What to expect on your surgery day

If you're reading this page, you are likely scheduled for joint replacement surgery. The information found here is intended to help you prepare for the day of surgery and answer some questions that may be on your mind. This section will provide you with information so you know what to typically expect before, during, and after your joint replacement. By better understanding the surgical experience, hopefully your mind will be put at ease.

This information was written by medical professionals. It provides general responses to frequently asked questions from patients like you. Each patient is unique and therefore patient needs may be unique. Please discuss your specific instructions with your doctor.

Hospital checklist
  • Arrive at the hospital at the appointed time

  • Complete the admission process

  • Final presurgery assessment of vital signs and general health

  • Final meeting with anesthesiologist and operating room nurse

  • Start IV (intravenous) catheter for administration of fluids and antibiotics

  • Transportation to the operating room

  • Joint replacement surgery generally lasts 1 to 2 hours

  • Transportation to a recovery room

  • Ongoing monitoring of vital signs until condition is stabilized

  • Transportation to individual hospital room

  • Ongoing monitoring of vital signs and surgical dressing

  • Orientation to hospital routine

  • Evaluation by physical therapist

  • Diet of clear liquids or soft foods, as tolerated

  • Begin post-op activities taught during pre-op visit

In surgery
Many people will be with you in the operating room during what is usually your 1- to 2-hour surgery, including:
  • Orthopaedic surgeon(s) - your doctor(s) who will perform surgery.

  • Anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist - the doctor or nurse who gives you anesthesia.

  • Scrub nurse - the nurse who hands the doctors the tools they need during surgery.

  • Circulating nurse - a nurse who brings things to the surgical team.

Your surgeon and the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will help you choose the best anesthesia for your situation.

Options include:

  • General anesthesia - You are put to sleep. Minor complications such as nausea and vomiting are common, but can usually be controlled and settled within 1 to 2 days.

  • Epidural - You are numbed from the waist down with medicine injected into your back. (This is also used for women giving birth.)

  • Spinal - Much like the epidural, you are numbed from the waist down with medicine injected into your back.

You may have any of the following inserted:

  • An intravenous tube (IV) - This is placed in your arm and used to replace fluids lost during surgery, administer pain medicine, or deliver antibiotics and other medications.

  • A catheter tube - This may be placed in your bladder to help your healthcare delivery team keep up with your fluid intake and output. It is most often removed the day after surgery.

  • A drain tube - This may be inserted in your bandage site to help reduce blood and fluid buildup at the incision.

Elastic stockings will be put on your legs to help the blood flow. You may also have compression foot pumps wrapped around your feet and connected to a machine that blows them up with air to promote blood flow and decrease the possibility of blood clots.

Before you leave the hospital
Before you leave the hospital, typically you will learn how to:
  • Get in and out of bed by yourself

  • Walk down the hall with your walker or crutches

  • Get in and out of the shower by yourself

  • Get in and out of a chair

  • Manage steps at home

  • Get in and out of your car

In the days following surgery, your condition and progress will continue to be closely monitored by your orthopaedic surgeon, nurses, and physical therapists. Much time will be given to exercising the new joint, as well as deep breathing exercises to prevent lung congestion. Gradually, pain medication will be reduced, the IV will be removed, diet will progress to solid food, and you will become increasingly mobile.

Joint replacement patients are generally discharged from the hospital when they are able to achieve certain rehabilitative milestones, such as getting in and out of bed unassisted or walking 100 feet. Whether you are sent directly home or to a facility that assists in rehabilitation will depend on your physician's assessment of your abilities.

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