Preparing for Surgery

Millions of people in the United States undergo surgery every year. Facing surgery can be stressful. But with careful planning and inquiring about all of your options, you can relieve your anxieties, reduce possible complications and post-surgical pain, and pave the way for getting back to normal as quickly as possible after surgery.

Most surgeries are elective, meaning that you decide if surgery is the best option for you and elect to have the procedure. This decision process often gives you needed time to prepare, which is an important step. Research suggests that individuals who prepare mentally and physically for surgery have fewer complications, less pain, and recover more quickly than those who don't prepare.

Here are some helpful tips:

Prepare Emotionally

 Surgery also has an emotional impact. For some women, the anticipation of being hospitalized and separated from family members makes coping difficult. Even simple procedures done in a doctor's office can provoke a strong reaction. Some experts advocate preparing for surgery through a series of relaxation therapies: deep breathing, positive thinking, and visualization-imagining or mentally seeing-a positive outcome from surgery and a quick recovery period, for example.

Prepare Physically

In the weeks before your surgery, you should:

  • Stop smoking and avoid excessive alcohol
  • Eat a well-balanced diet including plenty of vitamin C-rich foods, which may help promote tissue healing
  • Avoid aspirin or other aspirin-like medications that interfere with blood clotting for seven days prior to your surgery
  • Exercise regularly to build energy, and maintain strength
  • Ready your home, including preparing food and rearranging furniture if necessary
  • If you have children to take care of, arrange for someone else to take care of them while you are in the hospital.

Legal decisions

Once you've decided on surgery, had the necessary tests done, and prepared mentally and physically, you'll be asked to sign a consent form. Now may also be a good time to consider donating blood for your surgery, if you wish to, and drawing up advance directives. These instructions communicate your health care plans if you cannot speak for yourself in the future.

Financial Considerations

Familiarize yourself with the extent of your medical benefit plan before your operation so that you will know what portion of the costs will be your responsibility. Your physician's office staff may be able to help you find out how much your medical benefit plan will cover. If your medical benefit plan will not pay all of the anticipated costs, and you cannot afford the difference, then discuss this situation with your surgeon to see if you can work out a solution that is mutually acceptable.

Some procedures and some health plans require "pre-authorization" before your operation. Become familiar with your insurance plan requirements to avoid unpleasant surprises after your surgery.

Understanding Pain

Knowing what to expect after surgery is as important as knowing what to expect beforehand. Pain is an inevitable part of surgery. Pain is the body's way of sending a warning to the brain that it has been damaged and needs attention. Although a normal reaction to surgery, pain can interfere with recovery by:

  • Causing you to suppress coughs, which can lead to fluid in the lungs and pneumonia
  • Slowing the return to normal digestion
  • Preventing you from getting out of bed, raising the risk of blood clots
  • Increasing stress, depression, and anxiety

There are several ways to relieve pain after surgery, medically and non-medically. When preparing for surgery, discuss with your health care professional what possible pains to expect after your procedure and how to best manage any possible symptoms.