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.

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 in the hospital and at home will help with bowel function and will help you heal and recover.
  • 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 be given 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.

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

  • Instructions on how to care for your incision.
  • Any prescriptions you need. You can fill your prescriptions at your local pharmacy or at the pharmacy at MSK in the main hospital. The pharmacy at MSK is open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 am until 5:45 pm. It is located on the 1st floor of the main hospital, at 1275 York Avenue, between East 67th Street and East 68th Street in room A105. To reach the MSK pharmacy, call 212-639-8464.
  • Any supplies you need.
  • 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 cannot 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. Keep the site covered until the drainage stops. This usually takes 3 to 5 days.
  • Change the dressing when it is wet.

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 _____ capsules _____ times a day. 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, 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.
  • Make sure that you drink eight (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.

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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If you have any questions or concerns, talk with a member of your healthcare team. You can reach them Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm at ____________________. After 5:00 pm, during the weekend, and on holidays, please call____________________. If there’s no number listed, or you’re not sure, call 212-639-2000.
Going Home After Your Video-assisted Thoracic Surgery
©2015 Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center - Generated on October 7, 2015