Home Care after Thoracotomy
What is a thoracotomy?
A thoracotomy is a surgical incision of the chest wall that is made between muscles of the chest wall, then between two ribs. The vertical incision is about 3 or 4 inches long. Rarely, the surgeon may need to make a horizontal incision.
Leave the chest tube dressing in place for 48 hours after chest tube is removed.
Remove the dressing on ______________________.
After the chest tube dressing is removed, you may shower or wash the incisions daily with mild soap and water. Do not put lotions, powders, or antibacterial ointments on the incisions. Pat your incisions dry. Do not rub them because it prevents healing.
Do not soak in a bathtub or hot tub or go swimming until your incisions have healed.
Check your incisions daily for signs and symptoms of infection. These include:
- Increased redness
- Pus-like drainage
- Excess swelling
- Temperature (by mouth) greater than 100° F for two readings, 4 hours apart.
There should be no drainage from your incision. Any drainage from the chest tube site will be only a scant amount for a day or two. Wear a Band-Aid or small dressing over the site until the drainage stops. Change the dressing daily and as needed.
When you go home, your incision may have all of the staples in place or only a few. Sometimes, small pieces of tape called steri-strips are placed after your staples are removed. It is okay if these tape strips fall off, but don’t pull them off. When you return for your clinic visit in 1-2 weeks, the doctors will remove staples or stitches that are left.
- Walk 3-4 times each day.
- Do range of motion exercises with your arms 2-3 times daily.
- Use the arm on your surgery side as you normally would in your daily routine (dressing, showering, and combing hair).
- Do not drive for 4 weeks or if you are using narcotic pain pills.
- Do not lift greater than 5-10 pounds for 3-4 weeks.
When to Call the Doctor
- Signs of infection (listed above)
- Sudden onset of sharp chest pain with shortness of breath
Surgery Clinic: Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (608) 263-7502
Dr. Weigel’s office: (608) 265-0499
Dr. Maloney’s office: (608) 263-5215
After hours, the clinic number will be answered by the hospital paging operator. Ask for the thoracic surgery resident on call. Leave your name and phone number with the area code. The doctor will call you back.
If you live out of the area, please call: Toll Free 1-800-323-8942
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 04/09/2010
Copyright © 04/09/2010 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5836
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