After an operation

After major lung surgery you will have an intravenous (IV) drip for at least a few days (though you will be able to eat and drink the day after the operation). There will be one or two temporary tubes in your chest to drain fluid or air from inside your chest.

At first, moving around will be difficult because of the chest tubes. However, with the help of the physiotherapist your movement will improve.

You'll be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible. Even if you have to stay in bed it's important to keep up regular leg movements to help your circulation and prevent blood clots. You may be given a special support stocking to wear before and after your operation which will help stop blood clots developing in your legs.

A nurse or a physiotherapist will help you with breathing exercises to prevent chest infections or other complications. You will have regular chest X-rays to check on your lung.

The aim is to have you walking independently when you leave hospital, though you may be slower than usual and tire more quickly.

"The physio came regularly to help me get out of bed after my surgery. Eventually the physio walked me around the room. By the end of the last day in hospital, I could walk around the room myself." Ted

You will have some pain and discomfort but your medical team will work with you to reduce these effects. Tell your doctor or nurse if you are in pain, where it is and how it's affecting you. This is important because if you are not in pain you are more likely to move around and do exercises with the physiotherapist. Pain relief may also help you clear sputum from your chest and reduce your chances of developing a chest infection.

After a thoracotomy, your rib cage may feel stiff or tight on the side of the operation. A physiotherapist will help you do simple arm exercises to help relieve the tightness. You should keep doing these exercises until you no longer feel tightness.

Going home

You will probably go home four to 10 days after the operation but you will still be recovering for about six weeks. The recovery time depends on the type of operation and your fitness. Many patients who have had part of their lung removed feel some breathlessness.

If your lung function was poor before surgery, or if you have one whole lung removed (pneumonectomy), you will feel breathless. Exercising will help to reduce the breathlessness. Your doctor, nurses and physiotherapist will talk to you about how to manage at home. You will be expected to do regular exercises like walking or swimming to speed your recovery.

Your doctor will tell you when it is safe to start driving after your surgery. It can take four to six weeks for you to be well enough after surgery to start driving again.

Some insurance policies give specific time periods for not driving after chest surgery. You may need to check this with your insurance company.