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surgical inpatient unit

Alternative Names 
general surgery unit, surgery unit, surgery ward, surgery floor

The surgical inpatient unit is an area of a hospital where people who have surgery are cared for before they go home when a hospital stay is required.

What is the information for this topic? 
After major surgery, a person may need to stay in the hospital for a short time. The early recovery period may require close monitoring and care. Analgesics can also be given more easily in a hospital setting.

At first, a person may need to go to the intensive care unit or other intensive care area of the hospital. Most people, though, will end up in the surgery inpatient unit before they go home. Many people go right from the operating room to the surgery inpatient unit after a short stay in the surgery recovery room.

Once a person gets to the surgery inpatient unit, a certain routine is often followed. An intravenous or IV is already in a person's arm and fluids are often being given through it. A person is usually wheeled to the surgery inpatient unit on a movable bed or a wheelchair. The person is then put in a room and, usually, right to bed. The medication used for anaesthesia is still in the system and the person is often very tired. The only thing that often keeps people awake is pain or hunger.

The size of the room and number of other people in it can vary. Usually, between 1 and 4 people are in each room. A television is usually available to watch.

If pain is not being controlled, a person should ask for more analgesia. No one should be afraid to ask for pain relief after surgery. Every person responds differently to analgesia and some need more than others. Analgesia can often be given through an IV or a needle to give quick relief. Sometimes, people are given a button to press to give them analgesia through their IV tube as needed.

Hunger is handled differently. While many people experience nausea after surgery, some are very hungry. In most cases, people are not allowed to eat for 8 or 12 hours before surgery. After surgery, many people are not allowed to eat right away. The bowels often take a much longer time to wake up from anaesthesia than the rest of the body. If feeding is started too soon, the person may vomit, get a lung infection such as pneumonia, or disturb the surgery incision. Nutrition can be given through the IV if needed. Whether or not a person can eat after surgery often depends on the surgery performed. The doctor or nurse can answer specific questions about eating and food.

Though a person is tired, members of the staff may come in to examine the person and ask him or her questions. The blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate may be measured. The person may be examined from head to toe to make sure the recovery process is normal. The area around the surgery incision may need to have frequent bandage or dressing changes. This is to keep the wound clean and free from infection. These dressing changes are sometimes painful, but are necessary. People should ask for analgesia if they need it.

Medications, such as antibiotics, analgesias, and others, may also be hanging in bags above the bed to be given through the IV. These may need to be changed often. A tube called a urinary catheter may be placed through the urethra into the bladder. The urethra is the hole through which urine leaves the bladder. Often this is present when the person wakes up from surgery. Though this tube may be uncomfortable, it is often necessary to measure the amount of urine accurately and quickly. It is often taken out within a day or two of surgery. Sometimes, special stockings or leg wraps are placed around the calves to prevent blood clots.

People may notice that the staff is very concerned about their urine and bowel habits after surgery. The staff may even ask if a person has been passing gas. These can be important markers that the bowel and bladder are waking up from surgery. This is often a sign that a person is able to eat or even go home.

The surgeon often comes by early in the morning, sometimes only once a day. The treatment plan for the entire day is written in the chart and carried out by the nursing staff. If questions come up at other times, they can be written down or the nurse can be asked.

People may be asked to get up out of bed before they want to. Early movement has been shown to speed healing and prevent blood clots. The sooner a person is up and about, the sooner they are usually able to go home. Mild pain may occur and is normal, but severe pain is a signal from the body that activity may be doing more harm than good.

Once a person is eating well, moving around okay, and able to control pain with pills instead of medication through an IV, they are usually ready to go home. The surgeon and nurse should give home care instructions before a person leaves. A follow up appointment is usually scheduled before a person leaves the hospital. People should not be afraid to ask any questions before they go home.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 19/06/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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