After Surgery

Once your surgery is complete, you will be brought into the postanesthesia care unit (PACU), where you will recover from the anesthesia.

Just as in the operating room, your vitals will be closely monitored.  A dedicated recovery room nurse will safely care for you as you wake up from the anesthesia and begin your initial stages of recovery from surgery.  Your stay in the recovery room may vary depending on the type of surgery you’ve undergone, but generally, most patients can expect to stay in the PACU for 1 to 2 hours after surgery.  

Once you’ve fully recovered from the anesthesia, the recovery room nurse will begin to plan your disposition to either home or admission into the hospital.  The decision as to whether you go home or stay in the hospital is often times made before surgery and your surgeon will present the procedure as an “outpatient procedure” versus an “inpatient” one.  One exception, however, are patients with a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  Occasionally, procedures that are normally outpatient surgeries may require postoperative monitoring in a hospital setting for no less than 24 hours in patients with OSA.  This is because patients with OSA are at a higher risk for breathing complications and excessive sedation after surgery and anesthesia.  In OSA patients, a thorough discussion with your surgeon and the anesthesiologist should be had prior to your surgery regarding going home versus being monitored in the hospital.  Here is a resource with additional information about OSA and anesthesia.

Common experiences after surgery include the following:

  • Nausea is a common side effect of surgery, the anesthesia, and the narcotic pain medications.  Be sure to address any nausea with your recovery nurse before leaving the PACU, especially if you’re going home.  The nurse will have medications and different interventions available.
  • Some discomfort is expected after surgery, but if you’re having severe pain, be sure to let your recovery room nurse know, as the anesthesiologist will have medications ordered for you to treat your pain.
  • If you’ve received a general anesthetic, a sore throat is not uncommon.  It is from the breathing apparatus that was placed while you were under anesthesia.  Often times, this discomfort should only last 1 to 2 days, and the pain medications you are taking for your surgical pain should treat this pain as well.
  • You will not be able to drive immediately after surgery.  Plan on having a family member or friend drive you home if you’re having an outpatient/same-day procedure.  Along these lines,  plan to avoid making important decisions for 1 to 2 days after surgery, especially if you will be taking narcotics for pain control after surgery.