When you’re scheduled for surgery that requires major incisions (such as heart or back surgery), you understandably may not be paying much attention to wound recovery during post-operative care. You’re much more likely to be concerned with the back or heart surgery itself: what kinds of incisions the attending surgeon will make, what your long-term prognosis might be, and whether or not the major surgery will actually improve your quality of life. Yet wound recovery during post-operative care directly influences both your quality of life as well as the chances for major surgery’s overall success.
Depending on the major surgery’s location, your physician may prescribe an intensive physical therapy regimen to develop muscles, tendons, and ligaments that were compromised beneath the incision site. While physical therapy will focus primarily on re-developing your motor skills, it may also expose your surgery site to an increased bacteria count (through sweat, as well as bacteria acquired at the physical therapy site). Notify your physical therapist immediately if your physical therapy sessions are straining the sutures at your surgery site. Clean and re-bandage as necessary.
Communicate honestly with your physician during the course of post-operative care. Optimal wound recovery depends on monitoring potential infections closely. Depending on the site of your major surgery, you may need to take special precautions to minimize the chance of infection. For example, you should avoid creating friction (such as excessive rubbing, scratching, or even wearing rough clothing) at the incision site. Do not remove any tape strips, sutures, or any other device used to close the wound without first consulting your physician. Avoid exposing the injury to sunlight, as the skin surrounding the wound may dry out, crack, and peel, increasing the risk of infection and extending recovery time.
Changing the wound’s dressing also requires proper preparation, given the dressing maintains direct contact with the incision site. First, remove any jewelry and wash your hands thoroughly (20 second minimum duration). If you plan to use any tools, give priority to any that can be easily sterilized (stainless steel). Make sure your work surface is extremely clean. Remove the old dressing carefully, gently pulling at contact points close to the skin to minimize the chances of opening the wound. Your doctor will likely have specific instructions for post-operative care, so before you attempt to clean the wound itself, be sure to have a copy of these instructions nearby. Before you attach the new dressing, note any changes regarding the wound’s appearance and odor, both of which can indicate a possible infection.