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Preparing for surgery

4-minute read

If you’re going to have surgery, it’s good to be prepared. You should find out about what your surgery will involve, your medicines, what you need to do before the surgery, how to get to and from the hospital, and your care when you go home after your surgery.

The days leading up to your surgery

Make sure you know exactly what your operation is for, what it is expected to do for you and the risks involved.

You might have a general anaesthetic, a local anaesthetic or light sedation. Be sure you know what your doctors plan to do and what you need to do to prepare. Ask your doctor about the anaesthetic — you might not meet the anaesthetist until the day of the operation.

If you take medicines regularly, discuss them with your doctor. It’s important to know whether or not you should take them as usual or delay them.

Tell your doctor about all the medicines you take, including over-the-counter and complementary or alternative medicines. You may need to stop taking some medicines, such as anti-inflammatory medicines and aspirin, before surgery. Discuss this with your doctor.

If you have diabetes, you need to develop a good plan with your doctors that involves what medicines to take and when to eat.

If you smoke, quit if possible. Quitting will help your recovery and reduce your risk of problems with anaesthetic. Even quitting for a short period is helpful.

If you drink alcohol every day, drink less before surgery. It will help with your healing and your recovery.

The day before surgery

If you’re having a general anaesthetic, you’ll need to avoid eating and drinking for some hours beforehand. Your anaesthetist will tell you when to stop eating and drinking before surgery.

You should be able to take most medicines with a sip of water right up until surgery. However, it’s very important to tell your anaesthetist if you are taking antidepressants, anticoagulants including aspirin, or medications for diabetes, as you will need special instructions for taking these before surgery.

You should plan how you’re going to get to hospital and get home. It’s best to ask family or a friend to help you get home and to help you at home afterwards.

After surgery

Ask your doctor how long you’ll be expected to stay in hospital after the operation. Some people need only a few hours before they can go home while others will be in for a few days or more. A few will be told they’ll wake up after surgery in an intensive care unit. It depends on the type of surgery, the type of anaesthetic, and your health.

Pain can be a significant problem after surgery. Don’t be a hero. Tell your doctors and nurses if you have pain.

Some people will need rehabilitation after surgery, either to get their strength back or to help with the particular problem that the surgery has dealt with. You can have rehabilitation treatment at home or in a rehabilitation unit. Talk to your doctor.

Depending on the type of surgery, there might be some things you can’t do for a while. You might not be allowed to drive, you might find it hard to work, you might find it hard to look after yourself. It’s good to talk these things through with your doctor before the surgery so you can plan to solve problems in advance.

Getting back to normal life can take time. You might be more tired than you expect. Go easy on yourself and accept help that’s offered.

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Last reviewed: September 2020

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