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Many of the aspects of nursing care during the recovery from the initial effects of anesthesia are carried over into the postoperative phase. In postoperative nursing, the helping and caring aspects of nursing become dramatically clear. The patient recovering from spinal anesthesia is unable to turn himself, so the nurse turns him frequently. The unconscious patient is unable to control the secretions trickling down his throat, so the nurse controls them by positioning and by suctioning. In helping the patient, the nurse is guided by the doctor's orders for postoperative treatment and therapy. However, the helping aspect of nursing is evident even as the nurse bathes perspiration from the patient's forehead or adjusts the light so that it does not shine directly in his eyes. The helplessness of the postoperative patient makes it essential that practical nurses have the skills and knowledge to help maintain the life processes, provide safety and comfort, and prevent complications. Postoperative care mainly takes place in the patient's room in the hospital.

The physiological needs of the postoperative surgical patient are of paramount importance. Once these needs are met, his psychological and social needs can be met. The effects of anesthesia tend to last well into the postoperative phase and affect the respiratory, cardiovascular, urinary, and gastrointestinal systems.


Although only a few terms and definitions are listed below, more terms and definitions will be dispersed throughout the lesson.

a. Atelectasis. Collapse of the lungs.

b. Distention. The state of being stretched out or bloated, as the abdominal cavity may be with gas or fluid.

c. Exudate. Fluid, usually containing pus, bacteria, or dead cells.

d. Flatus. Digestive tract gas that is expelled rectally (expelling gas orally is called burping or eructating).

e. Nasogastric Tube. A rubber or plastic tube that is inserted through the nose (naso) and extending into the stomach (gastric).

f. Peristalsis. The involuntary, wavelike motion of the digestive tract that moves food through the alimentary canal.


David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015