So You’re Having Abdominal Surgery

Your friends at Patient Action are so sorry that you need to have abdominal surgery. This information will help you prepare for your operation…. both physically and mentally. It is our hope that this information will empower you to advocate for yourself in achieving a quicker and less complicated surgical recovery. We wish you all of the best wishes for a complete and speedy recovery as you embark on this journey towards wellness.


  • Make plans to have someone stay with you during your first week home. Especially if you have small children that need to be picked up.

    It’s nice to have someone there to answer your phone calls or the door bell, if you drop something, or if something heavy has to be lifted. It’s especially nice to have someone prepare your meals and to cater to you in other ways during that first week or two.

  • If you can’t get someone to stay with you, you can prepare yourself by freezing some lunches which can be easily zapped in the microwave when you get hungry. Have small containers of cereal, milk, yogurt, cheese crackers, pretzels, etc available. If you are alone, put non-perishable items and bottled water in a container/cooler and leave near where you will be spending most of your time that first week (which will probably be your bedroom!) Put bottled water in the refrigerator or small containers of other liquids you enjoy. Have your husband, significant other or child prepare your lunch and beverages and put in a cooler so you have easy access. Be sure to place the cooler within reach of where you will be spending most of your first week of recovery.
  • If you normally take medications each day, make sure you have enough to get you through your recuperation period. Buy a pill box that will allow you to prepare your medicines in advance for a 2 week period so that they will be easily accessible to you. If you are weak from the surgery and having a difficult time opening the tops of your medication containers, dump each container into its own small ziplock baggie so you can access it easily. e sure to place the empty medicine container in the plastic bag so you can identify the medicine and know what the proper dose will be.
  • Make sure you have a phone nearby or hook your phone up to an answering machine so you can retrieve messages when you aren’t up to answering the phone. Don’t think you have to answer the phone each time it rings. You are recuperating from a major body trauma. Take the time necessary to heal.
  • Make a pile of all of the magazines and books you haven’t had the time to read. You probably won’t have the energy or desire to read during your first week home, but after that, reading helps to pass away the time. You may want to buy a lap desk to help support the book or magazine. A simple clip board will work also.
  • Have a radio and/ or TV (with remote!) nearby where you will be spending much of your recuperation. You will have a lot of down time during the first two weeks post-op. The distraction of radio or TV will help you pass the time away.
  • Have a notebook so that you can write down the names of those who sent you gifts, flowers, etc; or who visited you so that you can send them a thank-you note. You may also use this notebook for journaling your thoughts as you get stronger. It is very therapeutic to write down things that you are grateful for each day- it takes the emphasis away from feeling sorry for yourself to being grateful each day.
  • Plan your wardrobe for the first few weeks post-op. Loose fitting or elastic waist clothing is best. It may be difficult to wear pants for a few weeks after surgery. Make a pile of comfortable clothes so that you don’t have to go in and out of your closet and dresser each day.
  • Let everyone important to you know about your procedure in advance. Tell them the exact date and time of the operation and ask them to send you loving and positive thoughts and prayers at the very moment you will be having your procedure. This includes your clergy.
  • If anyone asks you how they can help, don’t be shy. Tell them what you will need them to do. Perhaps, bring over a dinner that you can put in your freezer for when you come home; or perhaps run errands for you post-op; Write down the names & phone numbers of the people who offer to help so that you can call them when you need their help.
  • Buy some lavender oil to use while in the hospital. Research shows that the fragrance of lavender sends a calming message to the brain which counters adrenalin-producing stress signals.
  • Buy a full-sized body pillow (and pillow case) which you can use at home to get yourself into a comfortable position while in bed. They can be purchased at a variety of retails shops, including Walmart. You may also want to buy a smaller foam half round pillow which can be invaluable for comfort while in the hospital. Purchase one with a removable cover so it can be washed.
  • Bring your own pillow with brightly colored pillow case to the hospital as hospital pillows can be very uncomfortable. The brightly covered pillowcase will alert your health care team that this is your personal pillow and will brighten up your bedside environment. Use the pillow as a splint across your incision on the car ride home to protect it from bumps along the way.
  • Bring an inexpensive CD or cassette player with your favorite music to the hospital. Music is very soothing and relaxing. It can distract your from stress and discomfort. Be sure to label it with your name..
  • While you are asleep during surgery, the anesthesiologist will be inserting a breathing tube down your throat (don’t worry, it will be removed before you wake up!). Bring some lollipops /throat lozenges to the hospital with you. Once you are allowed to eat, they can be used to soothe your throat if it is sore from the tube. If the pain is moderate to severe, ask your doctor for something to help.
  • Wear loose fitting clothing to the hospital and then plan on wearing these same items home. You will not need a nightgown, pajamas or bathrobe. Hospital gowns are easiest and a 2nd one can be used as robe. Bring comfortable slip- on rubber-soled slippers or sandals. Try not to walk barefoot in the hospital. Bring a pair of flip flops for the shower.
  • Bring a tooth brush and toothpaste. Mouthwash is sometimes available from the hospital, but not always. Chap stick is extremely helpful for the first day or two when your lips will feel really dry.
  • Bring paper and pencil so you can write down all of your questions as they arise. This assures that all of your questions will be answered.
  • Discuss the use of magnet therapy with your doctor. Magnets increase blood circulation and can promote healing. Placing small magnetic spots around your incision immediately after you return from surgery cannot hurt you. Continue to wear them for as long as you deem necessary. Spot magnets can be purchased on line at or call them at1-877-858-9082


  • Plan on having so an advocate accompany you to the hospital and staying with you during the surgery. First of all, you shouldn’t drive yourself to the hospital as you will probably be stressed out. Secondly, as a patient, you absorb a lot less information when you are anxious, vulnerable, in pain, afraid and undressed. Plan on keeping your patient advocate with you at all times, even overnight if you are going to need hospitalization. You will be able to rest much better. Your advocate can ask questions that you may not think about when you are stressed or in pain. He/She will help you get the right medicines & treatments. Your advocate can also help remember answers to questions you have already asked. He or she can speak up for you when you cannot speak up for yourself. Make sure this person knows the kind of care you want. Make sure he/she knows what you want done about life support and other life-saving efforts in the event that you are unconscious and not likely to get better. Go over the consents for treatment with your advocate. Make sure you both understand exactly what you are about to agree to. Make sure your advocate knows the type of care you will need when you get home. Your advocate should know what to look for if your condition is getting worse. He or she should also know who to call for help
  • You will be admitted to a pre-op area where you will be assigned a nurse who will admit you. An Intravenous (IV) will be started. You will be seen by the anesthesiologist. He/she will talk with you and explain what type of anesthesia will be used to put you to sleep. Be sure to tell him/her if you have any neck problems so that extra attention will be paid to the positioning of your head during the operation.
  • You may be in the pre-op area for a long time before actually being taken to the Operating Room (OR). You will probably have your Intravenous (IV) inserted long before your surgery begins. You can get up and go to the bathroom with the IV. Ask your nurse to show you how to do that the first time. Don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t be afraid to go to the bathroom! Be sure to also ask the nurse for a 2nd hospital gown that you can throw over your shoulders to maintain modesty and prevent exposure of your rear parts.
  • If you feel really nervous, put some lavender oil on your forearm and take a big whiff of its fragrance. Do some deep breathing- breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. If there’s time, listen to some of your relaxing music.
  • If you are so inclined, ask your doctor/nurse/family to say a prayer with you. .


    • Continue to use your lavender as needed. Stroke a drop of it over your temples to reduce tension headaches; massage a drop across your throat to calm tickly coughs; place a drop on the pillow to relieve insomnia. Put some on your forearm so that you can keep smelling it to reduce stress.
  • Ask someone to place your magnets around your incision as soon as possible after your operation. They can be applied with band aids. If they fall off, re-apply them with new band aids. It’s OK to get them wet.
  • Let your nurse know if your throat is very sore after surgery. The doctor can order a throat spray for the discomfort. Once again, this soreness is due to the breathing tube they insert into your throat during surgery while you are asleep.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Write them down if necessary so you won’t forget to ask them when your doctor makes rounds.
  • Be aware of the role of hand washing plays in controlling infection. Wash your hands frequently and make sure your health care team washes their hands before touching you! Don’t be afraid to remind them to do this.
  • Get up and walk. It may hurt, but it will reduce your risk for post-op complications. If you feel weak, ask for assistance.
  • Keep a pillow nearby at all times to hold against (splint) your incision in case you have to cough or sneeze. Don’t be afraid to cough – coughing is good post-op – it reduces your risk of lung complications.
  • Use the hand-held breathing device that they leave at your bedside every hour while you’re awake – this, too, is very important in the prevention of post-op lung complications.
  • Ask the nurses to help position you comfortably. This may require 4-5 pillows! When you turn on your side, place a pillow against your abdomen for support and also put one between your knees to reduce the tension on your abdomen. Turn and position yourself from side to side frequently if possible. If you need help doing this, call the nurse to help you.
  • While you are asleep during surgery, a tube will be passed through your urethra into your bladder to drain urine during the operation. The tube will usually be removed before you wake up. On rare occasions, having had this tube in place may interfere with the normal ability to urinate (pee) for a few hours post-removal. It is very important for you to tell your nurse the first time you urinate (pee) after your surgery.
  • Do not stress out when your doctor tells you that he/she is going to remove the staples that are holding your incision together. It really doesn’t hurt! If you feel very anxious, you can time your pain medication to get it about 45 minutes before the staples are to be removed or while the staples are being removed, do some deep breathing – breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take whiff of lavender.
  • Ask your doctor if he or she would be willing to give you your prescriptions for post-op medications a day or two before you are discharged so that someone (husband, mate, friend, etc) can have them filled and ready for you upon discharge.
  • Don’t go home without discussing post-op bowel function with your doctor, ESPECIALLY if you tend to be constipated. Find out what you can use and use it!
  • Ask your doctor if there is anything you can put on your scar to promote healing and reduce scarring. I used the oil from inside Vitamin E capsules and applied it twice a day once all of the bandages came off the incision. PUT NOTHING ON YOUR INCISION WITHOUT YOUR DOCTOR’S APPROVAL ESPECIALLY IF YOUR INCISION IS RED, VERY PAINFUL OR OOZING.


  • Plan to take your last dose of pain medication about 45-60 minutes BEFORE you leave the hospital for home. It will help ease the discomfort during the ride home.
  • Hold your pillow tightly against your abdomen on the way home from the hospital. It will help protect you from the seatbelt and from any ” bumpiness ” on the way home.


  • Follow all of your doctor’s instructions! Try to stay off of your feet as much as possible and do not lift anything heavier than a telephone book.
  • Keep all post-op doctor appointments.
  • Don’t be a martyr. You don’t need to suffer. Take your pain medications as prescribed for at least the first two weeks. It’s important to stay on top of the pain. You may even want to set your alarm so that you can keep on top of the pain during the night. This will actually help you recover more quickly as your body can focus on healing, not on pain. Keep your pain meds and water close by so you can easily reach them. (Be careful to make sure that young children do not have access to them). ). Do not drive or operate any dangerous equipment or machinery while taking pain meds.
  • Let your doctor know if you are having trouble sleeping. Adequate rest is important for you. Once you go off your pain medication you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Let your doctor know. He/she may consider prescribing you something for a few days to help you sleep.
  • If you sleep on your back, try positioning pillows under your thighs and/or knees. It will take some of the pressure off of your incision. Sleeping flat may be uncomfortable. Use several pillows to increase your comfort. If possible (or desirable), sleep alone the first week so you have the full space in your bed to get yourself comfortable.
  • If you feel weak once you are allowed to shower, put a plastic chair in the shower. Make sure it is sturdy- you wouldn’t want to have an accident.
  • Call your doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:
    • Fever
    • Sweats
    • Redness around or drainage from your incision
    • abdominal pain
    • shaking chills
    • cloudy, bad-smelling urine
    • painful urination

Good luck with your upcoming surgery! May you have a speedy and complete recovery.


  • Advocate: One who pleads the cause of another; one who supports, defends, and verbally recommends a cause, proposal or line of action; advisor or supporter
  • Anesthesia: substances administered during surgery to put patients to sleep so that the surgical procedure is totally pain-free. Anesthesiologist: licensed medical doctor who is responsible for
    (1) administering the drugs that put you to sleep during your surgery;
    (2) monitoring your vital functions during your surgery;.
  • Empower: finding your voice in order to get your needs met through the acquisition of knowledge & skills.
  • Health Care Team:specially trained personnel, including doctors & nurses, who collaboratively work together to help health care consumers meet their health care needs with the best possible outcome.
  • Intravenous: (IV):Catheter inserted into a superficial vein usually in hand or arm, that can deliver fluids, electrolytes, medications, nutrients, etc.

” Informed Consent “- 5:04 minutes

” Preparing For Surgery ” – 4:07 minutes

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