Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Canterbury

What to expect in hospital

When you come to hospital, you will stay in Ward 20.

If you are having a general anaesthetic you will see an anaesthetist before your operation. They will need to know about any health issues you have had, any regular medicines you take, and any allergies you have. You can also read about Having an anaesthetic.

Raising the area (elevation) and resting

If your graft is on an arm or leg you will need to keep it raised (elevated) after the operation. This helps the graft to heal as the tiny blood vessels can start forming, and also reduces how much your arm or leg swells. To achieve this, you will have a sling if your graft is on your arm.

If your graft is on your leg, pillows will be used. Your surgeon will tell you if you can walk around immediately or if you need bed rest.

Bed rest can mean total rest in bed, or you may be allowed up into a chair with your legs raised. You may need to do this for one to five days. If you are on total bed rest it is important you don't lie in the same position for too long, or you might get pressure sores. Your nurse will give you any help you need to avoid this.

A physiotherapist may show you some bed exercises. These could include deep breathing and coughing to reduce chest infections, moving around in bed, and moving your unaffected limbs (to reduce the chance of blood clots forming in your legs (also called deep vein thrombosis or DVT).


Unless there is a problem, such as bleeding or infection, your grafted area will have a temporary dressing until your doctor has inspected it three to five days after your operation. A nurse will then apply a secure, firm dressing. If your graft is progressing well, your discharge will then be arranged. You may have a tie-over dressing, which is a special dressing that is stitched on to keep it very secure. The dressing needs to stay in place for five to seven days.

Your donor site will have a lighter dressing and will take about two weeks to heal. The dressing put on in the operating theatre will stay in place for around 10 to 14 days and the skin will heal underneath.


You may need a course of antibiotics to prevent any infection after the surgery.

Some people need a daily injection into the tummy area (abdomen), which prevent blood clots (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT). There is a risk you might develop blood clots after some types of surgery.

You might feel some discomfort in both the graft and donor site. You will get pain relief that is right for you.


Muscles can become weak after periods of bed rest, which can affect your balance and mobility. Your nurse and physiotherapist will help you to walk, and get you a walking aid if you need one. It is a good idea to get a relative to bring in your own walking aids, if you have any.

Support stockings (Tubigrips)

If you have leg wounds, you will be given support stockings to wear once you start to walk. They need to be a firm fit from your toes to below your knee. Your nurse will help you with these.

You can leave these off at night, but if you need to get up at all, you need to have the stockings on before you step on your leg.

Do not fold over, roll or shorten your support stockings – this can restrict circulation and cause swelling.

Arranging home help before you leave hospital

You may need extra help with your personal care, housework, preparing meals and shopping when you go home. Several team members can help to arrange the help you need, before you leave hospital.

The ward occupational therapist can discuss how you will manage with your daily activities, and can see if you need any special equipment (such as a shower stool). You will probably not have to pay for the services you need. ACC will pay for services if you have had an injury and the ward social worker can help you get any other financial help, accommodation and community support you need.

If you haven't seen the occupational therapist or social worker and would like to, please ask your nurse.

On the next page: Can skin grafts fail?

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director, Plastic Surgery Department, Canterbury DHB, Last reviewed May 2017.


See also:

Communication cards in multiple languages

Image courtesy of Anusom P Nachol at

Page reference: 88167

Review key: HISGR-87518