Be proactive. Taking a proactive role in your own medical care may involve preparing for surgery. When surgery is recommended, and you have time to prepare, consider whether you want or need a second opinion. Your insurance company may require a second opinion, but even if it doesn’t, get one. Don’t worry about upsetting your doctor. He should welcome your research into what is best for your condition and situation. A second opinion also gives you a second chance to get questions answered and to fully understand the procedure.
Find a buddy. Take someone with you to allow appointments with physicians and to the hospital or outpatient surgery center. When you are facing the stress of surgery, you need to have an advocate who can listen without the filter of worry or shock, who can ask the questions you have forgotten, and can protect you when you are most vulnerable. This person may be your spouse, parent, or friend, but be sure to choose someone who can be sympathetic without coddling you, accepting without criticizing and calm in the face of any situation. Your buddy will also need to be able to drive you home and stay with you for the first 24 hours after surgery.
Stop smoking. Smoking interferes with the healing process after surgery and increases the risks associated with anesthesia. Stop smoking at least 24 hours before surgery, and try to stay off the cigarettes during the healing time. You’ll heal faster and feel better in the long run.
Prepare to share. Prepare your medical history to share with the anesthesiologist. He will need to know about any previous surgeries, childbirth and even dental work when you have had anesthesia. Tell him what medications you take, what medical conditions you have, any pertinent family history, such as anesthesia reactions, and your preferences regarding anesthesia. The anesthesiologist may also be responsible for your post-operative pain management, so review your expectations and wishes with him in advance. Decide in advance what type of anesthesia and pain management is best for you. If you are concerned about nausea, be sure to mention this as there are medications and techniques to minimize this side effect.
Follow instructions. When they tell you “nothing after midnight,” that means no food, water, beverages, chewing gum, and medications. It also means, “use some common sense.” Don’t have a huge “last meal” or alcohol, even in small quantities, the night before surgery. You may be advised to stop taking certain medications, especially aspirin, prior to surgery. Ask about your usual morning medications, especially heart or blood pressure medications. The surgeon may want you to take them, or he may make arrangements for you to have them in the hospital.
Don’t trust your memory. Even the best doctor or nurse might have trouble identifying your “little blue pill.” Bring a written list of your medications with you to the hospital or outpatient surgery center. Be sure to have the correct spelling, number of milligrams, and how often you take the medicine for every medication. Don’t leave out anything, especially over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, herbal pills, caffeine (such as in coffee and tea). Mention regular intake of alcohol, and smoking as well.
Leave it at home. Leave anything valuable at home, especially jewelry, watches, electronics, and money. You can’t keep track of your possessions while you are under anesthesia or receiving pain pills.
Dress for comfort. Wear loose fitting, comfortable clothing. If you are having any type of surgery above the waist, wear something that buttons up the front. Putting on or taking off clothing over the head is more difficult. Remind your companion to bring a sweater; hospitals tend to be cold.
Plan your post-operative care. Who will take care of you the first few days after surgery? What foods will you want to eat? Will you need to have someone change a bandage? Will you need any sort of therapy? What medications will you be on? How will you manage pain? You need to make a plan for your care at home.
Check with your doctor and your insurance company about the advisability and possibility of having a home care nurse check on you for a week or so after your surgery. It may take several weeks to regain you strength and energy. Simplify your daily return to allow plenty of time for rest and recuperation.