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By Barbara Bronson Gray, RN, MN from her blog “BodBoss.”

This is an excellent check-list type article about preparing for, and following up after, surgery. There are a myriad of things we as patients can forget, so it helps to have some reminders.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Planning to Have Surgery?

If you or someone you love is planning to have surgery, there are some things you can do to help ensure a good recovery.

Before you decide to have surgery, you should be certain you fully understand the pros and cons, risks and benefits of the procedure. Do some research on the procedure and talk directly with your physician. Be sure you know the implications of waiting versus going ahead with the surgery now, and understand the medical and other alternatives that are available to you.

Get a second opinion. Talk with a physician who is not a surgeon, perhaps an internist. Don’t proceed until you have no question this is the right approach for you to take now.

If you decide to have the surgery, you may want to talk with two or more surgeons to compare their approach to your problem and see how comfortable you are with them. Ask what facility they would use, and why. Since facilities that do a higher volume of the surgery you’re going to have frequently have better outcomes, ask about that.

Does the surgeon have joint ownership in the facility? Good to consider. Will you be able to get an early-in-the-day surgery if you prefer that?

Once you’ve settled on a surgeon, ask for the pre-operative and post-operative instructions right away, so you’ll have a better idea of what to expect as your surgery day approaches. The surgeon will want you to have certain blood tests, perhaps an ECG and a chest x-ray, and other tests related to your condition, to clear you for the procedure.

Sometimes anesthesiologists have particular tests they want you to have, too. If you can get a list of all the tests the team members want at least a week before surgery, you can save time and avoid last-minute surprises.

The post-op instructions are great to get ahead of time, too. They’ll give you a better idea of what to expect when you come home from the hospital and will allow you to be sure you have the help, supplies, equipment, food, and post-operative medications you may need on hand.

Preparing for the surgery, there’s lots to do. First, prime yourself for the physical challenge of it all by eating right, getting enough sleep, getting plenty of exercise, and managing your stress well. Do things you enjoy. Think of it as preparing for a marathon.

Talk with your surgeon about any medications you should be stopping as you get closer to the day of surgery. If you’re on blood thinners, steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), aspirin products or many other drugs it’s important to know whether you should wean yourself from them and when.

Quiz the surgeon about what exactly you should expect on the day of surgery. The more you know, the less anxious you’ll probably be.

Ask if you can meet with the anesthesiologist beforehand. Often that’s difficult because a team of anesthesiologists takes care of the people scheduled for a given day of surgery, and the doctors don’t get assigned to particular patients until the night before or even the morning of the procedure. But it doesn’t hurt to try.

Even if it’s right before surgery, it’s important to tell the anesthesiologist about any concerns you might have, previous experiences with anesthesia — good or bad — and any particular conditions you’d like him or her to know about. Some people, for example, would like their I.V. in one arm versus the other, or happen to have a loose tooth, (which could be accidentally damaged when they put the breathing tube in surgery), or sense they’ll be very anxious and need a pre-operative sedative.

And sometimes the anesthesiologist will want to talk with you. He or she may offer you options about different kinds of anesthesia, such as general (when you’re completely asleep) to a spinal (when you will be able to see and hear things but would not feel anything). Ideally, this conversation would happen before the morning of surgery, but often it does not.

After the surgery, there are four things everyone who has surgery should do:

  • Restore yourself with lots of sleep, naps, old movies, music — whatever you like. Follow the recommended diet and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Manage your pain. Don’t wait until it is severe. Especially in the first few days, taking pain medication regularly gives you a stable blood level of the drug. That is the most effective way to reduce your pain and discomfort.
  • If you’re able, start moving as soon as you can, as directed by your surgeon. Have someone with you at first and as you need it. Understand that early mobility will speed your recovery. If necessary, take pain medication about 30 minutes before you plan to get up.
  • Don’t hesitate to call your surgeon and/or primary care healthcare provider if you have any questions at all. And don’t miss any follow-up appointments; they’re an important part of ensuring you’re on the road back to good health!

Learn more from the National Library of Medicine.

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