This is a list that was given to me prior to my surgery from my healthcare team. It helped me navigate the first few weeks. I had both left lobes of my lung removed and really had no idea what to expect.
While In the Hospital
After the procedure, you will spend some time in a recovery room. You may be sleepy and confused when you wake up from general anesthesia or sedation. Your healthcare team will watch your vital signs, such as your heart rate and breathing. You’ll be given pain medicine, if you need it. Many thoracic surgeons insert an epidural, which remains in for a few days to help with after surgery pain. A chest X-ray may be done right after the surgery. This is to make sure your lungs are OK. You will stay in the hospital for several days.
You may have one or more chest tubes near the incision to drain air or fluid from the chest. The chest tubes may cause pain when you move, cough, or breathe deeply. They will be taken out before you leave the hospital. There are times when the tubes are not removed prior to surgery – I was one of those patients. I had my chest tube for 6 weeks.
You may receive breathing treatments from Respiratory Therapy, such as Albuterol. This helps open your lungs to make breathing better. A common side effect from this medication is nervousness, shaking, and an abundance of energy. You will be taught deep-breathing exercises and coughing methods to help your lungs re-expand after surgery. This is to help breathing and prevent pneumonia. You may need oxygen for a period of time after surgery. In most cases, the oxygen will be stopped before you go home. Or, you may need to go home with oxygen.
You will be told to move around as much as you can while in bed, and get out of bed and walk as soon as you can. This will help your lungs heal faster. You may be given fluids to drink a few hours after surgery. You will be given food to eat as you are able.
After Being Discharged
At home, keep the incision clean and dry. Your healthcare provider will give you bathing instructions. The stitches or staples will be removed during a follow-up appointment. The incision may be sore for several days. Your chest and shoulder muscles may ache, especially with deep breathing, coughing, and activity. You can take pain medicine as advised by your healthcare provider. Aspirin and certain other pain medicines may increase bleeding. Make sure to take only the medicines your healthcare provider advises.
Keep doing the breathing exercises you learned in the hospital. Slowly increase your physical activity as tolerated. It may take several weeks to return to normal. You may need to avoid lifting heavy items for several months. This is to prevent strain on your chest muscles and the incision.
While you’re healing, take steps to prevent exposure to:
- Upper respiratory infections, such as colds and flu
- Tobacco smoke
- Chemical fumes
- Environmental pollution
Call your healthcare provider if you have any of the below:
- Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised by your healthcare provider
- Redness or swelling of the incision
- Blood or other fluid leaking from the incision
- Pain around the incision that gets worse
- Feeling short of breath
- Trouble breathing
- Pain with breathing
- Chest pain
- Confusion or other change in mental state
- Green, yellow, or blood-tinted sputum (phlegm)
Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions after the procedure.