Checklist: after surgery

Photo of a kiwi

Here’s what you can expect to happen after your operation, and what you can do to help recovery.

After surgery, you will go home with a list of instructions to help you recover as quickly and safely as possible. Ask your doctor or nurse to explain anything you don't understand. This is a time to seek support from caring family members and friends. If you need help, ask for it.

Your checklist

After surgery

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety.

  • Keep all scheduled visits, know the results of all tests and labs ordered as part of your care, and keep an up-to-date list of medicines you are taking.
  • Before returning home, tell your doctor or a member of your health care team what you understand about your current condition, what you need to do next, and why that's important.
  • Know how to contact us between visits, and call your doctor or other health care professionals if you have signs that you are having problems.

Your after-surgery instructions include:

  • Which medications you should take and when.
  • Early signs or symptoms that may indicate a problem after surgery.
  • The level of activity that is safe for you. For example, the instructions may list when it is okay to drive, how much you can walk each day, how much weight you can lift, and what other things you can do as you recover. For most surgeries, you will be encouraged to be as active as comfortably possible.
  • Being active will help your circulation and keep your lungs expanded. Walking is an excellent activity after most surgery for preventing blood clots. Ask your doctor if you are unsure of what you can do.
  • Breathe. Focus on taking several deep breaths every hour until you are up and around normally. This will help make you less prone to pneumonia.
  • Do not smoke after surgery.
  • For your safety, you must not drive until you are pain-free and off all narcotic pain medication.
  • The best way to bathe and protect your wound. For example, the instructions will explain how to cover the area if needed and when it is safe to shower and let the incision get wet.
  • How to care for incisions and change your surgical dressings.
  • Whether you will need to make any changes in your diet.
  • Many people will have some nausea the first 24 hours after surgery. Liquids and bland foods help during this time.
  • Many people develop constipation after surgery due to inactivity and pain medication. Prevent this by including plenty of fluids and fiber in your diet, and by being as active as possible.
  • The use of special equipment, such as a sling or crutches.
  • When to have a follow-up appointment with your surgeon. Your surgeon will want to talk to you before the appointment if you:
    • have questions about your home care instructions
    • develop a symptom or problem that you do not know how to handle
    • are not able to take your prescription medications

What to watch for

It’s very important to watch for signs of infection.

Mild swelling and redness around the incision area is normal after surgery. Symptoms of an infection may include:

  • pain, swelling, redness, or warmth around the incision site
  • red streaks extending from the incision site
  • pus draining from the incision site
  • fever or chills with no other known cause

Watch for chest pain or difficulty breathing. If you experience these, call an advice nurse or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.

Reviewed by: Margaret Mentakis, MD, April 2016
Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

© 2016 Kaiser Permanente

Surgery and your safety

Learn about the steps you and your surgery team will take to ensure your safety.

After your surgery

You’ll find patient instructions to help you have a safer and more comfortable recovery.

Find online communities and support groups to help you cope with challenges.

When a child needs surgery

Children needing surgery want comfort and answers. Learn how to get your child prepared for surgery.