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Surgery 101

What To Do Once You Agree To Surgery

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People who prepare for surgery have less pain, fewer complications and recover sooner. Consider the following, each of which are more fully discussed in our article about this subject:

With your doctor, discuss:

  • What is involved in the surgery and what to expect afterward
  • Meeting with your anethesiologist prior to surgery - even if it is in the operating room. The anesthesiologist can explain exactly what is going to happen in the operating room and later in the recovery room. Studies show that patients who know what to expect in the operating room require less pain medications and spend less time in the recovery room than patients who do not have this information.
  • Pre-operative tests. In addition to whatever tests your doctor needed to decide whether surgery was an option, there are routine examinations to be done prior to surgery. They can be done in the days prior to surgery, or on the day of surgery. Standard procedures include: 
    • EKG (Electrocardiogram) to evaluate your heart
    • Blood tests
    • A chest X ray for patients over age 40 
    • A complete medical history
    • A review of your medications. We provide a form to help you keep a list, click here.
  • Your thoughts about pain relief. If there will be a prescription for pain, try to get the prescription before going into the hospital so you don't have to scramble to fill it on discharge.
  • What you shouldn't do before and after surgery. For example, if you have more than one or two drinks of alcohol a day, is it ok?.
  • If you have anxiety about the operation that keeps you awake, ask for a sleeping aid..
  • Whether to bank your own blood which can reduce the slight risk of infection and reaction if a transfusion is needed during surgery.
  • The medical consent form: It is advisable to get a copy in advance of the form consenting to the surgery so you can think about the risks you see written on the form. It is not unusual for patients to learn about risks just before they enter the operating room when it is difficulty to say "no" or "let me think about this."  You'll also see information such as whether the form permits an ssociate of your doctor rather than your doctor to perform the surgery. (For information about Medical Consent Forms, click here.)
  • If you are going to stay in the hospital, ask if your doctor can arrange for you to have a sunlit room after surgery, particularly one facing nature if possible.  (it really does help).
  • If music calms you, ask whether during surgery you can listen to music that calms you even if you will be unconscious. You can listen to the music you want and the doctor can listen to his or hers if you can wear earphones during the surgery. 
  • Will you be able to drive yourself home? If not, will you just need a family member o friend to drive you or will you need a medically equiped vehicle such as an ambulance?
  • What you can do before and after surgery to promote healing. For instance:
    • Exercise
    • Food and liquid 
    • Supplements such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, antioxidants or other supplements. They may help, but they can also be harmful and interfere with the surgery or your recovery.
    • Stop smoking. Nicotine and other compounds in tobacco smoke constrict the small blood vessels which increases the risk of heart attack during surgery and restricts the blood flow needed for wound healing.  (For information about how to quit smoking, click here.)
  • What you can and cannot do after surgery and for how long. If you will need assistance, arrange for it ahead of time. If the assistance is more than friends and family can provide, speak with your doctor's staff about bringing professionals on board. (If you need to hire home health aides, decide whether to do it on your own or through an agency). If you will need special equipment at home, arrange for it ahead of time. Your doctor's office can help.

In general:

  • Use the scheduled surgery as an excuse to bring your Living Will and other Advance Directives to date. Remind your Health Care Proxy about your current values and thoughts.
  • If surgery is scheduled to be outpatient, check on the facility's emergency procedures. Also verify that your insurance covers.
  • Do what you can to reduce stress before the surgery. For example, do enjoyable things.
  • Anticipate your post surgical needs including the help you may need and changes in your physical setting (for example, to set up a bed on the first floor).

To Learn More

More Information

Prepare For Surgery

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