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A Patient's Guide to Lung Surgery

Recovering at Home After A Thoracotomy

Before you leave the hospital, your doctor will review the results of your surgery with you and tell you what to expect during your recovery. You and your doctor can discuss any further treatment you may need for your condition, review the next stage of your treatment plan, and schedule follow-up visits. When you're ready to leave the hospital, have someone available to drive you home.

Your Home Recovery

For the first several weeks after your surgery, you'll be gaining a little more energy and strength each day. Breathing may be uncomfortable at first, and you may be short of breath. Take things slowly, and rest when you get tired. Your doctor or nurse can talk to you about what you can and can't do as you recover.

Caring for Your Incision

When you shower, wash your incision gently with warm (not hot) water and mild soap. Bruising, itchiness, soreness, and numbness at your incision site are normal for several weeks after surgery.

Taking Medications

Take your pain medications regularly as your doctor instructs--don't wait until the pain gets bad before you take them. In addition to medication for pain, your doctor may prescribe other medications. In some cases, this may include oxygen.

Easing into Activity

For 6 to 8 weeks after your surgery, avoid any activity that might put stress on your healing incisions, such as heavy lifting or yardwork. Do start walking, though, to improve your circulation, lung capacity, and strength.

Taking pain medications before activity will help make breathing more comfortable. You'll probably feel short of breath for several weeks. This is normal and will improve with time. As you begin to feel better, you can gradually add more strenuous activities.

Ask your doctor how long to wait before returning to sexual relations, driving, and work.

When to Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Draining or very red incision
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath
  • Sudden, sharp chest pain
  • Fever over 101°F
  • Rapid heartbeat or “fluttering” in your chest



> Next: Thoracotomy: Life After Lung Surgery

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