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Commonly asked questions

When should you call your doctor?

Call your doctor if:

  • you have a temperature of 101 F or higher
  • you have nausea or vomiting that will not stop
  • you have increased pain that cannot be relieved with rest or pain medicine
  • your incision becomes red, more tender, has increased drainage, or signs of infection:
    • pain
    • swelling
    • redness
    • odor
    • warmth
    • green or yellow discharge
  • you have hives (itchy raised rash)
  • you have any new pain or swelling in your legs
  • you have problems breathing
  • you have chest pain that gets worse with deep breathing or coughing
  • you have rectal bleeding that is new or gets worse
  • you go more than two days without a bowel movement
  • you have any change in movement (such as new weakness or inability to move as usual)
  • you are unable to urinate or have pain or burning when you urinate
  • you have any questions of concerns

In an emergency, call 911 or have someone take you to the nearest hospital Emergency Department.

When do you need to see your doctor?

Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to schedule your follow-up appointment. When you get home, call your doctor's office for a surgery follow-up appointment if you don't already have one or if you have any questions or concerns.

How do you take care of your incision?

  • You should look at your incision every day and keep it clean while it heals.
  • Do not put any creams, salves or ointments on the area.
  • Protect the incision from sunlight.
  • If Steri-Strips® (thin paper-like strips) were used on the incision, they will fall off as the incision heals. They don't need to be replaced.
  • Follow your surgeon's instructions for Dermabond® (a surgical glue). It will fall off as the incision heals. Do not scratch, rub or pick at the glue.
  • If staples were used, they will be removed seven to 10 days after surgery at your clinic visit.
  • If your incision has no drainage, you do not need to use a dressing.
  • If your incision has some drainage, change your dressing as needed.
    • Wash your hands before starting the dressing change.
    • Remove the old dressing by only touching the edges. Throw away the old dressing in the garbage.
    • Wash your hands again if you touched the underside (skin side) of your soiled dressing.
    • Open a sterile dressing package by holding the upper two edges of the package and pull sideways, rather than tearing the package open.
    • Keep the new dressing inside the sterile package until you are ready to put it on your incision.
    • Touch only the edges of the new dressing. Do not touch any part of the dressing that will be on the incision.
    • Tape all sides of the dressing securely.
    • Wash your hands when the new dressing is on.

How soon can you take a bath or shower?

  • You can take a shower on day two after your surgery.
  • Do not take a tub bath for at least two weeks after your surgery.

When can you return to your normal diet?

As soon as you are able, eat well-balanced meals to help you recover more quickly and to help you feel your best. What you eat after your surgery affects your well-being. You need to eat healthful meals and drink lots of liquids.

Follow these guidelines to have a balanced diet:

  • Resume your normal diet as soon as you can or as directed by your surgeon.
  • Try to have 60 to 80 grams of protein each day.
    • A three-ounce chicken breast has 23 grams of protein.
    • 3/4 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt has 17 grams of protein.
    • A dietitian can help you plan a balanced diet.
  • Do not skip meals. Eating three balanced meals is essential to maintain your health. It may be helpful to eat six small meals each day instead of three large ones.

What causes constipation?

Constipation can be caused by narcotic pain medicine, iron tablets, improper diets and decreased activity. It is important to try not to become constipated and to keep your stools soft. If you do become constipated, it can be relieved by:

  • drinking six to eight 8-ounce glasses of liquids each day
  • eating easy to digest foods such as eggs, soups, steamed vegetables, fish and chicken
  • keeping active
  • decreasing the use of your narcotic pain medicine when you can
  • taking a stool softener prescribed by your doctor

Talk to your doctor if your constipation lasts more than two days.

What are the mobility guidelines after surgery?

  • Your first activities at home should be similar to those you were doing in the hospital. Remember, your recovery will take several weeks of steady progress before you feel your best.
  • You should get up and walk every one to two hours during the day. Start out with short walks and gradually increase your distance.
  • Limit heavy exercising for six weeks, especially high-impact activities such as running. If you want to increase your exercise level, you can slowly increase the intensity of walking by going up an incline or steps.
  • Rest is as important as exercise. After surgery, your energy level will be low and you will get tired easily. When you feel tired, your body is telling you to rest for awhile. Some days you will have more energy than others. It takes about six to eight weeks to fully recover. Try to do at least some activity each day, even if it is just walking for a short amount of time. This will help you recover more quickly and help you feel your best.
  • Do not lift anything that weighs more than 20 pounds until your doctor says it is OK. This will usually be for four weeks, but sometimes longer.
  • Do not do any activities that risk direct injury to your incision such as abdominal crunches, or too much forward bending, lifting or twisting.

When can you drive a car?

  • You can drive one to two weeks after your surgery when your incision is comfortable enough to let you step on the brake quickly.
  • Do not drive while taking narcotic pain medicine, because it can impair your judgment and ability to operate the car safely.

When can you return to work or your hobbies?

  • You should be able to return to work or your hobbies three to six weeks after your surgery. Talk about returning to work or hobbies with your doctor.

When can you resume sexual activity?

  • You can resume sexual activity three to six weeks after your surgery. If you have any questions or concerns, talk with your doctor.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Understanding Your Colon or Rectal Surgery, can-ah-95399
First Published: 01/24/2013
Last Reviewed: 08/15/2017