By Maria E. Alvarez-Krizan, MD, FAPWCA –
Surgery is not usually considered a “warm and fuzzy” experience. There is the preparation, the surgery itself, and equally important the aftercare. Surgical wounds can range from small incisions to very extensive lacerations, depending on what needs to be done. Whether a hernia repair or a back procedure, the healing should be treated with care and caution. Negative factors, like scarring, infections, and the risk of further injury can be prevented with proper information. Once the surgery is completed, there are still important steps that need to be followed. These include bandage changes, cleansing of the wound, and resting the affected area. Knowing what to do and how to do it will limit the negative side effects and ensure a quick healing process.
Our skin’s density can range from one millimeter, on our eyelids, to nearly half an inch on the bottom of our hands and feet. Skin is not only a fascinating and complex organ, but also the largest organ of all; it covers our entire body. When our skin is cut or injured, an incredible process begins. Vasoconstriction occurs to stop the bleeding to the specific area; blood vessels constrict and tighten around the incision. Coagulation (clotting) and the clumping of platelets follow suit, and make somewhat of a plug that reduces the blood flow to the injured area. Our bodies’ little soldiers, or white blood cells, rid the area of germs in the wound fending off infections. Fibroblasts, cells that are responsible for forming new skin, collect around the wound and create collagen, in turn mending it together and producing a scab.
Disruptions in the healing process will not only prolong the amount of time it takes, but it can increase the scarring. Scars are a natural part of healing, though they have only 80% of the strength that our original skin has. It is important that an incision does not open back up. The size and depth of a scar is directly related to the size and depth of the wound. However, taking proper care of the wound will greatly reduce any long-term scarring.
The doctor will most likely change the first bandage. They do this to inspect the wound and to show you how to do correctly perform the task. When the bandage is wet or stained, it is usually time to change it. Make sure this is done with clean hands to avoid getting any unwanted particles to the area. Wearing gloves is always preferred, but not always possible. Wash your hands before you pull off the soiled bandage, and before you put the new one on. Never attempt to remove stitches or staples on your own; unless advised to do so by your doctor. Sometimes scabs will fall off when cleaning the area, but never purposely remove scabs. They are meant to come off when the cut is healed and ready.
Limit your activity after a surgery to let the healing take place. Pressure on the area must be restricted, go easy on your body and give it time. Once the surgery is complete and you have left the hospital, it falls on you to take care of your incision. A soon-to-be healthy, clean, and well-rested body will thank you later.
Maria E. Alvarez-Krizan MD, FAPWCA – Physician Certified in Wound Care-CMET, Fellow of American Professional Wound Care Association, and Diplomat American Board of Internal Medicine, Infectious Disease.
The Wound Care Center