Preparing Before Your Surgery

Before Your Surgery-Changes That Can Improve Your Surgical Outcome

surgeon in surgery image, surgeon working in OR, in the operating room, surgeon image, surgery
A Surgeon At Work. Image: © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

One of the best ways to have a great outcome from surgery is to be well-prepared. Once you’ve found a great surgeon and scheduled your surgery, it is important to begin preparing for the procedure as soon as possible. Your efforts before surgery can have a positive impact on your recovery after surgery.

Simple things, such as eating a well-balanced diet can be very beneficial, quitting smoking and arranging help will improve your ability to heal quickly. Explore the best ways to prepare for surgery, your recovery from surgery, as well as questions for you to ask your surgeon before the big day. Don't forget that important part of surgery that people forget to investigate, who is providing your anesthesia, questions to ask before anesthesia and what type of anesthesia you will be receiving.

Lifestyle Changes Before You Have Surgery

Nutrition before surgery is very important. A diet rich in nutrients, especially protein, helps prepares your body for quick healing. It is essential that you do not restrict calories, or diet, prior to your surgery unless your surgeon specifically recommends that you do so.

Exercise before surgery will help ensure that your body is as fit as possible before your procedure. If you are already exercising, keep up the good work. If you are not, start slowly introducing exercise into your daily activities. Exercise does not need to be strenuous to be beneficial, in fact, a fifteen-minute walk is far better than not exercising at all.

If you are a smoker, now is the time to quit. Not only will you be healthier in the long run, but your surgical outcome will be improved. Smokers are at significantly higher risk for requiring the ventilator for longer periods of time and have been proven to heal more slowly with greater scarring. They are also more likely to develop pneumonia after surgery and have a higher risk of being readmitted to the hospital for complications. 

Your Finances and Surgery

Now that you have scheduled your surgery it is time to examine the financial aspects of the procedure. If you are currently working, the human resources department at your workplace may be able to help you explore your options regarding using sick or vacation time during your recovery. If you have supplemental disability coverage through your workplace it may provide additional income if you have an extended time away from work.

Most surgeries, with the exception of most cosmetic surgeries, are covered by insurance. It is important to find out the level of coverage offered by your insurance company prior to the procedure and the portion of the procedure that you will be expected to pay. In some circumstances, a surgery may only be covered as an outpatient procedure unless there are complications, resulting in an unpleasant surprise when the bill is not fully covered after a night in the hospital.

Your insurance company may require advance notice of your scheduled surgery, if so, notify the company well in advance of the procedure so there are no surprises regarding payment.

Meet With Your Surgeon

Arrange to see your surgeon several weeks before your scheduled procedure to determine the labs, tests, and medications that may be required before the surgery. By scheduling these early in the process, you should have greater flexibility when setting an appointment.

During this visit, you should also discuss whether or not your surgeon expects you to need blood products during your procedure. If it is expected and you would prefer not to have donated products, you may be able to arrange for an autologous transfusion, a process that allows you to store your blood for use during your surgery.

During this visit with your surgeon, it is important to discuss the medications you are currently taking and what medications you should take in the weeks prior to surgery as well as immediately before surgery. Some medications, including blood thinners, aspirin, insulin and blood pressure medications can cause problems during surgery.

In addition, your surgeon should be able to recommend any assistive devices that you will need after your surgery, such as a walker for use after having a hip replacement. Recommended devices should be obtained before surgery so they are available when they are needed.

Arrange for Help After Surgery

Some patients will require more assistance after their surgery than others. In any case, you should arrange for a reliable person to transport you to and from the hospital for your surgery. Driving yourself is unsafe as anesthesia drugs can affect your ability to drive and to make decisions quickly.

If your recovery lasts more than a few days you may want to arrange for help around the house. You may also require some assistance with incision care. You may be unable to perform typical household duties that require standing for extended periods of time or bending and lifting, such as washing dishes and doing laundry.

If you will need physical therapy after your discharge, consider scheduling your appointments prior to the surgery, you will have more appointment times to choose from and you can arrange for transportation well in advance.

Surgery and Dental Work

If you require dental care of any kind prior to your surgery or immediately after the procedure be sure to discuss it with your surgeon. Some dental procedures can increase the risk of complications during and after surgery and should not be performed without talking to your surgeon.

There is a risk of a serious medical condition, bacterial endocarditis, that is associated with dental work. If you are at risk, your dentist or primary care physician may recommend an antibiotic before and after your dental procedure.

What to Pack for a Hospital Stay

If your surgery requires a hospital stay, pack a bag with your essentials so you don’t have to rely on supplies provided by the staff. In addition to comfortable pajamas, you will want to pack comfortable clothing and shoes to wear home, toiletries and anything else you may need, such as a book or music.

Be sure to leave your jewelry, credit cards, cash, and any other valuables at home. The staff will not be able to protect your belongings while you are in surgery and they will be vulnerable to theft or loss.

Don’t forget to take your insurance card, personal identification and a list of any medications you are currently taking with the dosage you are taking.

More Information: Packing List For The Hospital

What to do During the 24 Hours Before Surgery

Do not eat anything after 5 pm the day before your surgery including fluids, mints, and chewing gum. On the morning of your surgery, take only the medications that your surgeon specifically wanted you to take, with a sip of water. When brushing your teeth, do not to swallow the water you rinse with. Why Can't I Eat Before Surgery?

Call your surgeon if you feel ill or have a fever, your surgery may need to be postponed. Your surgery will have the best outcome if you are as healthy as possible when it begins.

If you wear nail polish, remove it prior to going to the hospital. Nail polish interferes with the machine that is used to make sure you are receiving enough oxygen.

Fill prescriptions you will need after your procedure early whenever possible. You may also want to stock your pantry and complete other household tasks before surgery. You may not feel well enough to run errands immediately after your procedure.


Patient Information Pamphlet, American College of Surgeons, 2007

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