When you’re scheduling outpatient surgery, a procedure such as a colonoscopy or a dental treatment that requires sedation, your health care team will probably tell you that you need to have an adult drive you home afterward. You might be wondering if that’s really necessary or if they’re being overly cautious.
Khoi Le, MD, a general surgeon with Banner Health, said that if you have a sedative, you shouldn’t drive yourself home, even if you feel fine. The sedative can still be affecting you, though you might not notice.
“The type of medicine you receive, how long the procedure lasts and other medications you may be taking can alter how long the effects last,” he said. “To minimize or eliminate day-of-surgery transportation issues, we recommend you arrange a ride before arriving at the hospital or facility where your procedure is being performed.”
What types of procedures may require a ride home?
Certain outpatient surgeries may require someone to drive you home afterward due to the effects of anesthesia or the nature of the procedure.
- General anesthesia: Surgeries performed under general anesthesia can cause drowsiness, dizziness and impaired coordination. Procedures such as wisdom teeth extraction, some orthopedic surgeries and certain gastrointestinal procedures may require general anesthesia and require someone to drive you home.
- Sedation: Even with milder sedation, you may still feel drowsy and less alert. Procedures like endoscopy, colonoscopy or minor surgical procedures performed with conscious sedation may require assistance in getting home safely.
- Eye surgeries: Surgeries involving the eyes, such as LASIK or cataract surgery, can temporarily affect vision and depth perception, making it unsafe to drive immediately afterward.
- Complex or invasive procedures: Certain outpatient surgeries can be more complex or invasive, resulting in discomfort, pain, or restricted movement after the procedure. In these cases, having someone available to drive you home is recommended for your comfort and safety.
- Certain pain management procedures: Some outpatient pain management procedures, such as nerve blocks or injections, may require local anesthesia or sedation, which can impair your ability to drive.
What’s the risk of driving after a medical procedure?
Lots of things could affect your ability to drive. You could become dizzy or lightheaded, your reflexes might be slow, you might not be thinking clearly and your judgment might be off. If you’re in an accident, you could be charged with driving under the influence, and your auto insurance may not cover the costs.
You might also risk opening your sutures or putting stress on your injury or incision. For all these reasons, most medical and surgery centers won’t perform your procedure unless you bring a driver.
Can I take a taxi or rideshare home?
It’s not recommended, and it may not be allowed. Depending on the procedure you need and the requirements of your doctor or health center, you may need to bring someone with you when you arrive for your procedure, so the staff sees that you’re prepared for your ride home. That person may need to be with you when you get your discharge instructions, in case you get confused or forget anything.
After your procedure, your driver may be expected to meet you in the office and walk you to the car. “It is safer to have a friend, family member or loved one pick you up, drive you home and help you inside,” Dr. Le said.
Can my teenage child drive me home?
Probably not, but you can check with your doctor’s office. Many places require the driver to be 18 years old or older. If your child has a learner’s permit, they shouldn’t drive you home since you’re expected to supervise their driving and you may not be able to do that properly because of the sedation.
Does my driver need to stay at the medical facility?
That depends. Some places request that your friend or family member stay nearby while others will call or text them when you’re ready to go home.
If your driver stays nearby, make sure they understand that they might be waiting for a while. “Undergoing surgery can be tedious and involves several different areas of the hospital. It includes the registration process, the pre-op waiting area where you may receive an IV and other medications, the surgery itself and the recovery area. Even a simple one-hour surgery could take four to six hours from when you arrive until you leave,” Dr. Le said.
What if I don’t have anyone to drive me?
Your doctor or dentist might refuse to do the procedure, so don’t risk it and show up without a driver. You can ask the operating room staff or management team—they might know of a health care transportation service you can contact. You might also be able to hire a home care professional to drive you home and make sure you get settled in safely. You may even arrange to have them stay for a few hours or overnight in case you have any concerns.
How long do I need to avoid driving?
This depends on the surgery being performed and how long the recovery may take. For simple procedures, your health care team may tell you not to drive for 24 to 48 hours (about 2 days). But in some situations, you’ll need to wait longer.
- If you are taking medications that cause drowsiness, such as narcotic pain medications, sedatives or muscle relaxants, you should not drive until you no longer need them. Check your medications to see if they have a warning label related to driving.
- If the surgery and recovery inhibit your movement, you should not drive until your surgeon clears you and you feel comfortable and able to do so. For example, you may not be able to drive if you have your right leg in a cast or an arm in a sling.
- You’ll need to wait until your doctor says you can drive if you have a procedure that affects your vision.
The bottom line
When you’re having any kind of medical procedure that requires a sedative, or limits your ability to safely operate a vehicle, you’ll need to make sure a family member or friend can drive you home. Even if you feel fine, the medication could affect your ability to operate a vehicle. If you have questions about an outpatient surgery or medical procedure, talk to your health care team or reach out to Banner Health.