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For Patients of the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)

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What to Expect When You Wake Up After Surgery

Immediately after surgery at UPMC Shadyside, we will admit you to the PACU where our specially trained nurses will care for and observe you.

When you wake up in the PACU, you:

  • Will have monitoring equipment attached to you that will take your vital signs every 5 to 15 minutes, unless your condition requires more attention.
  • May have an oxygen mask or nose prongs to help you breathe, as necessary.

Additional steps for monitoring your progress in the PACU include a:

  • Surgical site exam
  • Check of intravenous fluids
  • Report by your anesthesia provider and operating room nurse to plan your care

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Side Effects and Comfort After Surgery

You may feel the following up to 24 hours after surgery:

  • Sore throat
  • Aching muscles
  • General malaise


If you experience shivering, we will remedy your discomfort by:

  • Applying warm cotton blankets
  • Using a warm air blanket, if necessary
  • Giving you medication for extreme shivering

Nausea and vomiting

As you recover from anesthesia, nausea and vomiting may occur.

If you... Then...
have a history of motion sickness or nausea and vomiting following anesthesia, inform the anesthesiologist prior to surgery.
experience nausea or vomiting in the PACU, your nurse will administer medication through your IV line to alleviate your discomfort.


You should anticipate feeling some pain when you wake up. Pain is a common occurrence after surgery; it's unrealistic to expect to be pain free.

Our goal in PACU is pain control.

It's important that you describe exactly how much pain you're feeling on a scale of zero to 10. Based on your level of pain, we will give you pain medication to make you feel more comfortable.

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Radios, iPads, and Laptops

If you are awake and comfortable, we have radios, iPads, and laptops you can use for:

  • Listening to music
  • Watching television or videos
  • Playing computer games
  • Checking emails
  • Connecting to the Internet

You can also use an iPad to video conference with a family member or loved one waiting in the Surgical Family Lounge.

Let your nurse know if you would like to use an iPad or other equipment while you’re in the PACU.

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Length of Stay

The average stay in the PACU is one to three hours.

Your length of stay in the PACU will depend on several factors including:

  • Type of surgery
  • Response to surgery and anesthesia
  • Medical history

If you need medicine to help control heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, or other disorders (e.g. diabetes), your stay may be longer to meet necessary discharge criteria.

PACU discharge criteria

  • Recovery from anesthesia
    • General anesthesia: you must be awake and returned to a normal mental state
    • Spinal anesthesia: you must be able to feel and move your legs the way you could before surgery
  • Vital signs must be stable
  • Pain should be under control and manageable
  • Nausea and vomiting should be controlled
  • Body temperature must be normal

Once you meet all of the above criteria, the anesthesiologist will discharge you to an inpatient room or to the Day of Surgery Unit (if you are going home).

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Inpatient Admissions

If you're staying at the hospital, you will be assigned a room as soon as one is available. A room may not always be available when you are ready to leave the PACU.

Factors that determine room assignment timeliness include:

  • Patient discharges
  • The need for ICU or specialty floors
  • Monitored beds
  • Isolation
  • Gender

The nurse will keep you and your family updated.

Please note: private rooms may be requested but are not guaranteed.

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