PACU Nurses Ensure A Smooth Recovery After Your Surgery

Wesley Dwayne Johnson, RN, CPAN
PACU, Candler Hospital

Smart Living: What is the PACU and what is your role as a nurse there?

Wesley Dwayne Johnson: PACU stands for post-anesthesia care unit, a place commonly referred to as the recovery room. This unit is dedicated to patients who, after surgery, are regaining consciousness from anesthesia. Our team makes sure that patients, upon waking, can maintain their ability to swallow. We monitor vital signs such as the patient’s blood pressure, respiratory rate, and oxygen level. In addition, we monitor a patient’s end-tidal CO2, which is the level of carbon dioxide released when a person exhales. This gives us an even better picture of how well our patients are breathing as the effects of the anesthesia begin to wear off.
We also use the pain scale to assess how much pain a patient is in, and use that measure to help keep each patient as comfortable as possible.
SL: When patients wake up, do they tend to be calm or are they disoriented and perhaps agitated?
WDJ: Most patients wake up calmly. In fact, we often hear patients say things like, “That was one of the best sleeps I’ve had in a while.” Our goal for all patients is to provide as quiet of an environment as possible for them to wake up in. We speak to patients in a calm manner, letting them know that their safety and comfort is our first priority. On those occasions when patients awake confused or agitated, we concentrate on making sure there is no possibility of self-injury until they are fully aware of the situation.
Children can sometimes wake up confused and looking for their parents, so we always have a team of two caregivers looking after children and helping to ease their anxiety. Having a parent come into the PACU to see and stay with their child as soon as possible after surgery helps ease a child’s fear, and we do so as early as we can.
SL: Do you provide post-operative instructions?
WDJ: No, the retention rate for a patient in the recovery room is not very high. Usually the surgeon will speak to the family after the procedure and post-op instructions are given later. I would say that a typical patient recovering from outpatient surgery would be in the PACU for about forty-five minutes to an hour.
Let me add that it is natural for people to be concerned about the amount of pain they might experience after surgery, but that’s what we’re here for. We will make sure that when your surgery is over, you will be as comfortable as possible. Our job is to ensure a safe and smooth recovery for you. 

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