Recovering From Surgery / Intensive Care

Recovering from surgery:

Picture of a female nurse with a patient

Once surgery has been completed, you are brought to the recovery room, which also may be called the post-anesthesia care unit. In the recovery room, clinical staff will closely monitor you as you recover from anesthesia. The length of time spent in recovery depends on the type of surgery performed and the individual patient. While a patient is in recovery, the clinical staff may do the following:

  • monitor vital signs such as blood pressure, pulse, and breathing

  • monitor for any signs of complications

  • take the patient's temperature

  • check for swallowing or gagging

  • monitor the patient's level of consciousness

  • check any lines, tubes, or drains

  • check the wound

  • check intravenous infusions

  • monitor the patient's bladder distention

  • maintain the patient's comfort with pain medication and body positioning

A patient can aid the speed of recovery by doing certain breathing and moving exercises in the recovery room. Always consult with your physician before trying the following:

  • deep breaths

    Lying flat for an extended period of time can cause fluids to accumulate in the lungs. Taking deep breaths utilizing the entire diaphragm and abdomen can prevent pneumonia from setting in.

  • spirometer

    A spirometer is a device used by your physician that assesses lung function. Spirometry, the evaluation of lung function with a spirometer, is one of the simplest, most common pulmonary function tests and may be necessary for any/all of the following reasons:

    • to determine how well the lungs receive, hold, and utilize air

    • to monitor a lung disease

    • to monitor the effectiveness of treatment

    • to determine the severity of a lung disease

    • to determine whether the lung disease is restrictive (decreased airflow) or obstructive (disruption of airflow)

  • coughing

    Coughing helps remove chest secretions, which is another way to prevent pneumonia.

  • turning

    Changing positions while in the recovery bed helps stimulate circulation and deeper breathing and relieves pressure areas.

  • foot and leg exercises

    Moving the legs and feet stimulates circulation. Depending on the type of surgery, patients are encouraged to bend the knee and raise the foot several times, to "bicycle" and to draw circles with their great toes. You may be asked to wear special elastic stockings to stimulate circulation.

What is intensive care?

Sometimes a patient is transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) for further, close monitoring. Intensive care is most often needed for patients on artificial ventilation, for patients recovering from heart attacks or major surgery, for patients in shock, and for patients with acute renal failure, among other reasons. In intensive care, clinical staff closely watches the patient 24 hours a day.


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