Expectations during Vascular Surgery
What can I expect the morning of surgery?
You will go to the First Day Surgery unit when you arrive to the University of Wisconsin
Hospital. A nurse will ask you questions about your health and help you get ready for surgery.
An anesthesiologist will meet with you and answer your questions. You will get an intravenous
catheter, also called an IV, placed in a vein of your hand or arm. An IV is used to give fluids and
medications. You may be given medicine to help you relax. You can have two people in your
First Day Surgery room at a time. Other family and friends are welcome to come with you but
will have to go to the waiting room.
When you are taken to the operating room, your family and friends can go to the surgical waiting
area on the 2nd floor. They will be given updates from the operating room. They can also choose
to get a pager if they would like to leave the hospital or go to a different area. If this waiting area
is closed, they may also use the D4/5 waiting area. Sometime during the day of surgery, your
family or friends may wish to take your parking pass to the main information desk to have it
stamped and to get one pass to be used during your stay.
What can I expect in the operating room?
Once you are in the operating room, also called the OR, you will meet your nurse. He or she will
answer any questions you have, make sure you are comfortable, and explain what is happening.
The operating room is usually cold, so please let the nurses know if you would like an extra
blanket. There will be electrocardiogram, also called ECG or EKG, patches placed on your
chest, a blood pressure cuff on your arm, and a plastic clip placed on your finger to check your
heartbeat and oxygen levels. The anesthesiologist will ask you to breathe oxygen through a soft,
plastic mask and medicine will be given through your IV. After you are asleep, a breathing tube,
also called an endotracheal or ET tube, will be placed in your windpipe to breathe for you. Other
lines and monitors will be added after you are asleep.
What can I expect when I wake up from surgery?
Following surgery, you will be admitted to the Trauma and Life Support Center (TLC) on the
third floor if you need intensive care. If you do not need intensive care, you will be admitted to
the Heart and Vascular Progressive Care unit on D4/5.
You can expect to wake up shortly after getting to the recovery room or the unit. Though you
will likely feel drowsy following surgery, you may hear beeps, alarms, bubbling noises, and
voices. Many patients who have had surgery tell us that they recall little of the first hours after
When you first arrive to TLC, you will have a breathing tube, IV lines, drains, and monitors
attached to you. When you first wake up, the breathing tube may startle you and make you feel
anxious. The nurses will help you relax and be more comfortable while the tube is in place. The
important thing is to let the breathing machine, also called a ventilator, work for you. It will give
you puffs of air until you are able to breathe on your own. Since it is put through the mouth and
windpipe, you are not able to talk, but you can nod, squeeze your hand, or use a notepad to
communicate. Nurses will be nearby to help you and reassure you. Once you are awake enough
to breathe on your own, the breathing tube will be removed. Most patients have the breathing
tube removed within 4-6 hours after surgery. After the breathing tube is removed, you will be
able to talk again and begin taking ice chips and fluids. Your throat may feel irritated following
the breathing tube removal.
If you go to D4/5, you will not have a breathing tube. Your throat may still feel irritated from
the surgery. You will be able to talk and begin taking ice chips and fluids soon after you get to
your room on D4/5.
Your family and friends will be able to visit once you are settled into your room. It may take 1-2
hours for the patient to recover in their room. A staff member will notify family and friends
when visiting is allowed. Visitors are asked to access and enter the nursing unit from the D
What can I expect during my post-surgery recovery in the hospital?
As you become more stable, many of the IV lines and monitors will be removed. This is a sign
that you are doing well. As your condition improves, the nurses will watch you closely but they
will not be at your bedside as often. Most patients are in TLC for 3 days or less. The usual
hospital stay following vascular surgery depends on the kind of surgery you have. Ask your
surgeon or nurse at the clinic visit how long they expect you to stay in the hospital after your
Many patients have their blood sugars checked regularly during their hospital stay. If you have
diabetes, you can expect to receive insulin through your IV. You may continue to receive insulin
over the next couple of days as you recover. Some patients who have not needed insulin in the
past will need insulin if their blood sugars are high. High blood sugars are often a reaction of the
body to the stress of surgery.
Rest is important for good healing following vascular surgery. At the same time, getting up and
walking helps to speed recovery. Most often, the day after surgery, you will be expected to walk
3 times a day and be up in the chair for all meals. You may be surprised at how much better you
feel each day. As soon as you are able, you will be walking the halls.
Once the breathing tube is out, nurses will ask you to breathe deeply, cough, and/or use a
breathing tool called an Incentive Spirometer. Good breathing helps you to get rid of the
anesthesia and prevent pneumonia.
To cough and deep breathe
1. Place a pillow over your stomach to reduce the pain and support your stomach while
2. Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose. Hold it.
3. Exhale slowly through the mouth.
4. Repeat twice more.
5. Breathe in again; hold it, and then cough.
To use the Incentive Spirometer
1. Exhale and place your lips tightly around the mouthpiece.
2. Take a deep breath. Slowly raise the Flow Rate Guide between the arrows.
3. Hold the deep breath. Continue to inhale, keeping the guide as high as you can for as
long as you can, or as directed by your nurse or respiratory therapist.
4. Exhale and relax.
5. Repeat 10 times each hour while you are awake.
How much pain will I have?
Your doctor and nurses will work with you to achieve good pain control. Good pain control
helps you to heal faster, increase activity faster, take deep breaths to prevent pneumonia, and
leave the hospital sooner. All of these allow you avoid complications after surgery. Drug and
non-drug treatments can help prevent and control pain. Don’t worry about getting “hooked” or
“addicted” to pain medicines. Studies show that this is very rare unless you already have a
problem with drug dependency. It is important to keep on top of your pain and keep it controlled
so you can move and deep breathe.
Can I shower after surgery?
You may shower after surgery once your doctor tells you that you can. Before this time, you will
bathe at the bedside. You may get the incision wet in the shower. Do not swim or take tub
baths. Clean the incision gently with mild soap and water. Remove any dried drainage. Do not
scrub the incision. Rinse it and pat the incision dry. Do not use any lotions, alcohol, powders, or
oils on your incision, unless told by your doctor.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 8/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7818