Recovery After Surgery

After surgery, you will wake up either in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) or the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU), also known as the recovery room.

The environment may be cool, moist, and busy. The nurse will be close by and will try to make you as comfortable as possible.

You may wear a face mask that provides oxygen. You may also intravenous tubes and lines—tubes attached to your chest, air boots on your legs and a catheter in your bladder to drain urine.

Telephone Numbers:

  • SICU: (617) 724-5100
  • Ellison 19: (617) 724-5910
  • PACU Overnight: (617) 726-2835

Your First Night Post-Op

Depending on the medical care and nursing care you require, you will spend your first night in the SICU, the PACU or your room on Ellison 19.

Once you have recovered from your anesthesia and are stable, you will be transferred to the Thoracic Surgical Unit on Ellison 19. The staff on this inpatient unit specializes in caring for patients who have had thoracic surgery.

Once on the inpatient unit, your progress will be monitored and the staff will help control discomfort with medications.

Your Progress After Surgery

Each morning the thoracic surgical team makes rounds. Doctors, nurses, and other members of the team will come into your room to examine you and review your progress over the past 24 hours.

Deep Breathing and Coughing

Your lungs need to stay clear for you to breathe well. The nursing staff will have you take deep breaths and cough while you are recovering from your surgery. This will help prevent any problems in the lungs like fluid build up or infection.

A special device called an "Incentive Spirometer" is used to help you breathe more deeply. The nurse will show you how to use this device or similar piece of equipment and have you practice several times a day.


With your nurse's help, you will be able to get out of bed the day after your surgery.

Each day you'll increase the distance you walk. Your goal should be to increase the distance and the length of time you are walking, but not the speed at which you walk. By the time you leave the hospital, you should be walking 500 feet at least four times a day. You should be able to walk up and down 10-13 stairs by the evening of the fourth day after surgery.The staff will make sure you balance your rest and activities.

Your legs should be kept up and elevated when you are sitting in a chair or lying in bed. This is to keep your legs from getting swollen. Don't let your legs dangle over the side of the bed or from a chair for more than 15 minutes. You will also be shown some leg exercises to do to keep the swelling down and improve the circulation in your legs.

You'll probably be able to take your first shower either on the evening of your third day or the morning of the fourth day after surgery.


Constipation occurs when your bowel slows down and you are unable to have a bowel movement. This can be caused by anesthesia, pain medication, inactivity or limited fluid and food intake.

Sometimes a laxative, stool softener or enema can help you have a bowel movement. Constipation is not serious and will get better once you are up and around more and are eating and drinking better.

Patient Education

Your nurses and doctors will explain all procedures and plans with you. If at any time you have questions, feel free to ask.

You'll receive written discharge instructions which will include general guidelines about what you should and should not do at home, information about your medications, and an individualized activity plan.

You can use the Patient and Family Learning Center (PFLC) to learn more about your condition and surgery. The PFLC is located on the first floor in the main hallway of the hospital and serves as a health library for patients and families who want to learn more about their health. Books, pamphlets, videos and Internet access is able to help you research and learn about a health issue. The PFLC is open Monday-Friday from 9 am to 5 pm.

Pain and Pain Medication

We will make you as comfortable as we can. If your pain is adequately treated, you will be able to move around better and do things that will help you recover sooner. Please let the staff know as soon as you have any discomfort or if your pain medication is inadequate.

Sometimes patients are worried about taking pain medication and becoming addicted. This should not be a concern, as you will only be taking the pain medication for a short period of time.

To help assess your pain, the staff will ask you to rate your pain on a scale of zero to 10. A score of zero means you have no pain and a score of 10 means you are having the worst pain ever.

Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA)

A pain medication pump will be attached to your IV line. You'll be given a button to press to control the delivery of pain medication from the pump. The pump delivers a very small but effective dose of pain medication.

As you feel pain or before activity, you should press the button. The system is designed so you don’t need to worry about getting too much pain medication.

Oral Medications

When you are able to eat, you will be switched to medication that you can swallow, such as Percocet.

Other Medications

In addition to your pain medication, you will receive an antibiotic to help prevent infection. You will also receive an injection of heparin two times a day to help prevent blood clots from forming in your legs. Any other medications that you typically take will be restarted as soon as possible.

After your surgery, you might have a variety of tubes and lines attached to help speed your recovery.

Learn more about managing your pain after surgery

Tubes, Catheters and Other Equipment

  • Epidural Catheter: Before your operation, a very thin tube or catheter might be placed into your back. Pain medication will continuously flow around the spinal cord decreasing your ability to feel pain
  • Urinary Catheter: A catheter will be placed in your bladder during surgery to make urination after surgery easier. The catheter will remain in for a few days
  • Chest Tubes: After chest surgery, it is necessary to drain air and fluid from the lining around the lung. Depending on the type of surgery, you may have one or more chest tubes. The tubes are monitored by the nurses and doctors for air and fluid. A chest x-ray is done one or more times each day to find out if you lung is healing. When your lungs are well expanded, as shown by your chest x-ray, the doctor will remove the tube
  • Air Boots for Circulation: To help prevent blood clots after surgery, you will wear air boots while you are in bed. These are made of soft plastic material, which wrap around your legs and inflate and deflate. You'll wear support stockings when you are out of bed