How to Prepare for Scheduled or Elective Surgery 

Being scheduled for surgery can be frightening. People who prepare mentally and physically before their operations are likely to have fewer complications, less pain, and a quicker recovery than those who don't prepare, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Knowing all you can about your surgery is especially important if you are in a consumer-directed health plan, such as a medical savings account. These plans place more responsibility for health care decisions on your shoulders.

The following suggestions can help you take an active role in the medical decision-making process and your preparation for surgery, thus increasing the probability the procedure will have a positive outcome.

Deciding on surgery

If your health care provider recommends that you have an operation, it's important you have as much information regarding the surgery as possible.

Asking your provider the following questions can help you determine if surgery is right for you. Many people find it helpful to take notes or have a family member or friend with them when discussing these questions to help them remember the information their doctors provide.

Ask your doctor:

  • Why do you think surgery is the best treatment?

  • How will the surgery improve my health or quality of life?

  • How long can I safely delay the surgery?

  • What risks are involved?

  • Does my health or age create a higher risk for complications?

  • What's the risk for death with this surgery, in general? For me, considering my age and health?

  • What sort of complications might arise? What are the chances?

  • Could more surgery be necessary?

  • What type of anesthesia will be used?

  • How long will I be in the hospital?

  • What can I expect during recovery?

  • What will my condition be when I go home?

  • When can I resume my normal activities and go back to work?

  • What, if any, limitations will I have after surgery?

Getting a second opinion from another health care provider also can help you make your decision. Having another physician review your case can verify your diagnosis and ensure surgery is preferable to other treatments. In addition, many health insurance companies require a second opinion and may require you to choose a doctor from its list of providers.

Preparing emotionally

Anxiety and fear are normal responses to planned surgery. But having a full understanding of the procedure can reduce your stress and result in a better outcome.

People scheduled for an operation often find it helpful to practice relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing, meditating, and visualizing a positive outcome from surgery and a quick recovery period.

Preparing physically

Preparing physically can increase your chance of a successful surgery and timely recovery.

In the weeks before surgery, you should:

  • Quit smoking if you smoke. If you can't quit, at least cut back on your smoking.

  • Ask your provider if you need to change the schedule and dosage of any medications you take. Be sure your provider knows all the medications you take, including over-the-counter and prescription ones, vitamins, and herbal remedies.

  • Ask your provider if you can maintain your regular exercise routine. If you've been sedentary, ask if starting a gentle walking routine would be beneficial.

  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and water.

  • Avoid aspirin or other aspirin-like medications that interfere with blood clotting, beginning seven days before your surgery. If you take aspirin every day, ask your provider how you should cut back.

Preparing your life

When scheduling surgery, it's important to take into consideration your job and family commitments. If you have children or pets, you'll need to arrange for their care while you're in the hospital. You'll also need to keep your supervisor at work aware of your surgery date and how long you expect to be out of the office, and work with him or her to train someone to cover your responsibilities.

Become familiar with your medical benefit plan ahead of time so you'll know what portion of the costs you'll have to pay and how you'll make those payments.

Preparing the day before

Your surgeon and anesthesiologist should give you specific instructions about what you can and can't do the day and night before your surgery. Follow them exactly; failure to do so could be life-threatening.

Be sure to ask the following questions:

  • What can I eat or drink the night before? Surgical patients usually are forbidden to eat or drink anything—even water—after midnight before the day of surgery.

  • Do I need to have an enema or take a laxative the night before?

  • Are there any restrictions on other activities?

Finally, get a good night's sleep and be ready to arrive at the hospital in the morning with a family member or trusted friend who can be a source of strength and calm.


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