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Surgery 101

What You Can Do To Help Avoid Medical Error After Surgery

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Ask about using a breathing device such as a spirometer

  • An incentive spirometer is an inexpensive small device that measures the air leaving the lungs. Blowing into the spirometer provides a lung-strengthening exercise that can significantly reduce the risk of pneumonia or other complications in the lungs following major surgery. 
  • Ask your doctor or nurse to teach you how to properly use it.

If you have one, monitor use of a catheter

  • If you require a urinary catheter [a tube inserted through the penis or vagina to remove urine from your body], ask your doctor or nurse how long it will need to remain in place.
  • The risk of urinary-tract infection increases significantly after two or three days.
  • If you still have the catheter in place 48 hours after surgery, find out when it should be removed.
  • If at any time you begin to feel urinary discomfort, ask the nurse to check whether the catheter is clogged. It should always be clean.

Pay Attention To An I.V. Line

  • Always tell your nurse if your intravenous (I.V.) line (a plastic line attached to a needle inserted in your vein, used for administering medication and other fluids.) begins leaking or if you develop pain, redness, or swelling in your arm or at the place where the needle enters your skin. Any of these symptoms could be a sign of a developing infection.

Exercise if you can and if you are allowed to

  • Ask your surgeon how soon after the operation you can engage in "light exercise." Studies indicate that too much "flat on your back" bed rest after surgery delays healing and may lead to other complications. For example:
  • You may start by sitting up in bed for short periods of time and then graduate to sitting in a chair. Sitting in an upright position minimizes your risk of complications with your breathing.
  • To keep arms flexible, you may be able to do easy range-of-motion exercises, like extending your arms and moving them slowly in circles.
  • Depending on the type of operation, it is usually recommended that you start walking as soon as possible after surgery. Walking can help reduce the risk of potentially dangerous blood clots in the legs.
    • Ask your nurse or advocate to help you take a stroll down the hall.
    • If you are overweight or have varicose veins, ask for a compressive device, such as elastic stockings, to wear during your recovery.  
  • If you are confined to bed and can not get up to exercise, with the doctor's prior approval:
    • Move your feet in circular motions and lightly lift them against the sheets. This helps with blood circulation.
    • Raise your arms back and forth.
    • Ask your doctor if you should be on blood thinners to prevent blood clots.
    • Consider other exercises. For instance, yoga in bed.
    • If you develop swelling in your legs or sudden shortness of breath ask doctor to make sure you don't have DVT (deep vein thrombosis) or a pulmonary embolism. 

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