Preparing for Your Surgery

What to Expect

Surgery can be a difficult time even for the bravest of us. For some patients, having surgery is not a big deal, for others it can be one of the most anxiety-provoking experiences they’ve ever faced. Wherever on the scale you find yourself, there are steps you can take to make this experience less traumatic and more positive.

This guide is intended to help you understand the surgical process, and reduce worries.

It is separated into three sections: Before Surgery, Day of Surgery and After Surgery. In addition, there are several links to further information you will find helpful.

Particulars will vary by procedure, by hospital and by physician. If you are at all unclear about any detail, please contact your doctor.

Before Surgery

Step 1: Finding the right doctor

After deciding that surgery is necessary, it’s all-important to find the right doctor. That means picking someone you can trust, who makes you feel comfortable. And above all, has a good record of performing the procedure you are having.

Step 2: Is this necessary?

Some surgical procedures are 100% necessary, others are not. Your decision must be well thought-out by you and your doctor to understand the pros and cons of any procedure. Never hesitate to ask for another opinion, even if you plan on returning to your current doctor.

Step 3: Understanding the procedure

This may seem obvious, but you should understand what is being done. How will it benefit you? What are the potential risks? What can you do to improve your outcome further?

Step 4: Preparing for surgery

Studies show that certain characteristics of individuals undergoing surgery have a significant impact on recovery. People who regularly exercise, have good nutrition, and don’t smoke tend to recover faster.  Here are some tips to follow:

  • Do not smoke. Smoking changes blood flow, delays healing and increases recovery time. Furthermore, a patient’s own perception of treatment success is negatively impacted by smoking. This cannot be overstated. If you smoke, there is no better time to stop. The rewards will be worth the effort!
  • Eat well. Our bodies use food for fuel and to heal and rebuild. 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, without the need for expensive supplements.
  • Be fit. This is especially true for orthopaedic procedures. You will have a harder time with physical therapy after surgery if you are not already in good shape. You don’t have to have a body ready for the Olympics – just be prepared for physical therapy, which will be a significant effort. This means having a regular exercise routine in place several times a week. Don’t make things harder on yourself by being out of shape! Be sure to meet with your physical therapist before surgery for the best recommendations.

Day of Surgery

The hospital should provide detailed instructions before your procedure. Follow those instructions carefully! If anything is unclear, call your doctor or the hospital. Common instructions include:

  • Arrive early. Operating rooms are on a schedule and their use is expensive. Being late to the hospital may mean having to reschedule, and wasting time and resources.
  • Do not eat or drink. The length of time to abstain varies by procedure. It often includes not even having a glass of water the night before! This is because anesthesia can cause nausea and vomiting if the stomach is not empty. If surgery involves the abdomen, you will also need to have an empty bowel. Your doctor will provide specific instructions for your preoperative diet.
  • Pack light. It is best to pack less and have someone bring more later. A bag of toiletries and loose comfortable clothes is a good start. Leave valuables at home including cell phones (not allowed in most hospitals), laptops, cash and jewelry.
  • Bring current medications and hospital documents. Also bring insurance information and any documents your doctor has given you. Make sure your medications are in their original containers. Do not copy your medication information separately, it’s best for the doctor to have the information printed from the pharmacist.

What to Expect

The following is a sample schedule for knee replacement surgery.  The specific times listed will differ hospital-by-hospital and procedure-to-procedure. Please just use this schedule as a general guide.

  • 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 think they’ve crossed the finish line once the procedure is over. In actuality, the procedure is often the easiest part of the process. It’s during recovery that the patient can take control of their care, effect the outcome and optimize the benefits of the procedure.

Following your procedure, you will awaken in the recovery room. Many patients do not remember this well, still being groggy from anesthesia. Once the anesthesia has worn off, you will return to your room to be reunited with family and friends. Usually this time is relaxed, though many procedures require physical therapy right away.

Patients who closely adhere to therapy protocol tend to achieve better results compared to patients who fail to complete their therapy. With the guidance of your physical therapist, it is imperative to understand your goals and know what is expected.