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What Is Post-operative Care?

Prior to surgery, patients may spend considerable time preparing for spine surgery. Preparations often include learning about the spinal procedure and recovery, pre-operative testing and organizing the household for aftercare.

But what happens immediately after surgery, when the procedure is over?

The purpose of this article is to answer that question for patients and their families.

The Recovery Room
Post-operative recovery starts in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU). This unit is dedicated to meet the patient’s needs, thereby minimizing post-operative complications.

Anesthesia and Waking Up
Although it may only have taken moments to surrender to general anesthesia, recovery from anesthesia takes time. Throughout surgery, the anesthesiologist helps you maintain deep sleep. During this time, muscles and fat absorb some of the anesthesia, which helped to maintain levels of anesthesia in the brain and blood.

It takes time for anesthesia to be eliminated from the body’s tissues. Many factors affect the amount of time a patient may spend in the PACU. These factors include the pre-operative medication, the type of anesthetic, and the length of time an anesthetic was administered during surgery.

Hearing is the first sense to return following general anesthesia. This is why the PACU staff speaks in a reassuring tone while letting the patient know what they are doing.

Assessing Patient Needs and Vital Signs
In the PACU, you may need to wear certain devices to automatically monitor your vital signs. These devices include a blood pressure cuff, oximeter (records pulse), and EKG leads (monitors the heart). The IV remains in place to deliver medication and fluids intravenously. A urinary catheter collects urine to help the nurse monitor kidney function and hydration after many spine surgical procedures.

Every few minutes, a nurse assesses your overall condition. This helps to minimize post-operative complications. In addition, the nurse will place warm blankets around your body. It is common for patients to feel cold following surgery.

Pain Management
The effects of anesthesia linger following surgery, providing extended relief from pain. Other forms of pain management are used to augment the diminished effects of anesthesia.

Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) is used post-operatively for pain control. This device allows you to self-dose pain relieving medication at the push of a button. PCA is a computerized pump programmed to dispense small doses of pain medication through an intravenous (IV) line. Your physician will set the parameters so you will only get the appropriate dose. Pain relief is sustained to provide more consistent and better pain relief. Later, oral pain medications will replace PCA. Notify your nurse or doctor immediately if pain is not sufficiently relieved.

Proper Breathing
Lying flat for long periods of time can cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs. A nurse can helps you sit up to breath deeply and cough. This loosens secretions for elimination and helps to prevent pneumonia.

Deep breathing increases circulation and promotes elimination of anesthesia.

Some patients are instructed to breath into a spirometer. A spirometer is a device used to measure how deeply a patient is able to breath (eg, lung capacity) and acts as an incentive so you will see just how deeply you are breathing.

Regardless of what type of surgery you had, the most important advice is to always follow your doctor's specific instructions. If you do that, you're well on your way to achieving a successful recovery from spine surgery.

Updated on: 01/23/14
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