A Patient’s Perspective: How to Prepare for Surgery

Surgery – a seven letter word that holds fear, anxiety, stress, and anticipation.  Whether you are going for a routine procedure, or one that is potentially life-changing, the feelings hold the same. Adopting a positive attitude and preparing, both emotionally and physically, will set you on the road to recovery.

I learned I need surgery, now what?

Educate yourself.  It is SO important to talk with your doctor and ask as many questions as possible.  Take some time alone, and write them down on a piece of paper, so you don’t forget.  Talk with your family and loved ones, and see if they have any questions that you may not have thought of.  Some common questions that you want to be sure you ask are:

  • What is the recovery time?
  • What are the risks and possible complications of having the operation?
  • Are there any alternatives to this procedure?
  • What are the benefits of the surgery and how long will they last?

If you do not understand your doctor’s responses, ask questions until you do. Also, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU READ. When faced with an unknown situation, our first instinct is to gather all of the information you can. With information available at our fingertips, it is easy to start Googling away. This can both be good and bad. We are all different, so what may have been one person’s situation, may not exactly match up to yours. Directing all your questions and concerns to your doctor will be your safest bet.

What to do as you get closer to your surgery date

Make a list and check it twice! With your emotional levels at an all-time high, it is easy to forget something.  Writing a list about a week before will allow you to jot everything down that you need, such as clothes for the hospital (will your procedure require you to need specific clothing?).  I knew I would have an external fixator on for my limb lengthening and ankle fusion surgery at HSS, so I was on a quest to find snap pants, or extremely wide shorts that would fit over my new accessory. Also, be sure to book all of your travel arrangements, and consider purchasing travel insurance in the event that the doctor needs to reschedule.  Need a hotel?  Be sure to do your homework and check out where the closest hotel is to your hospital, especially if you will be staying a few days.  This will make your life, and the life of your family members traveling with you, a lot more convenient.  Gather all of your documentation, including medical, surgical, and financial paperwork, ID cards, traveling directions, schedules, phone numbers, whatever you think you might need.

Additionally, be sure to plan ahead and prepare for your return back home. What kind of surgery will you be having? Will you require a shower seat? Any bed pillows for elevation? Post-op pin care supplies? These are all things you need to consider BEFORE surgery, so you can buy ahead of time and have it ready to go when you return home.  Something I never thought I would need was a rollaway table, like those in a hospital. It came in handy on the days I couldn’t get out of bed or off the couch. It allows you to have a table to eat on, prop your computer, color, etc.  Even slip-proof  bathroom mats can help. Think of your day-to-day routine and make it as easy as possible on yourself.
The Day Before The BIG Day!

Try not to get too worked up. You want to be as calm as possible and raising your blood pressure is a big no-no, especially right before surgery.  The night before, lay everything out for the next day. Pack your bag of clothes and toiletries for your hospital stay.  For clothing, I suggest anything that is loose and comfortable, and socks. Consider a zip/button up if having any surgery on your arm, to make it easier to get on and off.  If having foot or leg surgery perhaps a slide on shoe (PT will be there the day after to get you up and about) so make sure you bring comfortable footwear. Some items you may want to include are books, magazines, iPad with movies downloaded, music, and snacks.  I had bought a bunch of coloring books and crayons, which I found to be very therapeutic. Typically, you need to fast 12 hours before, so have an early dinner and no food after if you have a morning surgery.

The BIG Day!

AHHH! This is REALLY happening?  Okay, breathe!  It will all be okay!

The day of, you will check in at admitting.  From there, it’s pretty much a waiting game.  Your doctor and the anesthesiologist will come in and go over everything with you. Double-check that the staff is aware of any allergies, medications, special needs, etc. Then, you will get wheeled off to the OR (operating room), go to sleep, then wake up. You do almost nothing, so just sit back and enjoy the ride. Tip! Ask the anesthesiologist to put anti-nausea in your drip if you know or think this might be an issue for you, or just in case. I am VERY sensitive to anesthesia, so I always have a reaction when waking up from it.  Also, be nice to the nurses, they will be taking care of you when you need their help most in a few hours.

Over and Done! Post-surgery Week

WHEW!  It’s over.  Now comes the hardest part – the recovery process.

For me, the first week was draining both physically and emotionally, but everyone is different and your sole purpose should be focused on recovery. Be sure to stay on your pain meds schedule if given one by your physician, and always be ahead of it, before the pain kicks in, or else you will be kicking yourself and playing catch-up — NO FUN! Once at home, be prepared to spend your time resting and alternating between the sofa and your bed. Most likely, you will need to elevate whatever part of your body was operated on, so get lots of pillows. Be sure to have someone to help you get around, and administer your meds.  If you are anything like me, relying on someone may be difficult.  Pack your pride away, and start accepting help.

If you can, try to get outside, even if it’s to look at the sky to avoid cabin fever. Try your best to walk around a little every day, as it encourages blood flow, invigorates your body, and clears your mind. Stock up on food for the week. You may lose your appetite depending on what medication you are on, but I promise you will regain it back.  It is SO important to keep on top of your diet.  This is the time that your body needs all the nutrients it can get to heal.  As tempting as it may be to eat ice cream and cookies all day, try to stick to a whole food diet, filled with fruits, vegetables, and protein.  Something else to be aware of is to be mindful of your emotions. Watch out for any signs of irritability, depression, increased anxiety, isolation, and moods being irregular. These are all very normal and all of this will pass.

Listen to your body. I personally recommend being extra conservative with your recovery, as you only get one surgery and one chance to heal. This may be hard, especially if you are used to being active.

Your patience will be tested, your self-esteem may be low, and you may even get discouraged at times. But trust the process, and remember that the struggle you are in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow.. DON’T GIVE UP – YOU’VE GOT THIS!

Gabrielle Sholes Headshot

Gabrielle Sholes is a contributor to Playbook and a patient of Dr. S. Robert Rozbruch and Dr. David S. Levine at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS)To read Gabrielle’s personal journey with HSS, visit her series page: Walking the Road to Recovery



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The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.