Going Home After Your Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery

This information will help you prepare to go home after your video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK).

In the Hospital

After your surgery, you will stay in the hospital for 24 hours.

To help prevent lung problems, we will ask you to use an incentive spirometer. This is a small breathing device that will help expand your lungs. Your nurse will teach you how to use it. You should use it 10 times every hour while you are in the hospital and for 1 to 2 weeks when you go home. Ask your nurse for the resource How to Use Your Incentive Spirometer or search for it on our website at mskcc.org/pe

Getting ready for discharge

You will be ready for discharge when:

  • You can eat solid food and drink liquids.
  • You can get up and walk. Your nurse will show you how to do this properly.
    • Walking several times a day will help you heal and recover faster.  
  • Your chest tube has been removed. The tube should be removed shortly after your surgery.
  • Your Foley® catheter, a small flexible tube that drains urine from your bladder, has been removed and you are able to urinate without difficulty. The catheter will be removed several hours after your surgery.
  • You are not in too much pain. You should expect to have some discomfort after your surgery, but you will get pain medication. It will make you comfortable enough to manage at home. If you need to refill your prescription for pain medication before your follow-up visit, please call your doctor’s office. Call the office 1 or 2 days before you run out of your medication.

Most people are discharged by 11:00 am. Before you leave, you will get:

  • Instructions on how to care for your incision (surgical cut).
  • Any prescriptions you need. You can fill your prescriptions at your local pharmacy or at the pharmacy at MSK in the main hospital.
    • The MSK pharmacy is open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 am until 5:45 pm. 
    • It’s located at 1275 York Avenue, between East 67th Street and East 68th Street, in room A105.
    • To reach the MSK pharmacy, call 646-888-0730.
  • Any supplies you need, such as gauze and tape in case your incision drains some fluid.
  • Phone numbers for your doctor and nurse. Keep these numbers in a safe place.
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At Home

Caring for your chest tube site

  • Your chest tube site will need to be covered with a dressing for 48 hours after the tube is removed. During this time, you can’t shower.
  • Once the 48 hours have passed, you can remove the dressing and shower. After you shower, cover the site with a clean, dry gauze pad or bandage (Band Aid®).
  • There may be clear, yellow, or pink fluid draining from the site. This is normal. Keep the site covered until the drainage stops. This usually takes 3 to 5 days.
  • Change the dressing when it is wet and continue to change the dressing until the drainage stops completely.


Pain medication

  • Pain medication may cause constipation (having fewer bowel movements than what is normal for you).
    • Both over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to treat constipation. Start with 1 of the following over-the-counter medications first:
      • Docusate sodium (Colace®) 100 mg. Take as instructed by your healthcare provider. This is a stool softener that causes few side effects. Do not take it with mineral oil.
      • Senna (Senokot®) 2 tablets at bedtime. This is a stimulant laxative, which can cause cramping. 
    • ​If you have diarrhea (loose, watery bowel movements), you can stop the constipation medication, or ask your doctor or nurse if you should take a lower dose. 
  • Call your doctor’s office 2 to 3 days before your pain medication runs out. This gives us time to get your prescription ready.

Exercising and eating

  • Walk every day. Try to walk a bit further each day than you walked the day before. This will also help with your bowel function.
  • Make sure that you drink 8 (8-ounce glasses) of liquids each day.
  • Eat small, frequent meals to help you get enough calories.

Follow-up care

Call your doctor’s office to make a follow-up appointment.

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Call Your Doctor or Nurse Immediately if You Have:

  • A temperature of 101° F (38.3° C) or higher
  • Shakes or chills
  • Increased pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased redness, swelling, or drainage from your incision
  • No bowel movement for 2 days
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