Open Nephrectomy: Before Your Surgery

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What is a nephrectomy?

A nephrectomy is surgery to take out part or all of the kidney. One or both kidneys may be taken out. Sometimes other tissue near the kidney is taken out at the same time.

The doctor will take out your kidney through a long cut in the front or side of your belly. This cut is called an incision. The incision will leave a scar that will fade with time.

Your body can work fine with one healthy kidney. But if both kidneys are removed, or if the kidney you have left is not healthy, you will need other treatment after surgery. Your doctor will talk to you about this.

You will probably spend 3 to 5 days in the hospital. You will need to take it easy for 4 to 6 weeks at home.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • You may need to empty your bowels with a laxative or an enema. Your doctor will tell you if you need to do this.
  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
    Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
    Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
    Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • Bring a picture ID.
    The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
    You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You will be asleep during the surgery.
    You may get an epidural catheter. This is a small tube that puts pain medicine into the area in your back around your spinal cord. It helps prevent pain after surgery.
    The surgery will take about 2 to 3 hours.
    You will have a tube that drains urine from your bladder. This is called a urinary catheter.
    You may have a small tube coming out of your belly. This tube will drain fluids.
    You may have a thin plastic tube in your nose that goes down the back of your throat into your stomach. It will drain stomach juices. It is usually removed in the days after surgery.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.