How to Prepare for Surgery

Robert Kinkade, MD, is a general surgeon on staff at Banner Health Clinic in San Tan Valley, Ariz., and practices at Banner Goldfield Medical Center. To make an appointment, please call (480) 394-4480.

Question: My doctor told me I need surgery. I’ve never been operated on before and I am nervous. How can I prepare?

Answer: It’s normal to have anxiety when you are about to undergo a surgical procedure. You will probably have many questions swimming in your head: What will the experience be like? Will it be painful? Will there be complications? How will I recover? How long will it take to recover? Although it can be difficult to prepare for the unexpected, it is possible.

First, get educated about your condition as best you can before you see your specialist. Make sure you use the proper resources to learn as much as possible about your condition. No one expects you to become an expert on your diagnosis, but if you gain some perspective on your condition then it will help you ask better questions when you see the specialist. It also gives the specialist an idea on how well you understand your condition.

Use the specialist as a resource. Many times, when a patient is referred to a specialist for surgery, they will only see that doctor during one initial visit prior to the surgery being performed. You will need to use this time to learn as much as you can about the procedure. This is the best time to ask as many questions you might have. Remember - there is no question too mundane or simple.

You will note that when the doctor sees you, he will have many questions for you as well. These questions are an important part of the doctor getting to know you and your situation. The answer you provide to the doctor will better help him to treat and take care of you. This exchange between the doctor and the patient is a very important part of the doctor-patient relationship.

Make sure you bring a list of questions to ask your doctor. Other typical questions might include:

  • How long does the surgery take?
  • Is the surgery outpatient or will I need to stay in the hospital?
  • How long is the recovery?
  • When will I be able to return to work?
  • Will I need someone at home to help me after my surgery?
  • Will I be needing further care after my surgery? Will I need to be referred to another specialist after surgery?
  • What are alternative ways of treating my condition?
  • What type experience and training has the doctor had in performing this type of surgery?
  • What potential complication could occur as a result of my surgery?

Many of these question may be answered as the doctor discusses and recommends a surgery or treatment option for your condition. A doctor is obligated to discuss alternative methods of treatment as well as risks and benefits of any procedure that is recommended. In order for a doctor to perform a procedure on a patient, he must obtain informed consent. In order for a doctor to obtain informed consent, a doctor must educate a patient on the risks and benefits of a procedure, as well as the possible outcomes.

Make sure you understand the risks and the benefits. This a very important part of the communication between a patient and the doctor. It is an essential part of your care that you understand why you are having an operation performed, and the risks of having an operation. Some risks, such as bleeding or developing an infection, are common to almost all operations. Other risks are unique to particular operations. Understanding what these risks are and the incidence rate is important. It is also important to know what are the risks and benefits of not going through with an operation.

As much as it is important to be prepared for your surgery, it is just as important to be prepared for your pre-operative visit. There will most likely be some kind of testing such as X-rays, lab work, or tests to make sure you are strong enough to have the surgery. If you are taking medications they may need to be adjusted or even discontinued prior to the operation. You will also be given instructions as to when and where to check in on the day of your operation. By showing up on time, this will reduce a significant amount of stress that some patients experience on the day of their procedure.

Again, make sure you have all of your questions answered, you have followed all of your doctor’s instructions and you are mentally ready to undergo your procedure and that should help alleviate most of your anxiety.