Surgery, even in a minimally invasive form, can be a frightening and sobering experience. After the procedure is over, you may have the urge to heave a huge sigh of relief that your medical crisis is over. While you certainly do deserve to celebrate the success of your operation, it is critical that you remain vigilant throughout your recovery process to ensure that you remain healthy. Lack of alertness to your body’s special needs during recovery could land you back on the surgeon’s table. Incision care is a relatively simple aspect of post-operative care but one that is vital to preventing serious complications like infection.
Pay Attention to the Experts
The first step in learning how to properly care for your incision site is to simply observe the physician or nurse when they change your first bandage. They will be looking for any signs of infection or issues that may interfere with normal healing. They will also note whether the edges of the wound are kept together by the surgical glue, sutures, or strips. If you’re a bit squeamish you may have a desire to look away while the bandages are changed, but you should really make every effort to watch and learn. If you absolutely must look away, then have a friend or family member observe so they can help you with your dressings at home.
Take advantage of the time you have with your surgeon. Make sure you ask all of the relevant questions like:
- How often do I need to change the bandage?
- How do I keep the bandage dry?
- How do I clean the incision?
- How long must the area be kept dry?
- How long should I avoid physical activity?
- What medications do I need to take and how often?
- When Changing Your Bandage…
- Do look for signs of infection like redness, swelling, pain, discharge, odor, heat, or hardness.
- Do follow your doctor’s instructions regarding how often to change your dressing.
- Do prepare all of your materials ahead of time. For example, open gauze packets, put on gloves, open bottles or tubes, and cut adhesive strips.
- Do follow your doctor’s advice about cleaning the incision. Generally, you should clean it with mild soap and clean water and allow it to air dry.
- Do not use harsh substances like hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, iodine, powders, or ointments unless directed by your physician.
- Do notscrub, rub, or scratch the incision site.
- Do not expose your incision to direct sunlight.
- Do not allow your incision site and dressings to get wet. This means you will need to be very careful when bathing. You may need to shower with a plastic covering over the incision site or take sponge baths until the healing process is complete.
- Do not pull the scab off of an incision. The scab may be unattractive and slightly itchy, but it is part of your body’s natural healing process and protects the wound from infection.
Respect Your Body’s Signals
You may be anxious to resume normal activities but you should ease back into your routines gradually and with caution. Your body will tell you whether or not you are ready for a particular activity. You should stop at the very first sign of increased pain or discomfort. Stretching your body beyond its limits will only augment your recovery time and potentially cause serious physical damage.
Also, don’t hesitate to call your doctor’s office
if you are in an unusual amount of pain, experiencing unexpected symptoms, or if you think your incision has become infected. It is also imperative that you follow all of your doctor’s post-op instructions not only concerning incision care, but also about pain management, necessary medications, follow-up appointments, nutrition, physical rehabilitation, and lifestyle choices. After all, you and your doctor are partners in protecting your health.
Written By: Dr Hooman Melamed, a board certified orthopaedic spine surgeon specializing in minimally invasive spine surgery & scoliosis. About 40% of his practice consists of revising and fixing failed surgery on patients.