Surgery of any kind can be intimidating, and understandably so, as no surgery is without risk. However, once the surgery is said and done and you are resting comfortably at home, the journey is far from over. Now begins adhering to the lengthy post-operative instructions provided at discharge. You can feel vulnerable and anxious sitting all day wondering if what you are experiencing is ‘normal.’ Rest assured, normal is all relative, and everyone is different.
Pain is normal. Every surgical procedure is going to come with some degree of discomfort. With that being said, your discomfort should not be uncontrolled; however, it should also not be zero if you are taking pain medication. Pain is your body reminding you that you are recovering from a procedure that requires extra care and rest. Our goal is to manage your pain at a level that allows you to rest comfortably, sleep at night, perform your assigned rehabilitation exercises, and get up to eat, go to the bathroom, and perform daily hygiene. Our physicians will prescribe oral medications that should be taken as instructed, but only if needed.
One of the reasons you have pain after surgery is because you will likely also have swelling and bruising. As the body heals, it produces an inflammatory response that brings extra fluid to the surgical area. Though swelling and bruising is normal, it should not be left uncontrolled. You will be instructed to ice regularly (20 minutes every hour) and elevate your surgical site above the level of your heart to allow gravity to minimize swelling and get you feeling better faster. Bruising can be alarming in appearance, but it is part of surgery, and it will dissipate with time.
Incisional drainage is a common aspect of surgery. When your surgeon closes the wound, post-operative bandaging will immediately be applied. It is likely that the freshly-closed incision will continue to bleed a little. Dark red blood absorbed by the bandaging is run-of-the-mill. It is also common to have a thin, bloody or yellow-y, watery drainage exude from the site. As long as it is controlled and not turning to a thicker, pus-like substance, all is well.
Warmth can also be expected after surgery. Both the general body temperature and the surgical site itself will feel warm after surgery. The warmth at the surgical site is also the fault of that darn inflammatory response. Your general temperature being increased is due to your body working hard to heal. Our threshold for declaring fever is a temperature over 100.4 degrees.
Numbness and tingling are a common complaint after a surgical procedure. If swelling is present, it can exacerbate numbness and tingling. Additionally, nerves can be irritated during the procedure. Nerves are a rather slow-healing tissue. It is not uncommon to experience mild numbness and tingling for months after your procedure. Depending on what type of surgery you had, some permanent mild numbness could actually be the norm.
Nausea and vomiting are an unfortunate part of post-operative recovery for some patients. Nausea can be induced by anesthesia, in which case it should dissipate within the first couple of days. It can also be caused by narcotic medication. We will often prescribe an anti-nausea medication. Constipation can also be narcotic-induced. It can often be countered with increased fluids and fiber as well as a stool softener. Ultimately, the solution for both nausea and constipation is weaning from narcotics as quickly as possible.
Each of these symptoms by themselves is generally not problematic unless left uncontrolled. It is when someone calls to report multiple symptoms together (i.e. fever, warmth, heat, increased pain) that starts to trigger concern. If that happens, we will contact your surgeon to obtain further instructions as to how to proceed so you can stay on your path to recovery. If you are ever in doubt, please reach out to our Triage office, so we can put your mind at ease and make your recovery go as smoothly as possible.