Post-operative care

After surgery people usually wake up in some discomfort and often with tubes coming from seemingly everywhere. What are these tubes, and what do they do? One of the commonest is the ‘drip’ tube, carrying an intravenous infusion which may be a clear fluid containing sugar and body salts, or blood, and quite often drugs. This is usually required after dehydration, blood loss, or if there is going to be a period without fluids by mouth. After bowel surgery the intestines may not function properly for a few days. To prevent fluid accumulating in the stomach during this time, it is sometimes necessary to aspirate (suck out) stomach contents with a nasogastric tube, which goes through the nose down into the stomach. Following more major surgery, a tube called a bladder catheter is often left in the urethra, draining urine, so the patient does not have to worry about urinating. Another advantage of a catheter is that the medical staff can check the kidneys are functioning properly by sampling the urine.

One of the other commonly used tubes is a drain tube. This may drain or suck out blood from the operation site, in order to stop internal bruising, or drain cavities of secretions or suspected infections. There are other types of special tubes which are occasionally left in for more specific purposes.

Good nursing is essential following an operation. Pain relief is given when necessary, either by injection or tablets. The patient’s blood pressure and heart rate are monitored closely in the early phases of recovery, and within the first 24 hours the patient is encouraged to undertake breathing exercises and cough to prevent a chest infection developing. Most surgeons prefer their patients to get up and about and become mobile as soon as possible, and they usually encourage this.