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Your post-op checklist: What to do before you get home from surgery

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Having a procedure done? Here’s how to prepare for your rest and recovery stage.

Have a surgery coming up? You can trust your doctor to handle the procedure itself. And you can rely on them to follow up with you and help you heal. But they can’t be with you in your own home, day in and day out, to check up on you.  

That part of the process is up to you. To properly recover, you’ll need to prepare your home and have a plan in place for things such as meals, medication and transportation. 

Your specific needs will depend on the type of procedure you’re having. But most surgeries will limit your mobility to some extent, says Hany Farid, MD. He’s a general surgeon and regional medical director for Optum California. “You should anticipate this and get your home ready.” 

To help you prep, here’s a helpful to-do list.  

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1. Stay on top of your surgery details and timeline 

Dr. Farid says that you’ll want to talk with your doctor beforehand, so you understand: 

  • Exactly what procedure you’re having 
  • Why you’re having it 
  • What the risks are 
  • What your expected recovery time is 

Ask if you need a preoperative evaluation, such as having your heart checked, he says. And find out how long it will be before you can get back to regular activities such as driving, work and exercise.1 

Make sure you know the time and location of your surgery. Confirm what time you need to be at the hospital or surgical center. And ask about how long the procedure will take, as well as how you’ll feel right after surgery.  

2. Think about transportation for surgery day 

Line up a ride to and from the hospital on the day of the surgery, as well as for one or two follow-up visits, notes Dr. Farid. “I wouldn’t advise you to drive in the first week or so after surgery, and definitely not while on pain medication.”  
You can ask a family member or friend to drive you. “Or a lot of patients have access to medical transportation as part of their benefits, and that could be arranged ahead of time,” Dr. Farid says. (Check with your Medicare Advantage plan to ask them about your transportation benefits.)  

3. Ask your doctor about medications 

If you’re currently on any medication, ask your doctor what steps you should take before and after your surgery, says Dr. Farid. This includes: 

  • Whether you should take your medications during the lead-up to your surgery. 
  • When you can start them up again after your surgery. “If you’ve been asked to stop, clarify when you can restart,” says Dr. Farid. “Usually, it’s a day or two or three after surgery.” 
  • Whether there’s any new medication you need to take after your surgery. You might need to stock up on that ahead of time. Or you could ask a friend or family member to pick them up at the pharmacy.  

Did your doctor prescribe an opioid pain reliever, just in case? You can wait to fill it if you choose to, according to the American College of Surgeons.2 You might be able to manage your pain with an over-the-counter (OTC) medication.  

It’s worth noting that prescription pain medications may come with the common side effect of constipation.2 “Expect it, and rather than treat it, try to avoid it,” says Dr. Farid. “Take stool softeners or laxatives ahead of time.” Those are OTC medicines that will make it easier for you to poop. 

4. Plan your meals ahead of time 

Stock your fridge and freezer with ready-to-eat meals you can heat up. Or buy ingredients that you or a loved one can prep easily.  

What you eat or drink is also important. “Generally speaking, after most surgeries, there are no dietary restrictions after the first day or two,” says Dr. Farid. “Certainly, I would avoid alcohol in the first few days, because alcohol interacts with a lot of the common post-op medications.”  

Keep in mind that anesthesia tends to cause nausea and vomiting. So, for the first day or two, light, bland, frequent meals would be in order, says Dr. Farid. 

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5. Prep your home  

Ask your surgeon if there’s any medical equipment you need at home, such as a walker, cane or wheelchair to help you get around. You may need help doing everyday tasks afterward, depending on the surgery. Items such as a raised toilet seat, shower chair and grabber to pick things up can make life easier.3 

It’s also a good idea to clear away clutter so you have easy pathways to and from the bathroom, says Dr. Farid. Add night-lights to the hallways and bathroom so you don’t trip and fall.3 

6. Schedule a follow-up visit 

Before your procedure, be sure you have a follow-up visit with your surgeon on the calendar, says Dr. Farid. It’s also important that you know how to reach any of your doctors, in case you need something before your next visit. Keep all of their contact info handy, including who to call after hours if you need help. 

7. Know how to care for your incision 

Your surgeon might use stitches, staples or adhesives to close your incision.4 Keeping the site clean is important for a smooth recovery. “Most of the time, there’s very little or no wound care aside from keeping it dry for a couple of days,” says Dr. Farid. 

Before you leave the hospital, your surgeon or a nurse will give you specific instructions on how to take care of the wound, including how to change the bandages.4  

“You should also be aware of and look out for signs of infection,” says Dr. Farid. That could include symptoms such as:4 

  • Cloudy discharge or bad odor from the incision 
  • Redness or color changes to your skin that goes beyond the edges of the incision 
  • The skin around the incision is warm 
  • The incision line opens up and gets wider, longer or deeper 
  • Fever 

If you notice any of these symptoms, call your surgeon’s office, says Dr. Farid. 

8. Plan for ways to fill your time 

You’ll be in bed or on the couch for a few days (or more), so you’ll want to make the most of it. Have a phone and charger nearby so you can stay in contact with friends, family and your doctor. “That immediate post-op period can be very isolating,” Dr. Farid says. Stock up on books you’ve been meaning to read. And write down a list of podcasts or shows you want to stream. 

Remember, there’s a lot to think about when you have surgery. And your Optum care team is there to answer questions. They’ll help you every step of the way, including helping to put you on the path to a healthy recovery.  


  1. American College of Surgeons. 10 questions to ask before having an operation. Accessed January 19, 2024. 
  2. American College of Surgeons. Safe and effective pain control after surgery. Last revised September 2021. Accessed January 19, 2024. 
  3. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Getting your home ready — after the hospital. Last reviewed July 8, 2023. Accessed January 19, 2024. 
  4. Cleveland Clinic. Incision and surgical wound care. Last reviewed November 15, 2023. Accessed January 19, 2024. 

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