Taking care of yourself at home after your operation

Looking after yourself at home is one of the most important parts of your recovery. Your rate of improvement and progress will depend on the type of surgery you have, what support you have at home, your overall fitness and health, and whether you are having other treatments.

If you live alone, it’s a good idea to organise a family member or friend to stay with you at home the first night after discharge, or to arrange to stay at their place.

Remember that recovery will take time, and try not to expect too much of yourself too soon. There are many aspects of your recovery that you will need to monitor in the first few days and weeks.


The most common side effect of surgery is the pain. Take pain relief medicine as prescribed by your healthcare team. If your pain isn’t under control, gets worse, or if the medicine causes side effects, talk to your GP as soon as possible.

If you are prescribed antibiotics, it is very important that you take the full course as instructed. Even if you feel better after a few days, you will need to take the entire course to completely kill bacteria and prevent infection.

When to call the doctor or go to hospital

Contact your doctor immediately or go to the nearest hospital emergency department if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • increased bleeding, swelling, redness, pus or drainage from the wound or around any tubes, drains or stomas
  • fever over 38 ̊C
  • swelling in your limbs
  • sudden, severe pain
  • pain or burning when urinating
  • nausea or vomiting for 12 hours or more
  • trouble breathing, walking or doing things you could do before the surgery.

Wound care

Your nurse will give you instructions on how to care for the wound. Clean it with mild soap and warm water and pat it dry, and avoid putting lotions or perfumes on the wound and the area around it. Your nurse will also explain how to change the dressings.

If adhesive strips have been used to close the wound, they should fall off within a few weeks, or you will be told when to remove them. If you remove the strips too soon, the wound might open. Your doctor or nurse will remove any stitches or staples during a follow-up appointment.

You might have some bruising around the surgical site, but this will fade over a few weeks. Try not to pick at any scabs around the wound, as this can cause infection.


Although it’s a good idea to stay active and do gentle exercise while you are recovering, it’s also important to follow your doctor’s advice about restrictions, such as avoiding heavy lifting. You may find that you tire easily and need to rest during the day. Get plenty of sleep and take breaks if you feel tired, and ask family or friends to assist you with household tasks, such as cooking. If you require home help services, speak to the hospital social worker or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to find out what is available in your area.


Unless you’ve been told otherwise, you will be able to shower. Wash your body as gently as possible and pat yourself dry. If you have dressings, you might need to keep them dry while you shower – your nurse will give you instructions.

Going to the toilet

Try not to strain when you go to the toilet, as this can cause small tears around the anus and swollen veins (haemorrhoids or piles). If you are taking strong pain medicine, you may also need to take medicine to help prevent constipation. If you haven’t had a bowel movement within a few days of the surgery, your pharmacist or doctor can give you advice or medicine to help.

Some people have trouble holding urine or bowel movements (incontinence) after surgery, especially abdominal surgery. This is usually temporary. Ask your surgeon or GP if you can speak to a continence nurse, who can help treat or manage this problem. For more information, call the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 or visit continence.org.au or bladderbowel.gov.au.


Eating and drinking

Some people feel queasy after surgery. When you feel like eating, try basic foods such as rice and toast before going back to your usual diet (or following the special diet you were instructed to eat). Eat fibre and drink plenty of water to avoid constipation, and avoid alcohol, especially if you are taking medicine.


Try to do some gentle exercise to build up your strength. A physiotherapist can help you with this. Your doctor will discuss activities that should be avoided, such as heavy lifting, driving or sexual intercourse. It may be several weeks before you return to your usual activities.

You may also need some equipment to help you move safely, such as a walker, walking stick, shower chair or ramp. A physiotherapist or occupational therapist will show you how to use this equipment.


Source: Cancer Council of Victoria