severe pain.
  • Controlling pain helps a patient recover more quickly.


We give medicine to help keep patients comfortable. We use different types of medicines to treat different types of discomfort, including:

  • Pain.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Itching at a surgical incision site.

Other Techniques

In addition to giving medicine, we have several other methods to help ease pain. We might use:

  • Aromatherapy.
  • Deep breathing and relaxing.
  • Ice and/or heat.
  • Massage.
  • Music therapy.
  • Toys, games and videos to help divert attention from feelings of pain or discomfort.

You Can Help

You and other caregivers can help us manage the patient’s pain. We can show you how to use some of the pain-relief techniques described above. In addition, you can provide us with important information:

  • When pain occurs, tell a nurse. We’ll listen.
  • We might ask you to rate the amount of pain being felt, using a scale of zero to 10. Your feedback helps us determine if the patient has enough of the right type of medicine or if there is something else we can do to address the pain.
  • Tell us about past experiences with medicines and pain. Tell the patient’s health care providers about:
    • Allergies to medicines.
    • Side effects previously experienced with medicines.
    • Medicines and other pain-relief methods that have worked well in the past.
    • What the patient usually says or does when experiencing pain.


The length of a hospital stay after surgery depends on the type of procedure performed and on how quickly the patient recovers.

If the patient is staying overnight at Gillette after surgery, see Your Hospital Stay.


Returning Home

We’ll let you know when the patient is ready to leave Gillette.

Discharge From the Hospital

Before the patient leaves, we’ll give specific instructions for:

  • Recovering at home.
  • Scheduling follow-up appointments.
  • Caring for incisions (if applicable).
  • Managing pain and discomfort.
  • Following a proper diet.
  • Returning to activities.

Same-Day Surgery Patients: All patients should have an adult stay with them for 24 hours after surgery.

Patients Who’ve Stayed Overnight: Gillette strives to discharge patients by 11 a.m. each day. Whenever possible, we begin planning for discharge 24 hours ahead of time.


The patient should leave Gillette with a parent, family member or caregiver who can drive home. For safety reasons, we strongly encourage an adult to ride in the back seat with the patient.

If possible, use appropriate child safety seats or seat belts. If the patient is required to lie down during the trip home, be sure the vehicle has enough room for that.

For some patients, special car seats are available to safely secure a child in a vehicle while reclined. We can help you obtain one if it’s appropriate and safe for your child.

At Home

Managing Pain

You can expect ups and downs with pain relief during recovery at home. It’s common for pain to increase at times—especially when the patient increases activity. To help manage pain at home, try:

  • Music, stories, books, television, video games and other distracting activities.
  • Massage or a soothing touch on areas of the body that are pain-free.
  • Slow, deep breathing to encourage relaxation.

For more information, review Pain Management.


Patients should avoid receiving immunizations for one week after surgery.

Attitude and Mood

A positive attitude helps patients regain strength and return to normal activities. However, feeling frustrated, sad or angry is normal. If those feelings arise, it’s important to talk about them with people who can provide support.

Teach-Back: A Patient Education Partnership

Before you leave the hospital, Gillette staff use a technique called teach-back to make sure we’ve successfully prepared you to provide care at home. Here’s how it works:

We explain information or give you instructions you need to know.

We ask you to tell or show us what we’ve taught you.

If there’s anything we haven’t explained clearly enough, we discuss it with you further or reteach it in a way that’s more effective.

We think of teaching as a partnership with you. We want you to feel good about providing care at home. If you have any questions, please ask us!


If you need help with discharge arrangements or special transportation after surgery, call Child and Family Services at 651-229-3855.

If you have questions after you’re home, call Telehealth Nursing at 651-229-3890.