Emergency Surgery

Emergency surgery is a stressful event for patients and their families. MaineHealth surgeons are trained in complex surgical treatments and deliver high quality care for patients in need of emergency surgery.

What is emergency surgery?

When a medical emergency occurs, sometimes surgery needs to be done immediately. Immediate action may be necessary to save a patient’s life or stop damage to his or her body.

In some cases patients go to the Emergency Department with a complaint and do not realize they are very ill. Emergency Medicine doctors are trained to evaluate patients for serious medical problems.  Sometimes a serious diagnosis is found and the patient needs immediate treatment.

An ambulance may be called to transport a patient badly injured or not breathing. A patient who is transported by an ambulance will be assessed, and care will start immediately by paramedics or other trained emergency medical personnel.

Emergencies that require surgery

Medical conditions that require emergency surgery are not planned. Some emergencies that require surgery include:

  • Invasive types of resuscitation and surgery for certain causes of acute respiratory failure  
  • Severe trauma to the head, chest, abdomen, or extremities
  • Severe burns
  • Cardiac events, such as heart attacks, cardiac shock and cardiac arrhythmia
  • Aneurysms
  • Neurological conditions/brain conditions
  • Abdominal emergencies such as perforated ulcer, appendicitis, cholecystitis (gallbladder infection), or bowel blockage

Emergency surgery assessment

Emergency surgery is designed to deal quickly with problems that can be life-threatening. It involves resuscitation and stabilization of the patient by a patient management team, preparing the patient for surgery, and post-operative and recovery procedures.

Once the physical assessment is done and the patient is as stable as possible, diagnostic tests may be ordered. These tests include X-rays, CT and MRI scans, EKGs and lab work to help doctors determine what is wrong, and how serious the problem is.

Emergency surgery recovery

After emergency surgery, antibiotics are often given to prevent infection, along with medication to control pain. Recovery time will depend on the patient’s condition. It can take days or weeks to recover;  rehabilitation therapy is often necessary. Patients who require a ventilator to breathe will typically remain in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) until they are able to breathe without assistance.