How to Prepare for Your Surgery

We tend to think that the major part of surgery is in the hands of the surgeon, but that's not necessarily the case. While it's true that healthcare providers play a central role, your part is just as important.

Even after you've taken the time to find the right surgeon and scheduled the surgery, your job has really only just begun. As the patient, you now need to address everything from your pre-operative health to your post-operative care.

Ultimately, the efforts you make now will have a profound effect on your recovery moving forward. It's an investment of time you can't afford not to make.


Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices

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The healthier you are going into surgery, the stronger you will be coming out. To this end, you need to focus on three things to ensure you're in tip-top shape: good nutrition, exercise, and quitting cigarettes.

  • Good nutrition before surgery is not only important; in some cases, it may a requisite. Oftentimes, a healthcare provider will recommend that a person lose weight before an operation or embark on a specific diet plan. Even if no specific recommendations are made, a diet rich in protein and certain nutrients (vitamin C and D, zinc, and calcium) can aid in your healing. You won't want to restrict calories before surgery or do anything drastic (unless your practitioner has instructed you to) but rather focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Routine exercise will improve your cardiovascular health and aid in muscle recovery should you require post-operative physical therapy. If you routinely workout, continue as normal but consider adding cardio work if you've been neglecting it. If you've just started exercising, don't push too aggressively, but, rather, work with your healthcare provider to find an appropriate fitness program.
  • Quitting cigarettes should always be a consideration before undergoing surgery. Not only will you be healthier in the long run, but your post-operative outcomes may also be significantly improved. Smokers are typically at a higher risk of extended ventilator care following surgery compared to non-smokers. Similarly, they tend to have greater vascular constriction (narrower and harder vessels), resulting in longer recovery times and an increased risk of scarring, hospital readmission, and other health complications.

Organize Your Finances

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Undergoing surgery is taxing enough without the added stress of wondering how everything is going to get paid. This not only includes your hospital stay but any physical therapy or home care you will need once you return home.

To ensure a better peace of mind, there are a number of things you should do:

  • Contact your employer or human resources department to explore your options regarding sick or vacation time. Check if you have supplemental disabilitycoverage as this may provide additional income should you need to be away from work for an extended period of time.
  • Speak with your healthcare provider to get a clear idea of what tests and inpatient/outpatient services you will need before, during, and after your surgery. Many of these may require pre-authorization from your insurer. If these authorizations are not obtained, you may find that you have to pay for them out of pocket.
  • Speak with your insurance company to understand what will and won't be covered by your policy. Understand exactly what your deductible, copays, and out-of-pocket maximum costs will be and whether your various treaters are in-network (less costly) and out-of-network (more costly).

When it comes to medical billing, never assume anything. If you aren't sure whether someone has submitted the necessary forms, double-check with your insurer or contact the head of the billing department to sort these things out in advance.

If you haven't found any satisfaction, have your healthcare provider intervene. In the end, you shouldn't have to pay for someone else's mistake.


Arrange for Help

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Despite what people will tell you, there is really no such thing as a minor surgery. While some are less invasive than others, they still require a period of recovery that you need to respect.

Even if your friends describe you as a superwoman or superman, you need to do yourself a favor by getting all of the help you need. The more you are able to rely on others, the faster you will be on your feet.

Among the consideration:

  • Find childcare services or ask a friend or family member to step in while you are in the hospital or at home recovering.
  • Get a colleague at work to fill in for you during your absence, providing that person with as much information as needed to keep things moving smoothly.
  • Find a friend or family member who can take you home after you've been released and stay with you for a day or two if needed. Even if you're undergoing an outpatient procedure, never assume that you can drive home if you have undergone any form of anesthesia. If a friend is unavailable, organize a car service or contact Uber.
  • Contact a home health service in advance of your surgery if you foresee the need for home care. Doing so allows you to interview both the coordinating nurse and assigned caregiver and to walk them through your needs and house rules. Most insurance companies cover some or all of these costs, so don't settle for a basic companion or elder care services if you need help with wound care, home infusion, post-operative eye care, or any other form of skilled nursing care.
  • Make physical therapy appointments in advance to ensure you get the provider and appointment times you want.

Pack Wisely

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If your surgery requires a hospital stay, pack a bag with all of your basic essentials so you won't need to rely on hospital staff or the hospital gift shop for supplies. In addition to comfortable pajamas, you will want to bring your toiletries, medications, entertainment, snacks, and a loose, comfortable outfit to wear home.

It's always a good idea to make a complete list of what you need before you start packing. In this way, you can double check that everything is there before being admitted and that everything is there once you've been released.

Be sure to leave your jewelry, credit cards, cash, and other valuables at home. While some hospitals offer lockable bedside tables, most are pretty small (and hospitals will standardly refuse liability for any lost or stolen items). If you need a laptop for work, check if the nursing staff has a locked, secure place to store it when you are not in your room.

Finally, don’t forget to take your insurance card, personal ID, and a list of any medications you may be taking along with the dosage.

By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.