How to Care for Your Loved One after a Colectomy

recovering in the hospital
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Recovery from colectomy is going to depend largely upon the patient's health prior to the surgery. There are a number of factors that contribute to how quickly someone is back up and running after major surgery. If possible, talk to the doctor beforehand to learn what you should expect. The doctor should be able to estimate her recovery time and help you prepare for your loved one's homecoming. If your she has an extensive medical history or a history of diabetes, lung or heart disease, her post-operative recovery might take a little longer than the average healthy adult. The factors used to determine how quickly someone will recover include:

  • Age
  • A history of medical conditions (aside from the colon cancer)
  • Diet
  • Lifestyle (Does she smoke cigarettes? Exercise?)

Hospital Recovery

A total colectomy is a major operation and requires a three to seven-day hospital stay on average. During this time, the doctors and nurses will be working hard to keep your mother comfortable, watch for any complications, and ease her back into nutrition and activity.

Potential Complications

Like most major surgeries, there are risks and potential complications associated with the colectomy. And while none of them are routine, the most common complications include:

  • Bleeding and infection
  • Intestinal blockages (in the small intestine if scar tissue develops)
  • Problems with the surgical wound

If complications do occur, they can extend your mother's hospital stay and increase her overall recovery time. She also might need more assistance when she comes home. For instance, if a surgical wound infection occurs, your mother's surgeon will most likely suggest homecare nurses to come and help you care for her wound until it has healed.

Before Homecoming

There are several things you can do to prepare for your loved one's arrival home after surgery. Barring any complications, your mother should not require any additional assistance beyond what you can offer.

Personal Care

Things that many people take for granted, such as showering, moving around and using the restroom, become a challenge following abdominal surgery. If you have a split-level or two-story home, it may be difficult initially for your mother to ambulate up and down the steps to shower, rest, or go to bed. If you have a ground floor room available — preferably very close to a bathroom — that is best. Following a colectomy, most people will have up to six bowel movements per day. It might help your mother conserve energy if you have access to, or can rent, a bedside commode for a few weeks.


Get a list of your mother's medications prior to surgery, and make sure that she has a good supply. If she takes multiple medications daily, a pillbox or planner might help to keep things organized. Upon her discharge from the hospital, the surgeon will probably give you prescriptions to control her pain and help her recover more quickly. Fill them immediately, as you never know when she may begin to feel uncomfortable after arriving home. Also, make sure you have her insurance card and ID when you go to pick the medications up.

Check your mother's comfort frequently once she arrives home. Any medications given for pain at the hospital may begin to wear off and she might be in pain. Use the medications from her doctor as prescribed and be sure to call the doctor if the pain medications are not keeping your mother comfortable.

There is a good chance your mother will not feel up to eating a large meal anytime soon. Smaller, more frequent meals are usually preferable following surgery. Check with her doctor to see if there are any specific dietary recommendations; soft foods, water and soup may be advisable.

When to Call the Doctor

Review your mother's discharge instructions carefully. Most surgeons give specific guidelines on what to expect following surgery versus when to call immediately. In general, you should call your mother's doctor if:

  • Her pain is increasing or poorly controlled with the medication given
  • She develops a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or has drainage or redness around the surgical incision
  • She develops any unusual symptoms (vomiting, confusion, lethargy)
  • No bowel movement in four days following discharge or she was having bowel movements and they suddenly stopped
  • If your mother develops sudden swelling in her belly, especially if it is accompanied by nausea or vomiting
  • Her legs become swollen or she has pain in the back of one or both calves (posterior lower leg pain)
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Article Sources

  • American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Surgery for Colorectal Cancer. 
  • National Institute of Health, Medline Plus. (n.d.). Total Abdominal Colectomy. 
  • National Institute of Health. Medline Plus. (n.d.). Total Colectomy or Proctocolectomy Discharge Instructions.