Ways to Improve Your Surgery and Recovery

If you are considering having surgery, you may be concerned about paying for the procedure, taking time away from work, or arranging for childcare during your recovery. While these are important things to do before having any surgery, the more important question is this – are you ready for surgery?

Surgery is serious business and getting yourself ready for a procedure is equally important. You will need to wrap your head around the idea of having surgery, but you also need to get your body in peak condition to get through the physical stress of surgery.

Surgeons performing surgery in operating room
Morsa Images / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Ways to Be a Better Surgery Patient

Have You Stopped Smoking?
Stopping smoking prior to surgery is one of the best ways to prevent complications after surgery. For patients having general anesthesia, smokers tend to take longer to breathe on their own, which means having the breathing tube in place longer and longer stays in the recovery room or even ICU. Smoking also increases the chances of complications like scarring and blood clots. The scarring that smokers experience can be dramatically worse than non-smokers, so much so that some plastic surgeons will not operate on a patient who is still smoking on the day of surgery.

How's Your Diabetes or Blood Pressure?
If you have a chronic condition that you have been neglecting, now is the time for a tune-up. Going into surgery as healthy as you can, will mean a better outcome. For example, patients with uncontrolled blood glucose have a higher risk of infections after surgery than those who have a normal blood sugar level. Uncontrolled diabetes can also slow healing. Now is the time to work toward a healthier you, not next week or next month or after your surgery.

Be Your Personal Best
So you don't have any serious conditions, but you aren't really taking good care of yourself either. To prepare for surgery start by eating a healthy diet, rich in fruits and vegetables and low on junk food and soda. If you aren't getting enough sleep, start working toward making rest and stress reduction a priority.

Exercise is also important, a stronger more fit you will have a better time coping with the physical stresses of surgery than an out of shape you.

Do You Drink Alcohol? Use Drugs? 
Any addiction, whether it is nicotine, alcohol or even recreational drugs can make your recovery more difficult. The time after surgery can be painful, but going through withdrawal at the same time can make things worse and can be dangerous for some individuals. If a person drinks significant amounts of alcohol on a daily basis, they may be physically addicted. Going "cold turkey" for surgery and the days after surgery can cause some pretty serious complications like seizures.

If this applies to you, a frank discussion with your surgeon is in order to assess your level of risk. Drinking a glass of wine at dinner every night may not be an issue, but higher levels of routine alcohol intake can lead to some unexpected complications.

Drink Caffeine?
If you are a serious caffeine drinker, cutting back now may prevent a headache later. If you are having a surgery that will result in not being able to drink the pot of coffee that you normally have, you may be in for caffeine withdrawal that can be unpleasant. A splitting headache is common with caffeine withdrawal, which is not what you want during your recovery.

One easy way to cut down on your caffeine intake, particularly from coffee, is to mix your regular brew with a decaf, a concoction referred to as a "half-caff" in the fancy coffee shops. Gradually decreasing the percentage of caffeinated coffee over the course of a few weeks is easy and doesn't typically cause withdrawal symptoms. If you don't drink coffee but you are a serious soda or tea drinker, you won't be immune to the effects of a dire lack of caffeine. Cutting back now will pay great rewards for your procedure.

Is There a Better Way?

Have you investigated alternatives to your surgical procedure? You may have been through all sorts of alternative therapies and you've finally resigned yourself to having surgery, or you may have started with the idea of having a procedure. If you haven't explored the alternatives to surgery, do so before you make your final decision. You don't want to regret having surgery when a medication or different type of therapy would have gotten the job done.

What About Risk?

Every surgery has risks, whether you are having an appendectomy, breast enlargement, or open heart surgery. You owe it to yourself to know the risks and to ask yourself if it is worth the risk. It's an uncomfortable truth that all surgeries have a risk of death, but do you know if your surgery has a minuscule risk or a fairly serious risk of the worst possible outcome? In some cases, the risk of the surgical procedure is not as significant as the risks associated with the anesthesia you will receive.

Have You Asked Questions?

Don't be bashful, ask your questions! Some people become shy when it comes to asking their surgeon questions, worried about taking too much time, or just feeling too embarrassed to ask. Most surgeons do a good job of volunteering information to their patients, but that isn't always the case.

A good example of this is prostate surgery. There are all kinds of rumors that swirl around about life after prostate surgery, from changes in penis length to an inability to have sex after surgery and the possibility of incontinence. Don't you think you should know there is any truth to those claims prior to having the procedure?

What Can You Reasonably Expect After Surgery?

Patients have a way of hearing what they want to hear. If a surgeon says that the average recovery takes 4-6 weeks, the patient leaves and tells people they will be back to work in 4 weeks. Not exactly what the doctor said. Your recovery will be less stressful if you plan for the 6 weeks and end up pleasantly surprised at 4 weeks. Your boss will likely be happier to have you back early than to have to extend your leave unexpectedly. Know what to expect, realistically.

Have You Gotten a Second Opinion?

Second opinions. They are not a waste of time. In fact, you may learn more about your condition and the different ways it can be treated if you take the time to see more than one surgeon before you make your decision. One surgeon may be more aggressive, the other more conservative. One may suggest physical therapy before deciding on surgery and the other may want to head right to the operating room. The choice of how to proceed is yours, but you won't know what your options are if you don't see more than one physician. 

Educate Yourself

Knowing what is going to happen before, during and after your surgery will help you plan for your procedure in the hospital and at home. Is it same-day surgery? You will need a driver. Staying overnight? Pack your toothbrush. Will you be restricted from living anything heavier than ten pounds for several weeks? You might want to find some help with the lawn and laundry before you go to the hospital. 

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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.