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    Experiencing a surgical procedure and receiving anesthesia medication can cause quite a shock to the body. After surgery, most patients visit the PACU for monitoring and assessment. David Rees, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist with Pullman Anesthesia, breaks down what the PACU is, what happens there, and what patients can expect during their stay.


    What is the PACU?

    PACU stands for Post-Anesthesia Care Unit. It is often referred to as the post-surgery "recovery area" or "recovery unit". The PACU is located beside the operating rooms, making the transition for patients easy and quick.


    Do all surgery patients go to the PACU?

    “Not all patients that have surgery go to the PACU,” clarifies Rees. Where a patient goes following their surgery is determined more by the type of surgery and the type of anesthesia medication that a patient receives. Patients that only receive light sedation or local anesthesia don't normally go to the PACU. But patients who have received a general anesthetic and most neuraxial anesthetics (such as an epidural) will then spend some time in the recovery room. 


    What happens in the PACU? What is being monitored?

    While a patient is in the recovery area, they are constantly being monitored by the recovery room nurse for any changes to their physical status. “These nurses have been specially trained to monitor for small but important changes in a patient's condition and to intervene appropriately when needed,” assures Rees. These nurses monitor vital signs, pain levels, and surgical wounds for any changes that could significantly impact patient outcomes.


    How long do patients stay in the PACU?

    The time that a patient stays in the PACU will vary. A patient will never be discharged from the PACU until they meet certain criteria and are considered "stable." “Each patient is different and will metabolize medications differently, causing a wide variety in time that is necessary to meet this criteria,” says Rees.


    For some, the time spent in the PACU can be just a few minutes, and for others, it can be a few hours. Generally, PACU stays are on average 30 minutes.


    Who is in the PACU monitoring patients? Can families/visitors go into the PACU?

    Specially trained nurses will be by a patient's side the entire time they are in the PACU, attending to their every need. They are constantly vigilant for any changes that might be happening to the patient’s vitals and ensure the best possible care and outcomes for them.


    Generally, the PACU is reserved for only patients to ensure the dignity and confidentiality of each patient. Rees notes that “on a case by case basis, especially in the case of pediatric patients, parents are invited for a short time to the PACU to help with the recovery of their children, as seeing a familiar face helps these kiddos have better recoveries.” 


    Do patients ever leave the PACU and have to go back?

    It is very rare that patients leave the PACU and return. Following the processes to ensure a patient is stable makes a return trip extremely rare. 


    Pullman Anesthesia provides anesthesia consultative services for patients scheduled for surgical procedures on the Palouse. If you’d like to learn more about the services Pullman Anesthesia provides or would like to schedule a consultation, please call (509) 336-7569.


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