By Pete Alfano
Most of us don’t look forward to having major surgery, even if we have been reassured that the risks are minimal. Using slang, we call it “going under the knife,” which doesn’t exactly conjure pleasant thoughts.
Some surgeries are unavoidable because the illness or injury is life-threatening. Other surgeries are elective, and you can plan them, and the individual’s condition doesn’t pose an immediate health risk. Everything from a tummy tuck to knee replacement to some cancer surgeries are in the elective category.
It’s okay to be apprehensive when you are awaiting major surgery. But you don’t have to let anxiety overwhelm you. Just as a surgeon preps for a procedure, you can do your own preparation. And that starts with being informed.
Learn everything you can about your surgery. Go online to reputable websites, or if you are technology challenged, go to the library. You will want to know what happens before, during, and after surgery. Is your procedure on an out-patient basis, or will you spend a day or more in the hospital? What is recovery like, and how long will it take before you can return to a normal routine.
No surgery is “one-size-fits-all,” of course, but you can get a good idea of what the average person faces having your surgery. As you educate yourself, write down questions you want to ask your surgeon. Don’t rely on your memory. It’s okay to bring a list of questions to your pre-surgery visit.
If you have any doubts, don’t be shy about telling the surgeon you will get a second opinion. It is your body and well-being, after all.
Double-check to make sure the surgeon knows if you have underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure. Provide a list of medications you take and make sure the surgical team knows about any allergies you have. Also, find out how the medication you receive after surgery interacts with the drugs you take now.
If you have had surgery in the past, it is important to know what anesthesia was used and how you responded. Ask about the type of anesthesia that will be used in this procedure or request the same one that was used in a previous surgery. This is critical because while deaths during surgery are rare, most can be traced to an adverse reaction to anesthesia.
Remember that no man or woman is an island. Share the details of your surgery with a family member, whether it is a spouse, significant other, or relative. If you live alone, arrange for someone, perhaps a friend, to look in on you during your recovery, especially if you require bed rest for several days.
Also, be as healthy as possible before surgery. Don’t over-eat or feast on junk food. Exercise, if you can, and think positively. The goal is to be healthy in body and mind when you have surgery. That will lead to a faster recovery.
Prepping for Surgery by the Numbers
1. Do your homework. Read about your surgery to know what to expect before, during, and
2. Bring a list of questions to ask the surgeon, and don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion, if necessary.
3. Eat healthily and exercise, if you can, in the days or weeks before surgery. Try to lose a few pounds if you are overweight.
4. Inform family members or friends about the surgery and make arrangements for getting help at home if you live alone. Have enough food on hand.
5. Make sure the surgeon knows the medications you take, underlying conditions you may have, and whether you are allergic to a specific type of anesthesia.
6. Prepare a bag with your medications, toiletries, and a change of clothes if your procedure requires an overnight stay.
7. Confirm the nature of your surgery when you arrive. For example, the operation is on the left knee, not the right.
8. Have a family member or friend bring you to the surgical center and take you home.
9. Keep your hands and home as sanitized as possible to avoid infections and discuss whether a regimen of antibiotics is necessary with your physician.
10. Take it slow and steady during your recovery. And let the surgeon know if you are having any unanticipated issues.