When you wake up from colorectal cancer surgery, you will be in a recovery room. You will have an oxygen mask covering your nose and mouth. This mask delivers a cool mist of oxygen that helps eliminate the remaining anesthesia from your system and soothes your throat. Your throat may be sore from the breathing tube that was present during your surgery, but this soreness usually subsides after a day or two.
Once you are more alert, the nurse may switch your oxygen delivery device to a nasal cannula (small plastic tubing that hooks over your ears and lies beneath your nose). Depending on the percentage of oxygen measured in your blood, you may need to keep the oxygen in place. The nurse will check the oxygen content of your blood by placing a soft clip on one of your fingers.
Later, you will be moved to a hospital room where nurses will measure your “intake and output.” They will document all the fluids that you drink and measure and collect any urine or fluids you produce, including those from tubes or drains placed during surgery.
The tube that was passed from a nostril into your stomach (a nasogastric tube) during surgery will be removed in the recovery room. You may begin to drink liquids the morning after surgery. Once you have passed gas or have had a bowel movement, you will resume a solid diet. If you become nauseated or begin to vomit, your nasogastric tube may be reinserted.
If this happens, don’t be alarmed. Nausea and vomiting are common and occur because your intestines are temporarily disabled from the surgery and the effects of anesthesia. For this reason, food and drink are given slowly for the first few days after surgery.
You will be encouraged to get out of bed starting the first day after surgery. The more you move, the less chance for complications such as pneumonia or the formation of blood clots in your leg veins.
The length of your hospital stay will depend on the type of procedure you are having and how quickly you recover. For example, the average hospital stay for a laparoscopic partial colectomy ranges from three to six days.
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Recovery at Home after Surgery for Colorectal Cancer
You will be encouraged to steadily increase your activity level once you are home after surgery. Walking is great exercise! Walking will help your general recovery by strengthening your muscles, keeping your blood circulating to prevent blood clots, and helping your lungs remain clear. If you are fit and did regular exercise before surgery, you may resume exercising when you feel comfortable and your doctor gives the approval. However, strenuous exercise, heavy lifting, and abdominal exercises such as sit-ups should be avoided for six weeks after surgery.
Healthy Eating After Colorectal Surgery
Surgery for colorectal cancer can change the way the bowel functions, at least temporarily. Surgery can cause the bowel to become swollen and the wave-like contractions that move food along the intestinal tract (called peristalsis) may be reduced after surgery. As a result, food may not pass through the colon as quickly, causing a sense of fullness or bloating. Or, the food may not be as efficient in absorbing some of the water, causing loose stools.
You should follow a soft diet at home, which means you can eat almost everything except raw fruits and vegetables. A registered dietitian can provide more specific guidelines. You should follow this diet until your follow-up visit with your doctor. If you have problems with constipation, call your doctor.
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