You will probably be admitted the afternoon before your surgery so that some routine tests, such as blood and urine tests and a chest x-ray, can be performed. Shortly before the operation, the surgical area (underarm) will be shaved, and you may be given some medication to help you relax.
When it is time for your surgery, you will be taken to the operating room and an anesthesiologist will put you to sleep. Electrocardiogram sensors will be attached to your arms and legs with adhesive pads to monitor your heart rate during surgery. The surgical area will be cleaned, and sterile sheets will be draped over your body, except for the area around the operation. An axillary dissection usually takes several hours; an axillary sampling, about an hour.
When you awaken from surgery, you will be in the recovery room. Your underarm area will be bandaged, and a tube may be in place at the surgical site to drain any fluid that may accumulate. Your throat may be sore from the tube that was placed in it to carry air to your lungs during surgery. You may also feel a little nauseated and have a dry mouth-these are common side effects of anesthesia.
You will spend an hour or so in the recovery room. Oxygen will be available in case you need it to ease your breathing. Wires may be taped to your chest to measure your heartbeat. An intravenous (IV) tube will be in a vein in your arm to give fluid, nourishment, or medication after surgery. The IV tube will probably be removed after you begin to drink and eat.
It's common to feel drowsy for several hours after surgery. You may feel some discomfort under your arm; some women experience numbness, tingling, or pain in the chest, shoulder area, and upper arm. Your doctor will prescribe medication to relieve any discomfort you may have following your surgery. The numbness under your arm will decrease gradually, but total feeling may not return for a long time.
After you return to your room, a nurse will check your temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and bandage. She will ask you to turn, cough, and breathe deeply to keep your lungs clear after the anesthesia. You may also be encouraged to move your feet and legs to improve your blood circulation. Although each woman reacts to surgery differently, you will probably discover that by the next day you will be able to sit up in bed and walk from your bed to a chair in your room. Your doctor will probably encourage you to walk around and eat solid food as soon as possible.