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Preparing for Surgery

What can I expect with my surgery?

Going in to the hospital for surgery can be a difficult and anxious time for anyone. For some patients having surgery is not a big deal, for others it can be one of the most anxiety provoking experiences they have ever faced. Wherever you may find yourself, there are steps you can take to make this experience less traumatic and more positive.

This guide is separated into three sections to help you through the various stages of having surgery. While specific information will vary with each particular procedure, this guideline is intended to help you understand the surgical process, and to remove some anxiety from this time in your life. The three sections you will find are: before surgery, day of surgery, and after surgery. In addition, there are several links to further information such as questions to ask your doctor and what to bring to the hospital.

As stated above, particular information will vary by procedure, hospital, and physician. If you are unclear about any instructions related to your procedure you should contact your doctor! Use this guide to help understand the surgical process, and help you take control of surgery you are having done.

Before Surgery – The best ways to prepare for surgery
Day of Surgery – Understand what is going on and what you will experience
After Surgery – Tips to enjoy a speedy and complete recovery

Before Surgery

Step 1: Finding the right doctor

The first step after deciding that surgery is necessary is to find the right doctor. Finding someone you trust is of utmost importance. You should find a surgeon who is competent, has a good record of performing the procedure you are having done, and is someone who you enjoy working with and trust.

Step 2: Is this necessary?

Some surgical procedures are always necessary, while others are not. The decision to have surgery must be well thought out by you and your doctor. You should understand the potential risks and benefits of any procedure. Often a second opinion can help you better understand your options-you should never hesitate to ask for another opinion, even if you plan on returning to your current doctor.

Step 3: Understand the procedure

This may seem obvious, but you should understand what is being done, how it should benefit you, what the potential risks are, and how you can help improve your outcome.

Step 4: Preparing for surgery

Studies have shown that several characteristics of individuals undergoing surgery have a significant impact on recovery from an operation. People who have good exercise and nutritional habits, and those who do not smoke, tend to have a faster recovery from surgery. If you know you are going to be having surgery in the future, try the following:

  • Do not smoke. Sounds simple, but incredibly difficult. However, the rewards will be worth every ounce of effort! Smoking changes blood flow patterns, delays healing, and has been shown to increase the length of recovery. Furthermore, a patient’s own perception of their health, and their perception of treatment success, is negatively impacted by smoking. No soapbox is needed here, the information is known to everyone, but its importance cannot be overstated. If you do smoke, there is no better time to stop.
  • Eat well. Our bodies use food for fuel and to rebuild itself. When you have surgery you may feel as though you are lying around all day, but your body is running a marathon inside. Healing requires a good diet and plenty of nutrients. No need for expensive supplements, but do eat a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Be fit. Especially true for orthopaedic procedures, but also true universally. You will have a difficult time beginning physical therapy after surgery if you are not in good shape before surgery. This does not mean you need to be in top physical condition, nor should you taper for a procedure, just be prepared for your physical therapy. For most people this means a regular exercise routine, such as walking or cycling, several times a week. This will prepare you for the demands of physical therapy, which is already a significant effort due to the procedure. Don’t make your recovery even harder on yourself by being out of shape! Meeting with your physical therapist before surgery is probably the best way to get good recommendations on how to best physically prepare for surgery.

Day of Surgery

The hospital should give you complete instructions before your procedure. FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY! If you have any questions, call the hospital or your doctor.

Some common instructions include:

  • Arrive early. Hospital operating rooms are on a tight schedule, and the use of these rooms is very expensive. Being late to the hospital could mean having to reschedule the procedure, and wasting of time and resources.
  • Do not eat or drink. The length of time to not eat or drink will vary depending on the procedure. Keep in mind, this includes not having a glass of water in the middle of the night before surgery! The reason for this is primarily due to the anesthesia that can cause nausea and vomiting if the stomach is not empty. If the surgery will involve the abdomen, there will also be a need to have an empty bowel. Your doctor will provide specific instructions for your preoperative diet-pay close attention to these instructions.
  • Pack light. Your belongings should be limited–it is best to start with less and have someone bring more later. A bag of toiletries and some loose comfortable clothes is a good start. Leave all valuables at home, including cell phones (not allowed in most hospitals), laptops, cash (a few dollars, but no more), and jewelry.
  • Bring current medications and any hospital documents. Come to the hospital with your insurance information and any documents your doctor has given to you. Also, have your current medications, in their original containers, with you. Do not copy the medication information separately as it is best for the doctor to have all the information printed from the pharmacist.

What to Expect

Exactly what will happen in your case will vary depending on the procedure being performed. However, the general schedule of your day will be somewhat consistent.

The following is a sample schedule for a knee replacement surgery. The specific times given are one possibility, and may vary substantially at different hospitals. This is intended to give an idea of about how long it will take in different areas, and who will be seen. While this example is given for a knee replacement surgery, it can be used as a general guide for any procedure.

6:30 AM Arrive at Hospital;
Check in to inpatient surgery;
Change into gown.
Who you will see: Secretary and Nurse

7:00 AM Meet with anesthesiologist
Discuss anesthesia, have questions answered
Inform anesthesiologist of medications you have taken and food eaten
Who you will see: Anesthesiologist

7:30 AM Meet with surgeon
Discuss procedure, have questions answered
Complete consent form
Who you will see: Surgeon, Assistants

8:00 AM Go to operating room
Begin anesthesia
Who you will see: Surgeon, Assistants, Anesthesiologist, OR Nurses

8:30 AM – 11:30 AM Procedure
After the case, the surgeon will update the procedure to anyone you designate

12:00 PM Wake up in operating room or recovery room
Family members are usually not allowed here, they will see you in your room.
Who you will see: Recovery Room Nurse

1:00 PM Move from recovery room to hospital room
Who you will see: Floor Nurse, Family and Friends

After Surgery

Many patients believe they have crossed the threshold once the procedure is over. In actuality, the procedure is most often the easiest part of the surgical process. During the recovery process, the patient has the opportunity to take control of their care. By doing so, patients can have a significant effect on their outcome, and can influence the benefit of the procedure.

Immediately following the procedure, you will awaken in the recovery room. Still groggy from the anesthesia, many patients do not remember this area well. Once the anesthesia has worn off, you will return to your room on the main patient floor. Here you will be reunited with family and friends. Usually the immediate time following surgery is relaxed, however with many procedures physical therapy will begin immediately.

Dedicated patients who closely adhere to the outlined therapy protocol tend to achieve significantly improved results when compared to patients who fail to complete their therapy. It is important that you understand the goals of therapy and what is expected of you. Discuss these with your physical therapist.