The thought of being wheeled into surgery is enough to make anyone nervous. But with a little mental and physical preparation, you can set yourself up for a quick recovery. As a patient, your only job is to focus on your own physical and mental well-being and follow instructions from your doctor in the lead up to the surgery. If it all seems rather daunting, you may benefit from what follows. It breaks down the preparation you need, whether it is your diet in the days before the surgery, restrictions on medications you may be on, or even coping with the emotional stress and anxiety you might be experiencing.
1. Stop Smoking
If you smoke, it is best that you stop usage of cigarettes and other tobacco products once you find out you need surgery. This should help improve your healing and recovery. Specifically, smoking increases your risk of developing blood clots in the legs. These might dislodge and then move to your lungs, causing damage. In addition, when you smoke, it cuts the amount of oxygen your wound receives and slows healing. It could also increase the risk of infection. And if that wasn’t enough, smokers are at increased risk of both lung and heart problems, making these organs work harder than for non-smokers even during a problem-free surgery.1
2. Check What Medications You Need To Pause
Even alternative medicines could interfere with blood clotting and raise the risk of bleeding. Inform your surgeon of all herbal and alternative medicines you are taking so they can determine which ones need to be stopped temporarily. For instance, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, evening primrose oil, turmeric, omega 3 fatty acids, garlic, and even vitamins C and E are some supplements that affect blood clotting.2 Consult your alternative medicine practitioner as well, so they can suggest alternatives for the duration that you need to stop taking the herbal remedies.
Certain medication like blood thinners can be problematic if you are having surgery because they might result in excessive bleeding. Discuss the alternatives and whether you need to stop some drugs in the lead up to the day you’re having surgery. Your surgeon will typically give you a Medication list to fill out. This is what you will need to declare on the form:3
- Over-the-counter (OTC) medications which may include things like painkillers or aspirin
- All prescription medications you are currently taking
- Vitamins you take
- Any other supplements you may be consuming
- Herbs/herbal medicines you take, if any
While filling the form, be sure not to miss out any details, no matter how insignificant they might seem. You may need to stop taking some of these medicines as much as 10–14 days ahead of your surgery date. You will be informed when you can restart them. You may need to avoid the medicines as much as 7 days after your operation, so discuss this with your doctor.
3. Understand Your Pre-Surgery Dietary Restrictions
To ensure your bowels are completely empty, you may be asked to use an enema at home 1–2 days prior to some surgeries. Your doctor will let you know if this is needed for your procedure.
Depending on the kind of surgery and type of anesthesia you need, you may need to keep meals light the day before the surgery.
- Typically, you will be told to avoid any alcohol consumption for at least 24 hours before the procedure.
- Your doctor might suggest a laxative to ensure your system is empty before the operation.
- If you are going to be given general anesthesia, you will be asked to not eat or drink anything at all (not even water) after midnight on the eve of your procedure. This is done to avoid the risk of any food or liquid from the stomach going to your lungs while you are sedated. While the chances of this happening are really slim, this is a precaution that is taken nonetheless and one you should strictly adhere to.4 5
4. Ask Questions
Learn some relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation to help calm your mind and ease anxiety as you prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the surgery.
Find out whatever you need to know about your surgery – no matter how silly you may fear it sounds. There’s nothing more important than being in the right frame of mind, so quell your anxiety by asking questions that help clear things up for you. For instance, some people prefer knowing exactly how general anesthesia works, where they will wake up, how long they will be under sedation, the after-effects of the surgery and the anesthesia, and possibly even some details of the operation itself. On the other hand, if you are someone who prefers to know as little as possible and get queasy with the details, let the doctor know so they keep another family member in the loop and spare you the details. Go with your gut and do whatever makes you comfortable on this front.
Diabetics will need to figure out how to take their insulin on surgery day when they are no longer allowed to consume any food due to the restrictions of general anesthesia. If your doctor doesn’t bring it up, you need to ask.6
Here are some dos and don’ts you should keep in mind when it comes to discussing details with your surgeon.7
- Do ask when you can return to work and how long you need to rest.
- Don’t hesitate to ask about your surgeon and medical team’s credentials.
- Do discuss options for approaches to the surgery if there are any, so you make an informed choice.
- Don’t feel obligated to know everything. Do what feels right, when it comes to knowing more about your surgery. If you prefer not to know too much, restrict your questions to the essentials like precautions and preparation for life before and after the surgery.
- Do ask about pain relief options for after the surgery. You may wish to explore alternative methods to manage the pain, so it will help to understand what to expect by way of the severity of pain.
- Do be aware of precautions and restrictions even if you skip other details. Following the right instructions can make all the difference to the success of the surgery and your recovery from it.
- Don’t ignore the instructions you have received. Follow them. They might seem minor but could have a huge impact on your surgery.
5. Plan Your “Pre-hab”: Exercise Before Surgery
Try and stay healthy in the lead up to the big day. If you can fit in regular exercise, it should go a long way to helping with recovery. Aerobic exercise is especially useful to recovery, so try and fit in a brisk walk or swim. Strengthening exercises, particularly those focussing on areas that you will be more dependant on after undergoing surgery can be done under the guidance of a trained physiotherapist. For instance, if you are going to need to use crutches, work your triceps. For almost any surgery, a strong core is beneficial, so work on exercises that use your core. However, always ask your surgeon about your plans to exercise before you actually begin this exercise routine.8 If you have a medical condition that could make exercise problematic, you must always run your planned regimen past your doctor first, giving them the background on your medical history.
6. Follow These Just Before Surgery Day
- Pack a bag with things you need for comfort but not too much – your hospital should take care of a lot of things and you don’t want to burden yourself with work while you’re recovering.
- Remove any nail polish on the day before you leave for the hospital. Ensure you remove acrylic nails if any. Your nails are often monitored to gauge your oxygen levels, so it’s important to keep them clear.
- Do not wear makeup to the hospital.
- Remove jewelry and leave it safely at home – you will be asked to remove all of it before the surgery in any case.
- Pack your glasses if you need them, a case for your contact lenses, extra contact lenses if you wear disposables, denture cases if you have dentures or cases for any other items that you will need to remove.
- Carry loose comfortable clothing to wear after the surgery so that it doesn’t rub against or constrict your surgical wound and to allow room for any bulky bandages and dressing that may have been applied to the wound.
- Bring a friend or family member with you to help with anything that may be needed at the hospital, including paperwork. They should also be there when you are discharged from the hospital and allowed to go home. You won’t be able to drive and may be sore and groggy. They can drive you home and help you get settled back in.
- Make your home ready for when you return after the surgery. Some furniture may need moving around, your sleeping arrangements might need to change, you could need some aids in the bathroom. Stock your pantry and freezer with food for when you are back – you probably won’t be able to or feel like cooking. Organize all of this before you leave for the hospital.9 10
|↑1||Smoking and surgery. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑2, ↑3||Medication Use Before Your Operation. American College of Surgeons.|
|↑4, ↑10||Preparing for Surgery. American Society of Anesthesiologists.|
|↑5, ↑9||Preparing for Surgery. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.|
|↑6||Preparing for Surgery. National Women’s Health Resource Center.|
|↑7||Preparing for Surgery.National Women’s Health Resource Center.|
|↑8||Can Exercise Help Before Surgery? Healthy Families, Government of British Columbia.|