What should I know about drain care after surgery?

The following instructions will help you know what to expect in the days following your surgery. Do not, however, hesitate to call if you have questions or concerns.

After surgery, there is continued oozing and shedding of cells and bodily fluids at the surgical site. Removal of this fluid speeds healing and decreases the chance of infection. This is done by a wound drain.

These instructions are a guide for properly caring for your drain.

  1. The drain is made up of a piece of tubing with a collection bulb at the end. It is possible for clots to form in the tubing and block the outflow of fluids. To prevent this, it will be important for you to "strip" or "milk" the tubing occasionally. To do this, hold the tubing between your thumb and index finger at a point where the tubing exits the skin. Squeeze your fingers together to pinch off the tubing. Position the fingers of the other hand in the same way just below the pinched off tubing. While holding the first two fingers in place to prevent pulling on your skin, slide the bottom two fingers down the tubing. This pushes any clots into the collection bulb. You might need to do this at several points down the tubing. This should be done two to three times a day to keep the tubing clear.
  2. You might need to empty the drain two to three times a day (or more), depending on the amount of output. To empty, lift the "pop top" on the collection bulb, and squeeze the fluid into a measuring cup with incremental markings (fl oz or cc). Record in your chart the amount of drainage, along with the time of the measurement. Once empty, squeeze the bulb and put the "pop top" back in place to resume suction. If you drain 55 cc or more (as seen on the bulb markings), you may estimate the amount of fluid drained.
  3. If instructed by your doctor, you may shower with the drains in place. Attach them to an old belt or cloth strap to limit the amount of pulling on the skin and to avoid the risk of pulling the drain out accidentally.
  4. The drain will be removed in the office when the output is less than 30 cc for more than 24 hours (or at your doctor's discretion). Accurately reporting your output will help the doctor's decision to pull or leave your drain in place. Try to record your morning output at about the same time each day.

Note: Make sure to bring your drain output chart to every postoperative office visit. (See sample chart below.)

Note: Your drains are ready to be removed when the drainage is less than 30 cc per drain for 24 hours. Please call your doctor’s office to make that appointment.

Also note: Drains are routinely not left in longer than 2 weeks. If the drainage is still greater than 30 cc two weeks after surgery, call your surgeon.