a person in recovery after surgery

Prior to the unique circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the average surgical burden on an American hospital was around 17.2 million procedures per year, both inpatient and outpatient, per the federal government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. And that’s not even taking into account surgeries performed in doctors offices and by dental surgeons in their offices. Despite the fact that the pandemic initiated a dramatic drop in nonessential surgeries being performed in the U.S., once hospitals and medical staff got up to speed with the resulting increase in demand for acute healthcare services amid the pandemic, those numbers returned to normal, according to Stanford Medicine.

Moreover, the average American will, over the course of their lifetime, undergo at least seven surgical procedures, according to surgeon and Harvard Medical School professor Atul Gawande, per NPR. A 2008 scientific study in which Dr. Gawande was a lead author put that number even higher — at more than nine per lifetime, including at least three inpatient operations, two outpatient operations, and three non-invasive surgical procedures (per Journal of the American College of Surgeons).

In other words, in one way or another, surgery is coming for you at some point, even if it’s just a minor, non-invasive procedure. Planning ahead is still one of the best ways you can ensure that your surgery will be a success, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists. And planning includes knowing how your activities will be restricted in the days and weeks while your recover.

Never drive soon after undergoing general anesthesia

a child driving a red convertible car

One thing you should never do after surgery is anything your doctor has told you not to do, according to Healthline. That might sound both obvious and reasonable now, but wait until you’re sitting across from your doctor and they tell you that you shouldn’t be driving. The fact is, any surgery that involves general anesthesia will be followed by that instruction. The reason is that even after you emerge to wakefulness, you are still under the influence of the drugs that put you under until the have time to fully leave your system. For as long as you are still under the influence of these drugs, it is presumed that you will be impaired, both neurologically and cognitively, even if you think you’re perfectly fine.

Neurologically speaking, anesthesia slows reflexes, per Verywell Health, whereas driving requires the sharpest of reflexes. Cognitively speaking, anesthesia can slow reactions and other thought processes and can even contribute to temporary memory loss or impairment. Accordingly, it’s almost a certainty that you won’t be able to drive yourself home from a procedure in which you’ve been given anything but the most local of anesthesia. Further, the restriction on driving may continue for at least 24 hours after surgery. However, in some cases, your restrictions on driving may extend much longer.

After some surgeries, you shouldn’t drive for weeks

a pensive person in the back seat of a car

If your surgery involves general anesthesia, you will most likely be told not to drive until you no longer feel groggy and the medications used to put you under are presumed to have left your system, per Healthline. However, in a number of circumstances, you won’t be allowed to drive for quite a lot longer than that — for your own safety and that of everyone else on the road’s. It depends upon the type of surgery. For example, if you’ve had any surgery that interferes with the mobility of your driving leg(s), you won’t be given medical clearance to drive for a period of weeks, and possibly until your doctor has seen you and personally signed off on your physical fitness to drive, according to Dr. Joseph McCormick (via Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Specialists).

But it’s not just your legs that your doctor is concerned about. Safe driving also requires the full use of your arms, shoulders, neck, and trunk. So, for example, since breast cancer surgery may involve lymph nodes taken from under the arm, it’s typical for driving to be restricted for a week to 10 days after a mastectomy, per WebMD. If you left the hospital with surgical drains still in place, you probably will be told not to drive until the drains have been removed (via Breast Health Institute Houston), and that can take anywhere from one to five weeks (via UC Davis).

No smoking sign
a glass of water and an pill
heart sign over abdomen