The thought of having a surgical procedure done can be daunting and you can definitely do without the additional stress. One way to ease the mind is to know what to expect and being aware of the right post-surgical care. Here we look at the various ways to prepare for surgery.
Do Your Homework
“In an ideal situation, you want to do as much research as you can,” said Sandra Le, a breast cancer survivor who underwent two mastectomies roughly a year apart. “The more people you talk to, the more you understand.”
Questions Ms. Le recommends asking your surgeon or potential surgeon include:
- Where will the incision be, and what will it look like?
- Is there any chance I can see pictures of surgeries you have performed so I can get an idea of what things will look like?
- What are the possible risks associated with this surgery?
- What will my activity restrictions be after surgery?
- When will I be able to drive?
- Are there any particular movements I will need to avoid and for how long?
- What can I do to help speed up my recovery?
- Will you walk me through the surgery so I can better understand the process?
This last question, Ms. Le notes, is probably the most important question you can ask.
If you have time to do so, Ms. Le recommends seeking out opinions and advice from other patients who have been through the procedure you are facing.
“I scoured the Internet,” she said. “I searched through forums and review sites for any information I could find about my doctors. I also trusted in my husband's evaluation of the surgeon. I was so blessed that my husband, Walter, is a physician because I truly felt lost the entire time. I have some understanding of medicine since I used to work as a registered nurse. However, as I faced my surgeries, I was quite emotional and could not quite grasp everything that was being discussed. If you have a friend or relative who works in the medical field and whom you feel comfortable asking to accompany you to your medical appointments, doing so can be very helpful.”
Expect the Unexpected
Even after you’ve done your research about what to expect from your surgery, remember that things don’t always go exactly as planned. Be prepared for potential complications, advised Shelley Dawn Johnson, who has had several surgeries but was caught off guard when one particular procedure did not go as expected.
“I was scheduled for what was supposed to be a very simple laparoscopic procedure,” she said. “It was an exploratory surgery with just two tiny incisions to go in and look around and try to find the source of my terribly painful periods. I hadn’t even mentioned the surgery to anyone other than my husband, since I expected to be home hours later. I’d been told this was going to be an easy, in-and-out procedure.”
Ms. Johnson had previously had two C-sections, and it turned out the source of her pain was adhesions from those surgeries.
“When my surgeon made the incision in the standard place the surgery called for, he nicked an artery,” Ms. Johnson said. “The artery wasn’t supposed to be there, but thanks to the adhesions, everything was kind of stuck together. My simple outpatient procedure turned into an open procedure to stop the internal bleeding. I woke up to the news that I had been opened up, had lost a lot of blood, would probably need to be transfused and was facing a hospital stay of at least five days.”
She hadn’t arranged for anyone to help with her two children, then just 3 and 6 years old, because she’d expected to return home the same day. And because her surgery wasn’t scheduled, there was no bed available for her on the OB/Gyn floor, so she ended up on an understaffed general post-surgical floor. The nurses there did not specialize in OB/Gyn and didn’t understand what some of her post-surgical symptoms meant, dismissing a real medical issue as anxiety.
“When you are scheduled to have surgery, you just never know what might happen,” she said. “So I think it is important to carefully discuss all possible risks of surgery with your doctor beforehand, and to prepare for the fact that any of those things could actually happen. At the same time, you still have to go in with a positive attitude and in a healthy state, mentally and spiritually. You should be prepared for the unexpected but still hope for the best possible outcome, because your attitude will affect your recovery.”
Prepare for Your Recovery Period
Whether you are scheduled for a complex procedure or a simple one, Ms. Johnson and Ms. Le advise preparing for your recovery period and lining up help in advance. You can also follow their advice if you wish to help someone you know who is facing surgery.
- Arrange for help with children, including driving your kids to and from school and activities.
- Clean and de-clutter your house so it will be easier to maintain while you are on activity restriction.
- Make freezer meals or allow someone to start a Meal Train or Sign Up Genius to allow friends and family members to sign up to bring meals for your family while you recover. (If you want to do this for a friend facing surgery, be sure to ask first to see if they are comfortable having meals brought to them, and be sure to ask about preferred drop-off times and methods as well as any food allergies or other dietary restrictions. And for those who want to offer sustenance but do not cook, be sure to share a list of favorite restaurants for which gift cards can be purchased).
- Keep in mind that you might have dietary restriction during your immediate recovery period. Be sure to stock your kitchen with light snacks such as Jello, popsicles and other easily digestible food, including crackers, which can help with nausea.
- Consider scheduling some sessions with a professional house cleaner. If you want to offer this as a gift to someone facing surgery, be sure to ask first if this would be a desirable gift, as some people just aren’t comfortable having strangers in their home.
- When you come home from the hospital, keep your post-surgery instructions and doctor's phone number by your bed. Alert your doctor immediately with any concerns.
Many people feel uncomfortable asking for help, so if you know someone facing surgery, don’t wait for them to ask you for help – just offer – even if they turn down your offer, at least they will know you are thinking of them, and sometimes simply knowing that you care and are concerned can be a wonderful gift on its own.
Not all surgeries are planned in advance. Some are emergent, but in the case of a scheduled surgery, you can take advantage of the opportunity to carefully plan and prepare for both your procedure and your recovery.
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