Many thoughts pass through the mind of someone who has just had surgery. They may be anxious or fearful about the future and uncertain about what may happen next.
Surgery is a big decision, and it can be hard to know what the best thing you could say or do for them after surgery.
Here are suggestions on what to say to someone who has just had surgery:
Dr. Roy Huynh, BMed, MD, MMed(ClinEpi), MPH
Surgical Doctor | Creator, OPLYFE
It is important to gauge how someone is after surgery before approaching them for a conversation.
Some patients, especially those who have undergone major surgery, can be very fatigued and not keen for a chit-chat. Surgery can be quite draining for the body— the physiological changes that occur during an operation may be enough to make a person too tired to talk. Some patients may wish to be left alone to recover.
If they don’t feel well or have a complication related to the surgery, they may experience a mix of emotions such as anger, sadness, or anxiety. In these cases, it may be better to return another time.
The effects of anesthesia are also enough to prevent some patients from having a productive conversation. Check with their nurse to work out a better time to come back.
Assuming that none of the above applies and that the patient is keen to talk to you, these are the top four things I recommend saying to them to help them recover:
“Listen to your surgeon”
Your surgeon has seen many patients like yourself before. They would have performed countless cases similar to yours. They know the best way for you to recover, and you should heed their advice.
There will undoubtedly be times when you don’t feel like your surgeon’s advice is in your best interest.
For example, your surgeon telling you to sit out of bed after open-heart surgery, but you just want to lie in bed all day. Believe me when I say just listen to them!
Surgeons are always up to date with the latest evidence-based practice.
Their decision-making is aimed at accelerating your recovery and preventing postoperative complications. Listen to them, and you will recover faster.
“Don’t be afraid to ask your surgeon any questions”
Knowledge is power! It is important that you feel comfortable asking your surgeon any questions. They may be busy but never too busy to make time for you.
Every surgeon wants to make sure their patient knows what’s going on. Knowing what happened during your surgery and what the expected postoperative course will be like is critical for your recovery.
If you know what to expect, you can make better plans on how to get better faster and what to do when you get home. Your surgeon will always do their best to make sure you understand your situation, but you may still have a few knowledge gaps.
Never be afraid to draw upon your surgeon’s vast knowledge to make yourself more educated about your health. Your recovery is likely to benefit from it.
“Be patient and allow time to heal”
Surgery is a huge stress on your body. You need to allow time for your body to heal. Don’t expect to go back to your usual daily life straight after surgery.
Even with a simple operation such as a laparoscopic appendectomy (keyhole operation to remove the appendix), you will still need a few weeks to allow the wounds to heal completely and the pain to resolve.
The recovery time can vary between different people, so don’t get stressed out if someone else who had the same surgery as you recovers faster.
“Be compliant to your postoperative instructions when you go home”
Your surgeon will give you instructions on what to do when you go home. Make sure you adhere to what they tell you. It’ll make a big difference to your recovery.
Your surgeon will provide you information such as the timing of your suture removal, what physical activity to avoid, how to look after your wounds, and who to follow up with once you leave the hospital.
These instructions are important because your recovery doesn’t stop once you leave the hospital. Following these instructions will increase your chances of a full recovery and reduce the likelihood of complications.
Most surgeons like to see their patients again a few weeks after leaving the hospital to make sure they are completely recovered and arrange further tests/procedures if required.
Founder, Hearing Out Life Drama
“How can I help?”
This common line from the tv series New Amsterdam models a way for people to respond in difficult situations, especially after surgery. However, if you ask this question, be prepared to listen to the answer and respond appropriately.
So often, people think, “I don’t know what to say!” When we have this thought, it is wise not to speak but to listen instead.
Hold your feelings until you can appropriately handle them outside the situation
When we listen with compassion, we begin from where the person is and set aside our own emotional response to what is happening. This doesn’t mean we stuff our emotions, but rather we practice what is known as “containment.“
We hold our feelings until we can appropriately handle them outside the situation. We start from a place of calm and share that with the person we care for.
It is imperative to tend to those emotional needs at some point, even if it’s phoning a friend in tears from the car in the parking lot.
Pose yes/no questions to which they may reply with an eye blink or a nod
Perhaps they need quiet to rest, or maybe they are lonely after days of recuperation and need companionship. Instead of guessing what they might need, what matters is to meet them where they are.
Of course, guessing maybe the best we can do in some situations if they aren’t yet capable of communication. In times like this, being certain to ask yes or no questions they can respond to with an eye blink or a nod can help.
Offer specific suggestions
If you extend the offer of help and they draw a blank, be sure to offer concrete options.
- “I can bring a meal to your family on Tuesday at 5 pm.”
- “I’ll pick up groceries and drop them off on Saturday.”
Be specific about exactly what you can give. Also, be sure that you are communicating with the best person about this. It may be a significant other, friend, or parent that it’s best to offer to, not the person who underwent the procedure.
Be thoughtful about food allergies and what they may or may not be able to eat if they aren’t able to use their arms. Think about their struggle from their point of view.
Imagine yourself in their position, and then do the thing that you would most want.
If what they need is someone to hear, “I’m so scared, and I don’t know how I’m going to get through this,” then you nod and let them know you get that, and it’s valid. Given the facts or worse the lack of facts as test results are still coming in— anyone would.
It’s unnecessary to have an answer. However, compassion is almost always welcome.
Almost always? Yes. Sometimes people get angry at their situation, and they don’t want compassion. They want to be angry, and when you offer compassion, it may miss. This is why it’s so important to start from where they are!
You know you got it right when you hear… “You were really there for me.” People say this when they have been heard and responded to from their real needs.
Cancer Survivor | Co-Founder, Cancer Be Glammed
I am a breast cancer survivor who has had multiple surgeries and works with women coping with all forms of cancer.
Here’s what I say to women following devastating surgeries that result in physical body changes from surgeries like mastectomies, ostomies, and head and neck cancers and the corresponding emotional trauma that comes with it.
For example, poor body image, lower self-esteem, and loss of identity.
“Be good to yourself and know that you are not alone”
I say that I understand how difficult and challenging their surgery must be for them. Surgery is not only physically exhausting but emotionally draining as well.
One of the lessons that I have learned from my own experiences is that now is the time to be good to yourself and to allow your body to heal.
Everyone recovers in their own time, don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself or compare yourself to other people who have had similar surgeries.
And know that you don’t have to be a hero or go through it alone. It shows strength to ask for help if you need it or to take advantage of services like support groups who specialize in recovery and know how to help.
Dr. Héctor Pérez
Chief Surgeon, Renew Bariatrics
After surgery, you will likely feel tired and sore. You may also be confused, anxious, or scared.
Here are some things you can say to someone who has just had surgery:
- “Thank you for allowing me to be here with you.”
- “I’m glad the surgery went well.”
- “I’m here for anything you need.”
- “How are you feeling?”
- “Is there anything I can do for you?”
Say something reassuring
One of the first things that may come to a person who has just had surgery is fear, especially if they have been sedated. By saying something reassuring, you can help them to feel calm and relaxed.
Additionally, this will help them to feel as though you care about how they are feeling after their procedure.
It may take a little while for them to respond, but if they do not seem too tired to talk, the best thing you can do is simply listen. If they want to talk, let them say anything that comes to mind without interrupting or offering your perspective on their situation.
Be prepared for some discomfort when attempting to help someone who has just had surgery. The medications used during and after an operation can cause people to become groggy or nauseous.
If you can, be prepared to help them sit up or walk around to prevent discomfort and nausea.
Simply ask them if there is anything they need from you
If you are feeling uncertain about what to do for someone who has just had surgery, simply ask their family member, friend, significant other, etc., if there is anything that they need from you at that moment.
There have been countless studies done on the impact of social support after a traumatic event such as surgery.
The evidence is clear. People who have a friend or even just a familiar face near them fare significantly better than those who do not have anyone with them.
Gary Sinclair, M.Ed., M.A.
Founder, Never Quit Climbing
As a former chaplain, master’s level counselor, and pastor of 27 years, I have significant experience with patients post-surgery and have been the patient for a time or two.
My wife had stage three cancer some years ago as well, and I was there as she recuperated from two extensive surgeries.
While there are many reasons for hospitalizations, surgery brings its own unique set of responses, feelings, and needs that helpers are wise to be sensitive to and address.
Common Post-Surgery Reactions:
- Disorientation – Anesthesia can cause varying states and time periods of confusion.
- Fear/panic – They wonder where they are and why they are there
- Over-confidence – Some think they can handle anything and everything right then. May ask to go home.
- Depression or general downness – People can have both a physical and/or emotional response that overwhelms them about the future and steals some of their hope for getting better.
- Pain – This obvious outcome sometimes gets overlooked by helpers who aren’t aware of the discomfort that the patient has though they may cover it well or appear stronger than they are.
Practical responses for helpers, loved ones, and other caregivers:
Never stay too long. Always remain for less time and don’t assume that a patient’s talkativeness means they want you there for a marathon visit.
If necessary, act as a notetaker. If a medical team member comes and gives them a report and no other family member or caregiver is there, write it down. Pass it on to the person later or the family, but their disorientation and temporary memory loss can cause them to miss the info or forget it.
Try to discourage them from making any big decisions or leaving too early
Family members need to be made aware of their ponderings or desire to go home.
If they are fearful, always let the medical team know, but until they come to help speak quietly, touch their arm or hand appropriately and let them know you’re right there.
Talk about things they can actually do
After they have more clarity of mind and thinking, simply help them think through their next steps from here and move forward once they get home.
Talking about things they can actually do will assist them with any feelings of not being able to handle life because of their medical struggles.
Dr. Wolfram Schwarz, MD
Kind words of encouragement
Recovery after surgery can be very hard, and regardless of whether it is the first or the 50th time they go under the knife, people will always appreciate kind words of encouragement from their loved ones.
You may think of it as something superfluous, but being there and saying the right words to someone who has recently gone through surgery can actually help them bounce back faster than someone who doesn’t have the support of friends and family.
Therefore, here are a few quotes you can send your recently operated loved one (and why not, along with a “get well soon” gift) to cheer them up:
- “I hope you feel all the good wishes and love surrounding you at this moment and that it gives you the strength to keep moving forward and come back stronger than ever. Hope to see you soon.”
- “I’d like to tell you that I’ll be there for you, for anything you may need. My priority is to see you get back into the game and share some good laughs once again, so don’t doubt reaching me whenever you need someone by your side.”
- “I’m glad to hear your surgery went well, and even though me and [someone else or a group of people miss] you, we want you to take your time recovering and come back stronger. We’ll be waiting for you with our arms open.”
Dr. Nicholas Jones, MD, FACS
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Nip and Tuck
“How are you?”
It’s that simple. Most people, after surgery, just want to get back to normal. Regardless of how long or how invasive it may be, every surgery has inherent risks.
Any time you have surgery, there are potential complications, some deadly. During my surgical training, a patient died from a simple elective inguinal hernia repair. It changed my life forever.
When I perform a case, whether it’s a small lesion removal or a tummy tuck, I pray with my patient and have a game plan.
Things can go wrong despite being thoroughly prepared. Patients are entrusting you with their lives, there’s some anxiety, and even when it’s done, there is still a little anxiety.
There’s nothing like a “how are you?” with a smile to let them know you care and that you are present!
Certified Health and Wellness Coach & Registered Dental Hygienist, Third Bliss
“I would love to bring you a meal, what kind of food do you like?”
You might think that you’re being intrusive by asking what food to bring to someone, but chances are, the person you want to help is too embarrassed to ask for anything. So giving them the option of what type of food they enjoy saves them the trouble of feeling embarrassed and indebted to you.
I say this myself, but saying, “If you need anything, let me know,” is not as helpful as saying something with an intention to take action.
“I want you to know that you are in my prayers, and I wish you a quick and easy recovery”
A simple acknowledgment of the surgery and well wishes is enough without directly asking how they feel. They are most likely in some kind of pain and will be for a period of time, depending on the surgery, so you really don’t have to ask how they are doing right away.
“I want you to know that I am thinking of you. How are you doing? Is there anything I can do for you?”
Recovery from surgery can take a long time. After the first or second week, you can let them know they are still in your thoughts and you haven’t forgotten about them.
They’ve had a bit of time to recover from the pain, and chances are the pain has subsided or is completely gone. You can ask how they’re doing and if there is anything more you can help them with.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor
Ask if the person needs any help — indicate you are there for them if they need you
What to do:
- Ask if the person needs any help, indicate you are there for them if they need you, and then let them reach out to you.
- Ask if it would be fine with them if you prayed for them. It is appropriate to ask this before doing so. Defer to your faith to confirm.
- Send a gift via shopping company to deliver to their door, perhaps a healthy book, inspirational read, and let them reach out to you and thank you.
What to not do:
- Approach their home unannounced.
- Arrive at the hospital after you have investigated where they are located and show up with friends (protocols may have changed since COVID-19.)
- Avoid calling relatives and loved ones of the person and asking questions about their status.
Nicole Brackett, CEE
Care Delivery and Education Manager, Homewatch CareGivers
No matter the type of surgery being done, any procedure interrupts daily routine and requires some sort of recovery process. Those who undergo surgery are happy to know you are thinking of them and are there to help if needed.
Below are some scenarios you can take into account when thinking of what to say to someone after surgery.
Wish them a speedy recovery
It may seem simple, but wishing someone well and a speedy recovery after surgery shows them that you are thinking of their well-being and acknowledging their road to progress.
A handwritten note stating, “Thinking of you and wishing you a speedy recovery.”
Specify what you will help with
It is kind to lend a helping hand but instead of suggesting, “Let me know if you need anything.” Ask specifically:
- “What can I help you with?”
- “Can I do anything to make your day easier or better?”
Just talk, take their mind off of things
You can also be a great distraction to someone who has undergone surgery. Update them on the lives of their loved ones, tell them a joke, or share a funny memory.
You can ask them:
- “What was your favorite moment of the day so far?”
- “Has anything made you smile today?”
Encourage them to take this time for well-being
Sometimes, we are eager to get back to our routine as soon as possible. Encourage your loved one or friend to take this time for themselves. You can say, “How are you feeling today compared to yesterday (or last week)?”
Chaye McIntosh, MS, LCADC
Clinical Director, ChoicePoint Health
It depends on who that someone is
It would be foolish of me to give a generic answer to this question. The perfect thing to say to someone coming out of the surgery largely depends on who that “someone” is.
Choose your words wisely, as they can leave a long-lasting impact. Just because they came out of surgery high on morphine doesn’t mean they won’t remember your words afterward.
So here are some of the things to say to:
“I know you feel lousy right now, but it is all going to be alright. I hope you bounce back to your usual self in no time so we can do all the crazy things like before.”
To a family member
“Well, thank God you are alright. You gave me quite a scare. I am so glad the surgery went so well. The doctors are really hopeful about your recovery. I hope you get well soon and return to your daily activities. It is just not the same without you at the dinner table. We missed you.”
To a spouse
“Hey you, get better soon. I swear life is too boring without you being there to constantly nag me around. The surgery went really well, and you did well. So proud of you. I am here if you need anything at all, you know that, right?”
Other things to keep in mind:
- Say positive things.
- Don’t talk to them for more than 5 minutes as they just came out of surgery and they need rest. Let them rest.
- Tell them they will be alright in no time.
- Avoid telling them about people who had a horrible time after they came out of the surgery. No one needs to hear that.
COO, Sleep Advisor
When I was a teenager, my dad collapsed at home and hit his head pretty hard. His injuries were so severe that the doctors operated on him and afterward, he was forced to retire early. It was a really difficult time in my family.
I’m an only child and my mom worked full-time, so I was really stressed out while my dad was unconscious after his surgery.
But my mom (who’s always been a strong and independent woman) offered me some words of comfort and wisdom so that I was able to say and do the right thing when my dad woke up post-surgery.
Be as positive as possible around the patient
The first thing my mom advised me to do was be as positive as possible around my dad. If my dad had seen (or known) how worried we all were over his condition, I feel it would’ve made his eventual recovery a lot slower.
Say encouraging things
My dad had a tough time with rehab after his surgery. Even doing normal things like walking or doing a crossword puzzle in the newspaper was difficult for him.
Any time he expressed his frustration verbally or non-verbally, I always did my best to say encouraging things to him. I was also careful not to draw too much attention to my dad’s diminished capacities post-surgery.
He’s a very proud man, and he never likes to feel like he’s a burden on anyone, especially his family. So I made sure first to let my dad do things on his own and only stepped in to help in serious situations (e.g., if he fell down and had trouble lifting himself up again).
You shouldn’t worry too much about what to say to someone after they’ve had surgery. It’s more important to show them that they tangibly have your support.
Founder, Assisted Living Center
Ask how you can help them during their recovery
A swollen incision can make routine tasks that involve bending over, stretching, and stooping incredibly painful. Some elderly patients may live alone and have errands outside of the hospital room, like collecting medication or checking on their pets.
Most people will agree that social support helps patients cope with recovery, but physical assistance can be equally vital.
Yet few people will mention their immediate challenges—that’s even more common among independent seniors. In most cases, pride stops people from asking for assistance, so it’s always thoughtful to offer proactively.
Seniors can sometimes be stubborn toward help, but they’ll appreciate it in dire situations like this.
Owner, All Natural Mothering
Undergoing surgery is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. Here are a few things to say to them to make them feel loved and understood.
Acknowledge their pain
It takes a lot of courage to get ready for surgery. Let them know that you understand and show empathy regarding the trauma they must have gone through.
Here are a few things to say:
- “I understand you must feel awful, but you did the right thing by getting your surgery done.”
- “I am so proud of you for getting through the surgery. It takes a lot of courage, and I am glad that you came out of this healthy.”
The surgery and all the medications that come with that would make your loved one feel nauseous and physically weak. This is not the time for them to stress about anything. Your job is to reassure them and make sure they don’t worry.
Whether they need someone to keep them company or want to eat something other than hospital food, let them know that they can count on you.
Here are some ideas to talk to them about:
- “Can we watch your favorite shows together?”
- “Should I read you the book you were reading before the surgery?”
- “Can I bring you some soup and get you your favorite cookies?”
Talk about recovery
- Tell them not to rush getting back to normal
Recovery is an important part of getting wholly better after surgery. Your loved one might not be in a state of mind to follow the doctor’s instructions post-surgery.
Be it taking medications on time or taking a stroll to get some physical exercise, encourage them to listen to their doctor’s advice for their well-being.
- Plan something fun
Does your loved one like to watch movies? If so, you can talk about planning a movie date once they have recovered. Or, if it is your friend or co-worker with whom you went to yoga classes, let them know that you miss them and are looking forward to seeing them again.
This will help them focus on the positive things to do now that they feel better after the surgery.
Keep your get-well message concise
Even when people are in excellent physical condition when they go in for surgery, surgery can be taxing. Be aware that the person undergoing recovery may be weary, in pain, and not as alert as they would like.
Maintain brevity and sincerity in your statement
It’s not necessary to say everything on one card. In reality, a person may prefer to receive a post-surgery recovery message in person. A visit as the days pass could be a good follow-up to the short and sweet card you sent.
It’s more significant when you can make a message sound like a dialogue between you and that person. Share some inside jokes with the group. Talk about what you’re planning to do next as a couple. Tell them what you appreciate about having them around. Make a post-surgery card that is truly yours.
After surgery, send a helpful recovery message
After surgery, life will almost certainly not return to normal, whether for an afternoon, a few weeks, or much longer. Consider how you may provide tangible assistance or support and put it in your get-well card.
Stick to a small conversation and direct, empathetic inquiries
Think about your relationship. The closer you get, the more you’ll be able to speak without fear of being judged.
If you’re not as close, you should be extra cautious about what you say as well as how much you say. Be warm and natural. Don’t let the gravity of the procedure drive you too far outside of your comfort zone, prompting you to say something that both of you will regret.
Stick to small talk and straightforward, compassionate questions like; “How are you feeling?” and “Do you have anything special you need today?“
When deciding what to say following a surgery, don’t forget about your friend’s or family member’s loved ones. Make sure to inquire about their spouse or children, especially if they aren’t present during your visit.
While they heal, their own family and friends are most likely on their minds. If they express concern about getting those everyday duties done, extend an offer to assist with carpooling or running an errand.
When someone you know goes through surgery, it’s hard to figure out exactly what to say. You want to be supportive and understanding, but you also don’t want your friend or family member to feel like you’re treating them differently.
Here are a few general things to keep in mind if you’re visiting a loved one who just had surgery:
“Follow the doctor’s orders”
If the doctor told your loved one with cancer not to lift anything for two weeks, don’t offer to help move furniture or boxes. If they had surgery on their wrist, don’t ask them to sign a legal document.
In other words, avoid any kind of physical stress on the part of the patient during their recovery period.
Don’t touch the site of their surgery
While some people might not care if you gently touch their arm or shoulder where they had surgery, others might find it extremely painful. Be sensitive and mindful of this when interacting with them post-surgery.
Be patient when they don’t want to socialize
The day after surgery is often the most painful day of all, so don’t expect your friend or relative to feel like socializing or doing much of anything. It’s okay if they sit around and watch television all day. They’re supposed to be resting.
Amira Irfan, Esq.
Business Lawyer | CEO, A Self Guru
Tell them that you care and are thinking of them
In order to help the patient feel better, it’s important to communicate that you care and are thinking of them. If you’ve had surgery before, tell your friend about what it was like for you. If not, let them know that you want to learn more about what they’re going through.
Ask if there is anything you can do to make them feel comfortable
If they are in pain, offer to get ice chips or their medicine for them. Ask if there is anything else that would make the patient more comfortable.
Small gestures, such as “get well” baskets of fruits or flowers, always help to cheer up the person and lift their spirits, demonstrating that you care about them.
Be supportive and patient
Explain that you know it’s been an upsetting experience, but remind them that they’re going to get better. Sometimes talking about their feelings can help the person feel better.
If your friend seems sad or anxious about the future, ask what you can do to help. Remind them that their friends and family love them and want to see them get better.
Web Content Specialist, Stayyy
“I am very proud of your progress…”
Here are some of my encouraging words to say to someone after surgery:
- “I wish you all the best in health and complete recovery. You will be okay, and please feel the love that surrounds you, including me. Accept my warm hug and prayers. Recover well, my dear.”
- Be positive. “I am thinking about you every day and just wanted to send to you my virtual hug, and may the people around you care for you. Keep it up and get well soon.”
- “I just want to remind you that I am thinking about you and a lot of people are on your side. May your recovery exceed your expectations, and I hope to see you back to normal soon.”
- “Wishing you all the best in your health, today and for tomorrow. Hoping to see you soon, and please heal fast so you can do all the things that you love.”
- “I am very proud of your progress. All these things will be better, and all will be fine. Family and friends are always praying for your recovery. Get better soon and be healthy. I’ll be in touch soon.”
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