How to Prepare for Surgery
Given the stress of surgery, you may neglect to plan for it properly. There's a lot you can do to make sure your operation and recovery go as smoothly as possible. Here are some suggestions:

Preoperative measures

The Basics:

  1. Learn as much as possible about your surgical procedure. Have your doctor explain exactly what the surgical process is and why surgery is necessary. Get a second opinion if you haven't already. Some people get queasy discussing surgery, but many find that they relax as they gain information. If your doctor is not willing to take the time to discuss the procedure with you, find another one. There's a wealth of information online that will help you ask the right questions.
  2. Be sure you understand all the risks and benefits of your surgery, as well as potential risks if you choose not to have the procedure done.
  3. Discuss timing issues with your doctor: Do you need surgery in the immediate future or can you safely wait a few weeks? How difficult is it to get a surgery date? Assess your work and family schedule, and determine what is the most favorable period given your other commitments.
  4. Bring someone with you to presurgical appointments to take notes. If this is impossible, bring a portable tape recorder. You'll hear a lot of information in a very short time, and it can be hard to digest and remember all the medical terms.
  5. Ask for preoperative and post discharge checklists and other materials in writing at this time. Get postoperative prescriptions filled ahead of surgery so you won't have to wait at the pharmacy or send someone out. (And you won't risk having the medication be unavailable.) Taking care of meds now will also give you time to work out any insurance copay issues. Buy dressings, ointments or gauze, and rent special equipment (hospital bed, wheelchair) ahead of time too.
  6. Call your health insurance company. Be sure that your operation is covered and preauthorized, and that you're following all the procedures required by the insurance company. You don't want a surprise bill to come in the mail.
  7. Collect information about expected recovery time from your doctor, and from friends who have had similar procedures. Visualize life during your recuperation. Will you be able to get around your house and office by yourself or will you need to line up help? Will you be able to drive? Be sure to factor in the effect of medications that may make driving unsafe and possibly illegal.
  8. Hire help if necessary. Ask your insurance provider if your treatments or conditions qualify you to have in-home care covered. Set up help with child care and housework as well.
  9. Be realistic about how much energy and enthusiasm you will have following surgery. You may not be in the mood for dinner dates, a new work assignment or even movies for a while. Set up and enforce visiting hours (or ask your spouse or friend to act as enforcer) so you can get needed rest.
  10. Make arrangements for a ride to and from the hospital, since any surgery requiring anesthesia will render you unable to drive yourself home. Line up a few helpers to be available during your first few days after surgery. You may also need help running errands, picking up prescriptions and driving to follow-up appointments.
  11. Choose one trusted person to help you make medical decisions. Listening to a committee of family and friends is likely to be stressful and confusing.
  12. Know your rehabilitation and physical therapy plan ahead of time. Commit to following it. Slacking off on your rehab is the surest way to have a botched recovery.
  13. Have your financial affairs, your will and all legal documents in good order in case the worst happens. Ask your doctor or a patient advocate at the hospital if you need to complete a durable power of attorney for health-care decisions. See 244 Make a Will and 245 Execute a Power of Attorney.

Day of Surgery:

  1. Identify yourself by name to your surgeon. This helps ensure that no mistakes are made about your identity and why you're there.
  2. Mark your surgery site with an indelible pen. Many hospitals follow this procedure and will ask you to do this as you enter surgery. For example, if the operation is to occur on your left knee, mark a large X on that knee, or follow the surgeon's instructions.
  3. Inform the surgical staff completely about medications you are already taking, including nonprescription drugs, herbal supplements, vitamins and the dosages. Also inform them of any allergies.
  4. Have someone stay at the hospital during your surgery. He or she can phone your family and friends as needed, collect information for you and watch your belongings.
  5. Do not let the hospital send you home if you don't feel ready. Ask for help from the patient advocate if you feel pressured.

Overall Tips:

  1. As the old saying goes, minor surgery is surgery that happens to somebody else. Expect any surgery to be a big deal, even a procedure that sounds trivial, such as getting wisdom teeth pulled. Give yourself a day or two to rest and heal after even a seemingly small procedure.
  2. If your surgery is in any way related to your inactive lifestyle, consider it a wakeup call.
  3. Make sure both your physician and the hospital are participants in your network if you have a PPO.
  4. Hospitals have discovered that the risk of infection related to surgery drops significantly when a few simple procedures are followed. Hair around a surgical site is clipped, not shaved, to prevent micro breaks in the skin. For major invasive surgeries, antibiotics should be started by injection 60 minutes prior to surgery and ended 24 hours after to maximize their effectiveness.
  5. The purpose of getting a second opinion is not so much to get a different opinion as it is to increase your knowledge. The more information you can gather (and understand) the better you'll be able to make informed decisions.

Overall Warnings:

  1. There are no risk-free procedures. Modern hospital techniques are very safe, but everything entails a risk. The more you know, the better decisions you can make about your treatment.
  2. Make sure health professionals wash their hands and put on a fresh pair of gloves every time they walk into your room. Cross-infection is all too easy in a hospital setting.
  3. Receiving the incorrect dosage or type of medication is one of the most common mistakes at hospitals. Ask for a list of all your medications and dosages, as well as who prescribed them: your doctor or a resident.
  4. If you're diabetic, you already know being sick can wildly throw off your blood sugar levels. Receiving medication intravenously, as well as an irregular meal schedule, can contribute to this. Work with the nursing team to keep your levels steady.
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