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What to Expect When You're Sent Home After Surgery

By Amanda Gardner, Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on January 29, 2016

Your doctor tells you it's time to say goodbye to the hospital and head back home. You're excited, of course, but also maybe a little worried about the road ahead.

You can ease your fears if you take a moment to learn what will happen on the day you get sprung.

How will my doctor decide when I can leave?

Your surgeon will look for certain signs that show you're ready to go. He'll want to know that you:

  • Are able to stand and walk
  • Have any nausea under control
  • Can ease your pain with pills instead of medicine you get through an IV
  • Have normal breathing and blood pressure
  • Think and respond as well as you did before the surgery
  • Are able to pee and have a bowel movement

Will I need to go to a physical-rehab center before I can go home?

A lot depends on what type of operation you had. Often people can go straight home. But if you had hip or knee surgery, you might go to a rehab place after the hospital.

A social worker or case worker will help set the move up for you, says Vishal Kothari, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. You'll likely go there in an ambulette, a van that's got equipment to keep you comfortable during the drive.

Do I need to have someone with me when I leave?

If you had "outpatient" surgery, which means you don't stay overnight in a hospital, you won't be allowed to leave on your own. Your doctor will ask you to have a friend or family member drive you home and stay with you until the next day. He wants to make sure you're safe while the meds you took to prevent pain during the operation wear off.

"Anesthesia lasts about 24 hours," Kothari says. "It's important to have someone with you and watch you."

That person can also take notes on what you need to do when you get home.

"If you've had anesthesia that day or are having pain from the operation, it can be difficult to listen to the surgeon or nurse or social worker," says Frederick L. Greene, MD, a medical director at the Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, N.C. An extra pair of ears helps make sure you'll stay on the road to recovery.

What health complications do I need to watch for when I get home?

If you're going home after outpatient surgery, nausea and vomiting from the anesthesia can sometimes be a problem. Even if you felt fine right after your operation, you can get these symptoms later.

"Many people are really sensitive to anesthesia," Kothari says. "You can have trouble getting liquid down, you can get dehydrated, you could throw up pain pills."

Some pain medicine can also make you feel queasy. Call your doctor if this happens. He may prescribe anti-nausea medication or give you a different type of painkiller.

What do I need to know about medications?

Make sure you understand the doses and when you're supposed to take your pills. Also check to see whether you have enough to last through your recovery or if you'll need to get refills.

If your doctor asked you to stop taking certain medications before the surgery, such as blood thinners, find out when it's safe to start taking them again.

How do I contact my doctor?

Make sure you know how to reach your doctor or an assistant night and day in case of an emergency.

Also set up a follow-up appointment with your surgeon. "You shouldn't go home with that up in the air," Greene says.

 

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