Drain tubes are placed in wounds after surgery where the tissue has been lifted up and moved enough to create a potential space or void on the inside. Tissue that has been ‘traumatized’ with surgery reacts by swelling and weeping fluid. If there is a potential space under the tissue, it can fill up with fluid and eventually make enough pressure to pop stitches or stretch the tissue that was just tightened. The drain tube suctions out this fluid to prevent the pressure from building up and causing problems. Over time the amount of fluid produced decreases as your tissue heals, and eventually the tube can be removed safely (usually 2-3 weeks after surgery).
If the drain comes out early it is not an emergency, but it is something you need to report to your doctor within a day or two as they will probably want to see you sooner than scheduled to check for fluid buildup. If fluid does build up, action will need to be taken to avoid complications.
Typically, your surgeon would not replace the drain, as this would require going back to surgery and reopening the incisions. Usually what is done is using a large needle to tap into the fluid pocket and draw off or aspirate the fluid. This is done in the office and does not require an anesthetic. Usually the spot the needle goes into is still numb from surgery. It sounds like a scary experience, but it is really not very uncomfortable at all. Depending on how early the drain fell out, it may require a few different sessions of aspiration over time to resolve the problem. If left untreated, it may cause the incision to open up, stretch the tissue enough to be loose or bulgy again, or leave you with a chronic fluid pocket that swells, can hurt and is a potential site for infection. So, if your drain comes out early… don’t panic! But, call your doctor in the morning and make a plan to treat it and keep you on the path to healing!