Surgery is something many of us take for granted, but it’s also one of the more expensive and risky components of healthcare. With over 50 million inpatient procedures performed every year in the US alone, studies suggest that most of us will undergo not just one, but MULTIPLE invasive procedures during our lifetime.
Alexander Graham Bell said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” This wise advice can make both the surgery itself and its subsequent recovery quicker, more effective and less painful.
Last year I underwent emergency surgery and learned firsthand what happens when you don’t have that chance to prepare for what you’re about to get into. As a result of entering the procedure uneducated about its details and naïve about the recovery thereafter, the experience was a difficult one. As in my case, you can’t always know when a hospital stay or surgery may be in your future, but you can prepare for scheduled procedures to make your overall experience a little easier. Here are 10 tips to set up your surgery for success:
BEFORE YOUR PROCEDURE
Be a know-it-all Learn as much as you can about your condition and suggested surgery. Patients who are informed about their procedure are often more satisfied with its results. Plus the more you know, the more confident and comfortable you’ll be. Meet the members of your medical team and ask them questions about all parts of your surgery – everything from possible complications and risks to healing time. If any part of your team or procedure makes you nervous, do the research to see if there’s a better physician or facility for you.
Consider your blood clot risk Surgery can increase the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE). These complications occur with a blood clot forms in the deep vein of a limb and can be life-threatening if the clot breaks loose and travel to your lungs, brain, or heart. Factors such as smoking, age, weight, and some medications can increase DVT and blood clot risk. Review your current medications with your doctor prior to surgery and ask about suggested means of prevention. Many physicians apply “intermittent pneumatic compression devices” to the legs of patients at the conclusion of surgery to help combat post-surgical DVT risk. They’re inflatable, fit around your legs, and are intermittently inflated and deflated with pressure to keep your blood flowing away from your feet & towards your heart. Anti-embolism socks are also commonly suggested for post-surgical patients as another minimally invasive means of preventing blood clots during recovery.
Come clean Tell your doctor about any and all medications you may be taking – including supplements. Most assume supplements like daily vitamins, fish oil, and Echinacea are exempt from this (and up to 70% of people don’t mention it to their doctor for this reason) but they’re not. Some can increase bleeding risks, affect anesthesia & interact with other meds. Your doctor may recommend stopping the supplement a week or two before your procedure to avoid complications.
Arrange for helping hands If you’re like me, one of the last things you like doing is relying on others for help. But in the case you’re recovering from surgery, it’s one of the kindest things you can do for yourself. You’ll probably be drowsy right after surgery and tired for a few days thereafter while your body recovers. You’ll also be achy and may have difficulty moving around. As you recover, allow your body time to be still and ask for help from family and friends. Whether they bring soup, help you complete things you can’t yourself, or even just offer a needed hug, don’t feel guilty. Pushing your body to do things that hurt or will only delay recovery & increase your risk of complications.
Hit the grocery store Before leaving for the hospital, stock your fridge, freezer, and pantry with plenty of healthy foods and drinks to tide you over while homebound recovering. Depending on your surgery, you may have dietary restrictions in the weeks immediately following your procedure. Ask your doctor & research foods that fit within your recovery guidelines so you’re prepped with stress-free meal options after surgery. Some of my recovery meal favorites are soups, whole wheat bread, herbal tea, fruit, fresh greens, and smoothie ingredients.
Keep it under control – pain management As your anesthesia wears off, you may begin to become aware of pain or pressure where you were operated on. This can worsen with movement and time, depending on the medications prescribed. Communicate openly & often to your nurse, physician, and team about your pain and ask for more medicine if you need it. This can help keep you more comfortable, promoting your ability to sleep (a critical component to healing). Before discharge, ask about at-home pain management options and fulfill the prescription within the hospital pharmacy (if available). If in-hospital fulfillment isn’t an option, ask a loved one to pick it up for you so you have it as soon as you’re home.
Take advantage of different temps Consider supplementing any oral pain medications with hot and/or cold therapy. Personally, I’ve found it to help immensely in my own recoveries & suggest it highly. You can purchase a hot/cold pack from virtually any pharmacy. Some of my favorites can be used in both directions – just microwave it to use as a hot compress or throw it in the freezer for a cold pack. If you don’t have the time or budget to buy one, use a bag of frozen vegetables for cold (my favorite are corn or peas) or a washcloth warmed under hot water.
Keep it moving Once you’re allowed to resume more regular eating and drinking (most surgeries require no food or drink for a period of time before going under the knife), be proactive about hydration. In addition to ridding you of any post-surgery cottonmouth, drinking plenty of water will help flush medications through your system, promote healthy circulation, and encourage recovery. Complement this with light walking (once your doctor allows it) & graduated compression socks for added circulation-enhancing & recovery benefits. Like the anti-embolism socks your medical team may have you wear immediately after surgery, graduated compression socks can help blood move upward from the limbs and back to your heart to prevent the risk of post-surgical DVT. Just don’t wear the anti-em socks you may have received in the hospital once you’re back home. Many people assume they offer the same function but they actually don’t. Anti-em are designed specifically for immobile, bed-ridden patients while graduated compression socks are for active patients, who will be moving, sitting, and standing.
Consider what’s comfy Depending on your surgery you may have difficulty moving around while recovering. You may also need to access incision sites for cleaning & care. Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothes that allow you to relax comfortably and easily reach wounds. If you can, also pack these in a bag with you to put on once discharged for travelling home from the hospital. Be patient with your body if you experience post-surgical swelling – not only at your incision points but in your abdomen and face as well. Different anesthesia and medications can cause temporary bloat. This should return to normal within a few days and plenty of hydration.
Practice patience Remember, a surgery involves literally cutting up your body. Being unable to participate in your normal routine can be frustrating, but your body went through a major trauma & needs time to recover. Instead of resenting your body for not being 100%, thank it for all that it does do properly. Consider practicing a gratitude exercise. Start by picking 3 things you. Whether the effortless beating of your heart, the natural rhythm of your breathe, or even the ability to see your surroundings with crystal clear vision, focus on those 3 things. Say them aloud, write them in a journal, or repeat those gratitudes in your head. You are what you think you are. So think health, and the body will follow.
Have you had surgery? Share your tips by commenting below or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.