You had surgery to remove part, or all, of your esophagus (food tube). The remaining part of your esophagus and your stomach were rejoined.
Now that you're going home, follow your health care provider's instructions on how to care for yourself at home while you heal. Use the information below as a reminder.
What to Expect at Home
You may be sent home with a drainage tube in your neck. This will be removed by your surgeon during an office visit.
You may have a feeding tube for 1 to 2 months after surgery. This will help you get enough calories to help you gain weight. You will also be on a special diet when you first get home.
Your stools may be looser and you may have bowel movements more often than before surgery.
Ask your surgeon how much weight is safe for you to lift. You may be told not to lift or carry anything heavier than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms).
You may walk 2 or 3 times a day, go up or down stairs, or ride in a car. Be sure to rest after being active. If it hurts when you do something, stop doing that activity.
Make sure your home is safe as you are recovering. For example, remove throw rugs to prevent tripping and falling. In the bathroom, install safety bars to help you get in and out of the tub or shower.
Your doctor will give you a prescription for pain medicines. Get it filled on your way home from the hospital so you have it when you need it. Take the medicine when you start having pain. Waiting too long will allow your pain to get worse than it should.
Change your dressings (bandages) every day until your surgeon says you no longer need to keep your incisions bandaged.
Follow instructions for when you can start bathing. Your surgeon may say it is ok to remove the wound dressings and take a shower if sutures (stitches), staples, or glue were used to close your skin. Do not try to wash off the thin strips of tape or glue. They will come off on their own in about a week.
Do not soak in a bathtub, hot tub, or swimming pool until your surgeon tells you it is ok.
If you have large incisions, you may need to press a pillow over them when you cough or sneeze. This helps ease the pain.
You may be using a feeding tube after you go home. You will likely use it only at nighttime. The feeding tube will not interfere with your normal daytime activities. Follow your surgeon's instructions on diet and eating.
Follow instructions for doing deep-breathing exercises after you get home.
If you are a smoker and are having trouble quitting, talk with your doctor about medicines that you can help you quit smoking. Joining a stop-smoking program can help, too.
You may have some skin soreness around your feeding tube. Follow instructions on how to take care of the tube and the surrounding skin.
After surgery, you will need close follow-up:
- You will see your surgeon 2 or 3 weeks after getting home. Your surgeon will check your wounds and see how you are doing with your diet.
- You will have an x-ray to make sure the new connection between your esophagus and stomach is ok.
- You will meet with a dietitian to go over your tube feedings and your diet.
- You will see your oncologist, the doctor who treats your cancer.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your surgeon if you have any of the following:
- Fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher
- Incisions are bleeding, red, warm to the touch, or have a thick, yellow, green, or milky drainage
- Your pain medicines do not help ease your pain
- It is hard to breathe
- Cough that does not go away
- Cannot drink or eat
- Skin or the white part of your eyes turns yellow
- Loose stools or diarrhea
- Vomiting after eating
- Severe pain or swelling in your legs
- Burning sensation in your throat when you sleep or lay down
Trans-hiatal esophagectomy - discharge; Trans-thoracic esophagectomy - discharge; Minimally invasive esophagectomy - discharge; En bloc esophagectomy - discharge; Removal of the esophagus - discharge
Filcori F, Swanstorm LL. Management of esophageal cancer. In: Cameron JL, Cameron AM, eds. Current Surgical Therapy. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:53-63.
Rajaram R, Spicer JD, Dhupar R, Kim JY, Sepesi B, Hofstetter W. Esophagus. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery: The Biological Basis of Modern Surgical Practice. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 42.
Review Date 1/19/2021
Updated by: Mary C. Mancini, MD, PhD, Director, Cardiothoracic Surgery, Christus Highland Medical Center, Shreveport, LA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.