What to Expect When You’re Having Surgery

There are risks involved with any surgery performed, whether it’s something as simple as removing a small cyst or something as major as a triple bypass.

Regardless of the kind of operation, procedures and preparations need to be made pre-op as well as post-op.

Obviously these things will vary depending on the type of surgery, but there are also common procedures followed for any kind of surgery.

Prep Before Your Surgery

If you are having a surgery for which you’ll be given general anesthesia, you’ll likely meet with the anesthesiologist and/or surgeon a few days to 24 hours before the scheduled operation.

They’ll review your medical history, any medications you’re currently taking, as well as instructions about what to do and what not to do the day of your surgery before you arrive at the hospital.

For example, it’s always a surgeon’s instruction not to eat or drink anything for 12 hours before your surgery. This includes spitting out all the water when you brush your teeth, and yes, unfortunately, not even that morning cup of coffee.

a surgeon
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This is also when the surgeon will review the risks associated with surgery. Regardless of the type, there is always a risk of death that comes with any surgery when someone is given general anesthesia.

However, the risk of death from anesthesia itself is extremely miniscule. Actually, chances of you — and especially health workers — contracting illness or disease caused by surgical tools themselves are much higher than chances of being adversely affected by the anesthesia alone.

This is especially true when lasers or cauterizing tools are used, which create a noxious smoke that contains nasty chemicals and organic matter from the patient, which could carry bacteria, viruses or other contagions.

One of the ways to combat this is with a smoke evacuator, which not only eliminates the hazardous smoke but helps to create better visibility for the surgeon and nurses.

The Day of Your Surgery

If you’re having a minor surgery that requires only local anesthesia, you can expect to be released the same day. Major surgeries requiring general anesthesia have greatly altering release dates. Some surgeries may take a couple of weeks or more to recuperate from, while others may take only a day or two.

You’ll be notified of when and where to go on the day of your surgery. For surgeries requiring general anesthesia, you’ll need to arrive at least a couple of hours before the actual operation.

It’s best not to bring anything valuable with you. You’ll also need to refrain from wearing or applying anything but soap — i.e. remove all jewelry, wigs, body piercings, cosmetics, contact lenses and dentures, and refrain from using perfume, aftershave, hair accessories, cosmetics and so on.

Don’t use hairspray or other hair products, and you may be advised not even to apply deodorant that day.

Some surgery/hospital admissions processes can be a little lengthy, which is why you need to arrive well ahead of the scheduled time of the operation. Admission will require insurance information, consent forms for the operation and anesthesia, and other paperwork.

Hospital staff will prep you for the operation by checking your vitals, giving you an I.D. bracelet, having you change into a hospital gown and inserting an IV.

Depending upon the type and length of surgery, it may be necessary to even shave body hair around the area to be operated on, be catheterized or other prep procedures.

Soon you’ll be wheeled to the operating room, where you’ll immediately be given an oxygen mask. The anesthesiologist will administer anesthesia through your IV. Typically the surgeon tells you to start counting down from 10, and most people don’t make it to five before they’re out.

What to Expect Post-Operation

You’ll need to have transportation provided to leave the hospital because you’ll not be allowed to drive yourself. The amount of post-op recovery time, amount of discomfort or pain, and the ability to move, get up or walk by yourself will vary depending upon the surgery.

For example, someone undergoing a major surgery on the lower lumbar will typically experience more pain and discomfort than someone having their appendix removed.

However, pain is something that can only be understood and felt by you, so be communicative about how you’re feeling after the operation.

Usually you’ll be asked to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. If you have intense pain, communicate this to the hospital staff attending to you. It is also common for the after-effects of the anesthesia to cause vomiting or nausea, but this is very temporary.

After the Surgery

You’ll be permitted to leave no sooner than 24 hours after surgeries requiring general anesthesia, but for more serious surgeries, post-op recovery can take several days. You’ll be discharged when:

  • Your vitals are normal
  • You have urinated and can go to the bathroom on your own
  • Your pain is manageable with oral medication
  • Your doctor or nurse has given you follow-up instructions

Sometimes there are follow-up procedures that you’ll be instructed to follow. This could be something as involved as physical therapy or as minimal as keeping an arm or leg elevated or applying ice or heat packs.

Days or Weeks After Surgery

Outside of ongoing physical therapy afterward, the final stage of the surgery process will be to return to have your stitches removed, which is almost always a painless, quick and non-invasive procedure. Your vitals may also be checked again to confirm complete recovery.

Again, there are a variety of risks associated with any surgery, and their statistical chances of occurrence vary greatly depending upon your overall health, the type of surgery, the location of the surgery and even your medical history.

However, most general surgeries take place without incident, and anesthesia itself is an extremely low-risk factor.

If surgery is an option for you, discuss the benefits of the surgery with your doctor, as well as the risks and projected physical condition without it.

Just because surgery is an option does not always mean it’s best to undergo it. However, if chances are very high that the surgery will improve your physical condition and quality of life, then the more reason to give it serious consideration.


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