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What to Ask Before Surgery, and What to Expect

October 29, 2007

A friend of mine is having surgery soon, and I sent her some suggestions on things to ask the surgeon, and some general info on what to expect, based on my previous experiences. She suggested that I might want to share it with you fine folks, so here it is. I strongly recommend taking a list of questions with you to ask your surgeon in your preliminary appointment. S/he will likely cover most of them, but the list is to help you stay focused in a scary situation and make

Questions to ask:
-What do I need to do to get ready for surgery? (things like no food after midnight (lest you turn into a gremlin!) and not having on any makeup or nail polish, but also whether there is anything special related to any meds you are on, etc.)
-Where will the incision be? How large will it be?
-How will the procedure be performed?
-How long will it take?
-How long will it take to get the biopsy results back from pathology? [if this applies to you]
-How long will I be in the hospital following the procedure? (even with day surgery, you’ll still be in recovery and a room for a bit)
-What are the risks of the procedure and how often do they occur?
-What will you be able to rule in and rule out from the biopsy? Can I expect a definitive diagnosis? [again, if this applies to you]
-What can I expect from the recovery from the procedure? When will I be able to go back to work?
-What will I have to do postoperatively to care for the wound?

Lots of this is very commonly covered in a meeting you’ll have with your surgeon, but it’s nice to have a list so you can make sure your concerns are covered.

My friend had a concern about how breathing works during surgery, and I had some some other comments as well. I told her, in case you wonder, too – the answer is that you’ll be intubated. Don’t be scared about that – you never know it’s happened, and the worst you can probably expect is a little throat scratchiness afterward. The anesthesiologist will ask you questions about dental work, etc. and probably look in your mouth. It will seem weird, but they want to know that they can insert the tube without knocking a loose filling or chipped tooth down your throat. There will also be a little clippy thing on your finger that will be reporting your oxygenation level, and they’ll keep an eye on that. That will probably still be on when you wake up in recovery.

Someone will be able to sit with you at the beginning, when they’re getting you ready and putting in your IV. They’ll call you back, have you change clothes. They’ll start the IV, and you’ll just gently fall asleep. You may say weird things to the person waiting with you. :) When you wake up, the procedure will be done and you’ll be in recovery. You will likely wake up alone, in a kind of bustling room, but there will be nurses there keeping an eye on you. You’ll get to see your family/friends once they move you to a real room. It’s possible that they’ll make sure you pee before discharging you. Don’t worry, they don’t have to watch you pee, just know you did. They may not still do that, not sure. [From what I’ve read afterward, it seems like the answer varies from place to place]

If you wake up and have a weird sensation of pressure and release on your legs, look down. You probably have two leg cuffs that are inflating and deflating. These are to help prevent blood clots while you’re immobilized.

If you’re worried about throwing up afterward [some people are nauseated after general anesthesia], don’t eat/drink anything that would suck coming back up. I would recommend against apple or orange or grapefruit juice. Just drink plenty of water to make sure you’re hydrated (after surgery). [again, if that applies to you]

Surgery can do weird things to your body. You may find that for a while afterward, the texture of your hair is different, your skins feels different, etc. [even your period can be a little messed up]

Well, after one knee surgery and one partial thyroidectomy, that’s my 2 cents.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2007 2:07 am

    One other suggestion I would offer is that you ask the anesthesiologist for a scopalamine patch.

    I’ve had 6 surgeries in the last 5 years, and wore the patch for the last 5. It’s helped a great deal with the post-anesthetic nausea.

  2. October 30, 2007 7:49 am

    Kat, yep, I highly recommend, if you’ve had anesthesia and become really nauseated before, making sure that the anesthesiologist knows about it. I was terribly vomity after knee surgery (and trying to crutch to the toilet on time was iffy), but let them know about it prior to thyroid surgery and had no problems afterward.

  3. October 30, 2007 1:18 pm

    I don’t think they intubate unless you are unable to breathe on your own. Even with anesthesia, your body still performs the involuntary actions like breathing and heart beating, etc. So, unless something happens to your airway, I don’t think intubation is that common with these types of surgeries.

  4. saraclark permalink
    October 30, 2007 1:28 pm

    I’ll add one more, tacky but true, general anesthesia typically leaves me with really painful gas. Not the loudest or smelliest of flatulence, but the kind that feels like the most painful internal kind for about 30 seconds. I don’t know if it is common, but that side effect seems to run in my family. When it finally happened to me, they all laughed and gave me simethicone pills.

  5. October 30, 2007 2:25 pm

    Colleen, with general anesthesia, they very often do intubate, although sometimes it will be a mask instead, because of how the anesthesia can suppress that function.

  6. October 30, 2007 5:03 pm

    If you have laparascopic surgery (abdomen) your shoulder might hurt for a few days afterward, due to the migration of the gas they pump into you.

  7. October 30, 2007 6:30 pm

    Jilly, didn’t know that one, thanks for adding!

  8. October 31, 2007 7:55 am

    Saraclark, that is hilarious, although I’m sure it’s rather uncomfortable.

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