What every Patient should know before having Surgery

Whether your surgery is pre-planned or elective, giving you days or weeks to prepare, or an emergency procedure, what you need to know is crucial to your care, and the outcome of your surgery.

Every patient should know the reason for surgery. Most of the time, surgery is the treatment for a specific diagnosis. Occasionally, an operation is necessary to establish a diagnosis when the symptoms and tests are inconclusive. Surgery is one treament option. You should know if there are alternative treatments, and the benefits and risks of each treatment. You will need to make an informed consent prior to having surgery and the only way you can give that consent is if you understand what the surgery is and why you need it.

You have the right to ask for a second opinion from another doctor.  This doesn’t mean you don’t trust your surgeon.  This is simply a step in the process of educating yourself about the surgery. Your doctor should not feel insulted by a request for a referral for a second opinion.  You have the right to ask, and some insurance companies even require a second opinion.

Every patient should know about the credentials of the surgeon and hospital. You can ask how many of these types of surgery the doctor performs every year, or in his entire career. You should know whether the doctor is board-certified in his specialty. You can find information about the hospital, such as the infection and medical error rates online at www.aha.org.

Every patient show know how to prepare for surgery. Your doctor should consider your general medical health and any medical problems that might interfere with surgery or be affected by the surgery or anesthesia. Be sure to discuss with both your regular doctor and the surgeon your health concerns, your medications and allergies. Consider also any previous experiences with anesthesia or surgery.  How do you react to anesthesia? What problems have you had with past surgeries?

If you smoke, try to stop before surgery. Smoking presents added risks for anesthesia, increases the potential for post-operative infection, and interferes with healing. You won’t be able to smoke while you are in the hospital, so why subject yourself to withdrawal why you are also trying to recover from surgery? 

Ask your surgeon if and when you should discontinue any medications prior to surgery.  Most doctors prefer that you stop taking aspirin a week before surgery.  Other medications to ask about include Plavix, Coumadin, and other anticoagulants, vitamin C and E.  

Ask about post-surgery medications.  Most surgeons will give you antibiotics during and after surgery so you will probably not need them beforehand. The surgeon will give you a prescription for pain medicine and any special medications he wants you to have after surgery.  Most of the time, you get these prescriptions as you are leaving the hospital.  That means someone has to take them to the pharmacy and pick them up when they are ready. That might be very inconvenient when you are trying to get home and settled.  Additionally, the pharmacy may be closed at that time, or unable to fill a prescription for some reason. Ask the doctor if he can give you the prescriptions in advance, or, well before you leave the hospital so they can be purchased and in the house when you get home.

Every patient should know what to expect after surgery. Every operation, every patient and every course of recovery are unique and different. However, the experienced surgeon can usually predict how the course of surgery and recovery will run.  He should be able to tell you how many days you will be hospitalized, what your post-operative diet and activity level will be.  He should be able to predict how much assistance you will need, and when you can resume normal activities, such as driving. If he has specific post-operative instructions, ask for them in advance. When you are leaving the hospital, your attention will not be on the post-operative instructions.

Every operation is different, but what every patient should know about having surgery is the same. With the information you can obtain by following these tips, you can be prepared for surgery and recovery.