At UW Health
The purpose of this handout is to learn about what to expect before, during, and after lung
surgery. This handout will help you plan for your time in the hospital and at home after your
lung surgery. If you have questions please call the Surgery Clinic (608)-263-7502.
For questions about having surgery, refer to the First Day Surgery Booklet.
This picture shows normal lungs. Your right lung has 3 lobes and left lung has 2 lobes. Your
doctor may use the picture on the next page to describe what has happened to your lungs and
explain what may happen during surgery.
There are 3 main types of lung surgery. You may expect to have one type, but have another type
done. This is because your surgeon talks with you about the type of surgery that you may need
before seeing your lungs in the operating room (OR). In the OR, your surgeon may decide that one
of the other types of lung surgery is best for you.
Three main types of lung surgery
ξ Wedge resection: A small part (wedge) of the lung is removed.
ξ Lobectomy: A whole lobe of the lung is removed.
ξ Pneumonectomy: The whole lung is removed.
There are 2 types of incisions for lung surgery. Typically, you will only have one type, but in
some cases you may need both.
The different types of incisions are Thoracoscopy and Thoracotomy
What is a thoracoscopy?
Thoracoscopy, also known as VATS (Video Assisted Thoracoscopic Surgery),
is done with a tiny camera that is put into the chest through 3 small incisions
(each about the size of the width of a finger). This allows the surgeon to look
around the chest to diagnose and treat problems in the chest. VATS can be used
to repair a collapsed lung, remove a section of lung, take tissue samples, or
drain fluid from around the lung. If cancer is found, the doctor may need to do a
thoracotomy after the VATS while you are still in the OR. This would be done
if the tumor or part of the lung that needs to be removed is too big for the small
VATS is preferred for lung surgery here at UWHC. If it is not possible to do a
VATS, a thoracotomy is done.
What is a thoracotomy?
A thoracotomy is a surgical incision of the chest wall that is made
between muscles of the chest wall, then between two ribs. The incision
is about 3 to 6 inches long.
Preparing for Surgery
You can do a few things to improve your health before your surgery.
Start walking. Try to walk at least 20 minutes most days of the week. If you haven’t been
active, start slowly. Try walking 5-10 minutes a day and slowly increase the time. You will
walk at least 4 times a day in the hospital after your surgery.
Eat well-balanced, healthy meals. Tell your surgeon right away, if you aren’t able to eat or
you’re losing weight. Healthy eating helps you heal. Poor nutrition or weight loss slows healing
and may lead to problems such as infection.
Stop smoking now, if you smoke. If you smoke anytime during the 10 days before your
surgery, your surgery will be cancelled. Smoking slows healing. When you smoke, you are
much more likely to get pneumonia after surgery. If you need help quitting, call:
ξ Smoking Cessation Clinic (608) 263-0573
ξ Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669)
ξ Your primary care provider
How long will I be in the hospital?
You can expect to be in the hospital for 2-7 days. Most people go home within 24 hours after the
chest tube is removed.
Where will I go after surgery?
After lung surgery, you will most likely go to the cardiothoracic unit B4/5. You will stay on this
unit until it is time to go home.
Will I have pain after surgery?
Yes, you will have pain near the incision, chest tube, and general soreness. We want you to feel
as comfortable as possible. You will be given medicine to help with pain. During your clinic
visit, an anesthesiologist will tell you more about each of these pain control options.
A patient controlled analgesia (PCA) pump is a pump that releases pain medicine into your
veins through an IV. You will be able to control the amount of pain medicine you receive by
pressing a button.
An epidural catheter is placed in the spine and delivers a constant amount of pain medicine.
Once you start eating and drinking, you will be able to take pain pills by mouth. It is very
important that your pain is managed well so you can cough, do deep breathing exercises, and
move more easily. Let us know when your pain first begins. The medicine works better if you
take it before the pain becomes severe.
Will I have any tubes after surgery?
You may have a variety of tubes, drains, and equipment.
A chest tube will be placed during surgery. When the surgeon opens your chest, the normal
negative pressure, which keeps your lung expanded, is lost. To re-inflate the lung, a chest
tube is put in between the lung and chest wall lining. It is hooked to a container that collects
excess fluid and blood. The container is often connected to suction and makes a soft
You can expect the chest tube to be in place for 2-6 days. Most people go home within 24
hours after the chest tube is removed. One reason the number of days varies is that chest
tubes can have air leaks. An air leak happens when air gets between the chest and lung
linings. Most of the time, it goes away on its own. Your doctor will decide when to take the
chest tube out based on the results of your daily chest x-ray.
An intravenous (IV) catheter provides fluids and medicine. Once you start eating and
drinking, the IV may be removed.
Oxygen is given through a mask or a small plastic tube that goes inside your nose.
A Foley catheter drains urine from your bladder into a bag. It will be taken out the next day.
A heart monitor may be used for a few days to watch your heart rhythm.
How will I take care of my lungs?
You will be asked to deep breathe, cough, and use the ‘lung exerciser’ called an incentive
spirometer. This helps open up the small air sacs in your lungs, and keeps your air passages
clear to prevent pneumonia. See the First Day Surgery Booklet for more details.
How much activity will I be able to do?
It is important that you become active. The day of your surgery, you will be sitting up in a chair.
The next day and until you go home, you will walk in the halls 3-4 times a day.
How will I cope?
It is common to have some changes in your emotions or mood for a few weeks. You may feel
uncertain, scared, or even depressed. Your energy level and appetite may vary at times.
Think about doing things within your limits that you enjoy doing to help you feel good about
yourself. Share activities with your family and friends, and talk about your feelings. Keep in
mind that people do much better when they feel as though they have support. When you feel
ready, call people and have them stop by for short visits. Take time to enjoy your hobbies. Make
the most of any support you have available to you.
What can I expect when I go home?
When you go home you will need someone to help you for the first week. Your nurse may
suggest you have a home health nurse.
Incision Care: Your incision may look slightly red for several days. Keep your incision
clean and dry. It is okay to shower, but do not take baths or swim until it is healed. Do not
rub the incisions because this prevents healing. Pat them dry. Do not put lotions, powders,
or ointment on the incision area. Once healed, wear sunscreen when you are in the sun
because your incision is at risk for sunburn.
Make sure to look for signs and symptoms of infection. These include:
Increased redness or warmth at the site
Pus like drainage
Large amounts of swelling or bleeding
Temperature (by mouth) greater than 100.4ºF for two readings, taken 4 hours apart
When you go home, your incision may have all of the staples in place or only a few.
Sometimes, small pieces of tape called steri-strips are placed after your staples are removed.
It is okay if these tape strips fall off, but don’t pull them off. When you return for your clinic
visit in 1-2 weeks, the doctors will remove staples or stitches that are left. With each clinic
visit you will have a chest x-ray.
Pain: You will have some pain. This is true, mainly as you become more active. When you
are in pain, take your narcotic pain pills as prescribed. Because of the likely side effects
(such as constipation) from these pills, you will want to take a stool softener like colace.
When you no longer need narcotic pain pills may want to try Extra Strength Tylenol for
your pain. If the pain is sharp and constant or worsens, call your doctor.
Activity: During your first days or weeks at home you may feel tired and sore, and you may
need someone to help you. Stay active and do the things you enjoy, but pace yourself.
Avoid strenuous one-arm exercises. It is okay to use the arm on your surgery side for
Do not drive for 4 weeks, or if you are taking narcotic pain pills.
Do not lift greater than 10 pounds for the first 4 weeks.
Sexual Activity: As you feel better, you may resume having sex. At first, you may not feel
like being close because you may feel that you don’t have the energy. Or, you may worry
about the incision or about becoming short of breath. These are normal feelings. Just use
Smoking: If you smoke, you need to quit smoking to prevent further lung damage. We know
this is hard and will provide you with the support and encouragement to quit. For more
details, call the Smoking Cessation Clinic at (608) 263-0573 or the Wisconsin Tobacco
Quit Line at 1-877-270-7867.
Surgery Clinic: Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (608)263-7502
Dr. Maloney’s Office: (608) 263-5215
Dr. Macke’s Office: (608) 263-5215
After hours, the clinic number will be answered by the hospital paging operator. Ask for the
thoracic surgery resident on call. Leave your name and phone number with the area code. The
doctor will call you back.
If you live out of the area, please call: Toll Free 1-800-323-8942.
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 © 5/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4336.
Your Lung Surgery Checklist
The purpose of this check list is to help prepare you for your discharge from the hospital and to
make your return to your home as smooth as possible.
Arrange for at least one person to be at home with you 24/7 for the first 3-4 days after
surgery. You need to have this person identified before surgery takes place.
Name of the Person who will be staying with you ______________________________
Most lung surgery patients will go home 2 days after surgery. At times your hospital stay
may be longer. Your doctor will decide how long you need to stay after surgery.
Pneumonectomy (lung removal) patients will be in the hospital longer, about 5-7 days
It is also important to note that you may end up being discharged with this equipment.
Oxygen – You may need to go home on oxygen for a short period of time. Most often,
you will only have the oxygen for a couple of days or weeks. The hospital’s Case
Manager and/or Social Worker will help set up oxygen if it is needed.
Chest Tube – You may need to go home with your chest tube still in place. If you go
home with a chest tube, the Clinical Nurse Specialist on the unit will you and your
caregiver hands-on-teaching as well as written material about the chest tube and caring
for it at home.