Colorectal Surgery: What to Expect on the Day of Surgery

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Colorectal surgery is not a minor procedure. You can expect your surgery to last several hours and end with an inpatient hospital stay. Read on to find out what to expect on the day of your colorectal surgery.

Before the Surgery

Before your day of surgery, there will be blood tests, imaging scans, and possibly procedures to confirm your diagnosis, give your surgeon information about your condition, and determine if you are ready for surgery.

On the day of surgery, however, there is not much left to be tested. When you arrive for surgery, you can expect just a few basic health measurements before surgery begins. These include:

  • Temperature
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate
  • Oxygen level
  • Blood sugar level, in some cases

Your surgeon and anesthesiologist will review their plan for your procedure with you and answer any last-minute questions you may have. You will also have peripheral intravenous catheters placed so that medications can be given to you during the procedure.

Surgeon performs laparoscopic colorectal surgery
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During the Surgery

When it’s time for your surgery, you will be taken into the operating room and prepared for general anesthesia. Before the operation begins, you can expect the following to take place.

  • You will be placed on monitoring devices so your surgeon and anesthesiologist can watch your vital signs during surgery.
  • Your medical team will review the surgery that is to be done, how it will be done, and what anesthesia will be used.
  • You will be placed under general anesthesia so that you are asleep during your surgery.
  • The general anesthesia you receive can interfere with your breathing, so you will have an endotracheal tube placed into your mouth and down your throat. This is done so that you can be placed on a ventilator during the operation.
  • Your skin will be cleaned and draped in sterile robes, exposing only the surgical area.

When it’s time for surgery to begin, your medical team—one or more surgeons, an anesthesiologist, and nurses—will stop and review the procedure and safety measures in place.

Your surgeon may perform a robotic-assisted or open colorectal surgery. However, in most cases, colorectal surgery is done laparoscopically. Because it is minimally invasive, this technique reduces post-operative complications and improves healing. In most colorectal surgeries, something is being removed, and areas of tissue left behind are reconnected.

Which procedure type is used will be a decision made by you and your surgeon, and will consider your condition, what needs to be removed or fixed, and your general health. The laparoscopic colorectal surgical procedure is outlined below.

During your laparoscopic colorectal surgery, your surgeon will:

  • Make several small incisions—each about a quarter of an inch—in your abdomen. Laparoscopic tools and a specialized camera are inserted into these small incisions.
  • Carbon dioxide will be blown into your abdominal cavity to provide an area for the surgeon to work within.
  • You will be positioned in a way that allows gravity to shift organs not involved in the procedure out of the way while the surgeon works.
  • Cuts will be made with the laparoscopic tools to remove the diseased portion of tissue, such as a section of your colon.
  • Blood vessels are separated and divided as the diseased section is removed through another small incision.
  • Your surgeon will now reconnect the remaining healthy ends of tissue and blood vessels.
  • When your surgeon is satisfied that the diseased areas have been removed and the new connections are secure, the laparoscopic tools will be removed, and the incisions that were made will be closed up. Many times, these incisions are small enough to be closed with adhesive strips or surgical glue.
  • When your incisions are closed, your medical team will review the steps of the procedure and record what was done.
  • Your breathing tube may be removed at this time, or it will be removed after you are taken to the recovery area.
  • During the surgery, you should not feel any pain because of the sedation and anesthesia that is used. As you wake up from anesthesia, you will be given pain medication as needed.
  • Surgery time varies for each type of procedure, but for a laparoscopic surgery, the average time is about 95 to 135 minutes.

After the Surgery

After your surgery, you will stay in a post-operative area while you wake up from anesthesia. Your heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels will be monitored during this time. Once you are awake, you will be moved to a regular hospital room if your breathing tube is removed.

If you experienced complications or are not ready to have the breathing tube removed, you may be moved to an intensive care area for a period of time.

Here is what to expect for the rest of your time in the hospital.

  • As you heal, your surgeon will closely watch your vital signs and blood work, while monitoring you for signs of post-operative infection.
  • You will not be able to eat anything at first, since your digestive tract is usually sluggish after this type of surgery. As your digestive system wakes up, you will be able to receive clear liquids, and will then be offered more food choices as you improve.
  • You may have a urinary catheter or surgical drains in place. These will be removed as soon as possible.
  • You will be encouraged to move around and get out of bed as early as possible—usually the same day as your surgery. This helps you heal faster.
  • Your nurses and surgeon will monitor your incisions and surgical site for complications or infection.

When you have recovered enough that you can provide your own basic care, such as feeding and bathing yourself, and once your surgeon feels you are doing well medically, you will be discharged from the hospital.

Whether you are discharged to home or another facility to recover will depend on the specific procedure and technique that was used in your surgery, how well you are healing, and your support system at home.

A Word From Verywell

Colorectal surgeries are major operations that require a hospital stay and a significant recovery period. Advances in surgical techniques have decreased the amount of time you will spend in the hospital from several weeks to a few days, in most cases. A healthy lifestyle before your surgery and getting up and moving shortly after the procedure will also help to shorten your recovery time.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Yoo J. Laparoscopic colorectal surgeryPerm J. 2008;12(1):27-31. doi:10.7812/tpp/07-075

  2. Harrison OJ, Smart NJ, White P, et al. Operative time and outcome of enhanced recovery after surgery after laparoscopic colorectal surgeryJSLS. 2014;18(2):265-272. doi:10.4293/108680813X13753907291918

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.