Tips for an easier surgery

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In the weeks or days before your surgery, take these steps to make the operation and recovery easier, and put yourself at ease.

Talk with your surgeon

Today, many minor surgeries (for example, having ear tubes inserted or hernia repairs) can be done in your doctor's office, a surgery center, or a hospital’s day surgery unit. Preparing for minor surgery may take only a few hours.

Photo of a surgeon smilingMajor surgery (such as a hip replacement or gastric bypass surgery) is usually done in a hospital operating room. Usually, nonemergency surgery is scheduled ahead of time, so there is time to plan for your procedure, learn about it, and discuss things in detail with your surgeon.

Take a moment think of questions to discuss with your surgeon. You can also download our surgery question form (PDF) to help you remember what questions to ask and what information to get from your surgeon in preparation for the surgery.

Take an active role

One of the best ways to have a successful surgery and recovery is to know what's going on and what you need to do. It's important to ask questions and make sure you understand what's happening with your condition and treatment. Watch our video to learn ways to speak up and get the information you need for a smooth, safe recovery.

Sign an informed consent form

You will be asked to sign a consent form that:

  • gives your permission for the operation
  • states that you know what surgery you are having
  • states that you are aware of the possible risks, benefits, complications, side effects, and alternatives

Make sure that you and the health care professionals treating you all agree on exactly what will be done during the surgery or procedure, and that the informed consent form includes the correct information about your operation and your surgical site (for example, the left or right side of your body). And make sure that you understand what will be done — you should be able to say in your own words why you are having the surgery and what the risks are.

Set up an advance directive

In the unlikely event that you are unable to speak for yourself or make health care decisions, an advance directive lets you choose someone to make decisions for you. Having an advance directive can give peace of mind not just to you, but to your family and friends as well.

Consider banking your own blood

Most surgery patients do not need a blood transfusion. If you might need a transfusion during your surgery, you may be able to donate your own blood. This is called “autologous donation.” It has to be arranged several weeks before your surgery. To qualify for autologous donation, you must not be anemic or have an active infection.

Before you make your choice, learn about banking your own blood before surgery. Discuss any questions you may have with your doctor.

Learn about anesthesia options

Anesthesia is used so that you will remain comfortable during your operation. It can range from you being completely asleep to simply numbing the area being worked on. Your surgeon and anesthesia providers can tell you whether the procedure calls for:

  • local anesthesia (numbs only one part of your body for a short time)
  • regional anesthesia (numbs a larger portion of your body for a few hours)
  • sedation (sleepy, but in a dream state. You will breathe on your own and can even talk during surgery, but will remain comfortable with little or no memory of the procedure. This is done in combination with numbing the area being worked on.)
  • general anesthesia (puts you completely to sleep)

The final decision about what type of anesthesia to use will depend on the procedure being performed, your personal wishes, and your overall state of health. Often, a combination of techniques is used. Learn more about the use of anesthesia during surgery.

Get support

You do not have to go through surgery alone. Support from caring family members and friends can increase your comfort level before, during, and after surgery. You will feel more relaxed if you know you have people to help out with tasks like child care or meal preparation while you recover.

Take care of yourself

Good nutrition is important for healing. Also, stay as active as you can. Cutting back or quitting alcohol and tobacco will help your recovery. These changes are best made several weeks before surgery because your body may react unpleasantly to sudden changes in your habits.

Have a safe surgery

Learn how you can help your surgical team protect your health and the health of others.

Reviewed by: Margaret Mentakis, MD, April 2016
Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

© 2016 Kaiser Permanente

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