Surgery is done for many reasons. Often it is done to repair an injury, such as a broken bone, or to relieve symptoms, such as numbness caused by a herniated disc. Sometimes it is done to diagnose a condition (biopsy) or to cure a condition, such as appendicitis.
Many minor surgeries can be done in your doctor's office or at a same-day surgery centre. Preparing for minor surgery may take only a few hours. Major surgery is usually done in a hospital operating room. Except in an emergency, major surgery may require days or even weeks of testing and preparation.
Before surgery, your surgeon may ask you to see your regular doctor for an examination and possibly tests. A surgeon may ask this to make sure that surgery is not likely to be too hard on you.
You will also have an appointment with your surgeon before your surgery. For this appointment, take along a surgery question form (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand your treatment. Your surgeon will explain why your surgery is needed, what it will involve, what its risks and expected outcome are, and how long it will take you to recover. Talk to your surgeon about any concerns you have about the surgery. You may also want to ask about treatments you might try other than surgery.
Your surgeon or a nurse will give you a list of instructions to help you prepare for your surgery. Most surgery centres and hospitals have a before-surgery (preoperative) form and a surgery consent form for you to fill out. You may also need to sign a form that identifies the correct body area for surgery. This information helps the surgical team prepare for your surgery.
After surgery, you will be taken to a recovery (post-operative) area where nurses will care for and observe you for 1 to 4 hours. Then you will either be moved to a hospital room or go home. If you go home, the recovery nurse usually gives you written instructions to follow. Your surgeon may also give you special instructions.
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Most surgery centres and hospitals have a before-surgery (preoperative) form for you to fill out. This form usually includes questions about your medical history and current health. This information helps the surgical team prepare for your surgery. They are trained to provide you with safe care during your surgery.
You most likely will complete the preoperative form 1 to 3 days before your surgery. Before surgery, your surgeon may also ask you to see your regular doctor for an examination and possibly for tests. A surgeon may ask this to make sure that surgery is not likely to be too hard on you. Your regular doctor or your surgeon may order certain tests—such as blood tests, urine tests, and blood clotting tests—to help determine your overall health. You may also be scheduled for other tests, such as X-rays or an electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG), if your surgeon thinks they are needed before your surgery.
Your surgeon may include other doctors in your care, depending on your other medical conditions. For example, if you have heart problems, your surgeon may discuss your care with a cardiologist. If you have many medical problems, your regular doctor may do your physical examination before surgery. To help make sure that no problems are missed, it can be helpful to have a doctor who knows you well do this examination and your medical history.
If you will need blood during your surgery, you may wish to donate your own blood. This is called autologous donation. It will have to be arranged several weeks before your surgery. To qualify for autologous donation, you must not be anemic.
Many hospitals or surgery centres have a nurse who will meet with you or call you at home a few days before your surgery. This nurse makes sure all your forms and tests are complete before your scheduled surgery. The nurse also:
Minor surgeries that can be done in your doctor's office or at a same-day surgery centre usually take less than 2 hours, and you can recover at home after the surgery. For these, you most likely will need only oral pain medicines after your procedure. Examples of these types of surgeries are:
For more major surgery or emergency surgery, you will probably stay in the hospital.
Before your surgery, your surgeon or nurse will remind you to do the following:
When you arrive for your surgery, your nurse will:
Your surgeon or the surgical team may also give you some information on what will happen after surgery, such as whether you will have special equipment, like another IV, a urinary catheter, or wound drains.
The time you spend in surgery is known as the intraoperative period. A special surgical team helps the surgeon with your surgery. This team usually includes:
In university or teaching hospitals, doctors with different levels of surgical training may watch or help with your surgery. But your surgeon will be in charge.
The surgical team is trained to provide you with safe care during your surgery. The team members will do a safety check (safety pause) before starting your surgery.
If you are having general anesthesia, a breathing tube (endotracheal tube) is placed in your windpipe or a special airway (laryngeal mask airway, or LMA) is placed in the back of your throat to help you breathe during the surgery. For more information on anesthesia, see the topic Anesthesia.
The place on your skin where the incision will be is washed with a special solution to remove bacteria. All instruments used during your surgery are sterilized to reduce your risk of infection.
Pain control is also an important concern. Near the end of your surgery, your surgeon may inject a long-acting pain medicine at the site of your surgery to decrease your pain for 6 to 12 hours after surgery.
Before surgery, your surgeon reviewed all risks related to your surgery. Your surgeon and the surgical team will keep you safe during your surgery. But surgery is never risk-free. The most common problems after surgery are pneumonia, bleeding, infection, clotted blood (hematoma) at the surgery site, or a reaction to the anesthesia.
In the first 48 hours after surgery, the most likely risks are bleeding or problems with your heart or lungs.
From 48 hours to 30 days after surgery, the most common risks are infection, blood clots, or problems with other body organs, such as a urinary tract infection.
Right after surgery, you will be taken to a recovery area where nurses will care for and observe you. A nurse will check your vital signs and bandages. He or she will also ask about your pain level. Pain levels will likely have already been explained to you before surgery. You will most likely stay in the recovery area for 1 to 4 hours. And then you will be moved to a hospital room or you will go home. You may receive medicine or fluids through your vein (intravenous, or IV) during your time in the hospital.
If you go home, the nurse will give you instructions on breathing and exercises to help prevent any problems. For most minor surgeries, the nurse will encourage you to be as active as possible to prevent these problems.
Pain control is an important concern after surgery. Inflammation or nerve injury from the surgery can cause pain. Your doctor may give you more than one medicine to help relieve pain. Often, opioids are given. In some cases, you may use a patient-controlled anesthesia (PCA) pump so that it's easy to get pain medicine right when you need it.
Relief of any nausea or vomiting is also an important concern. If you will be going home the same day, you will need to drink fluids without vomiting, be upright without fainting, and urinate on your own before you will be sent home.
In addition to any special instructions from your surgeon, your nurse will explain information to help you in your recovery. You will most likely go home with a sheet of care instructions including who to contact if a problem arises. These instructions will include:
A nurse will review these instructions with you. He or she can also help arrange for any care you will need when you go home. This may include scheduling nursing care or visits from other health professionals.
Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have these symptoms:
Your recovery from surgery may be different from what your surgeon expected. Other symptoms or problems may develop after your surgery, even when you follow your surgeon's instructions. This can be very frustrating.
Be sure to call your surgeon if you have an unexpected symptom or problem, including:
|(U.S.) National Institute on Aging: Surgery|
|P.O. Box 8057|
|Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057|
|Phone:||1-800-222-2225 Information Center|
The (U.S.) National Institute on Aging (NIA) is one of the centers of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. This Web site has information about planning and paying for surgery.
|Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Surgery Information|
|540 Gaither Road|
|Rockville, MD 20850|
This Web site has information for patients who are facing surgery. It helps patients and caregivers learn more about what types of questions to ask the primary care doctor and surgeon before surgery.
|Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI)|
|Edmonton, AB T5J 3G1|
The Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI) was established in 2003 by the Canadian federal government to provide leadership and coordination in building a culture of patient safety and quality improvement throughout the Canadian health care system. A not-for-profit corporation, the CPSI promotes best practices, conducts awareness and education programs, and provides advice to policy makers and health professionals on effective strategies to improve patient safety.
|Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) Canada|
|4711 Yonge Street,|
|Toronto, ON M2N 6K8|
The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) Canada is an independent Canadian non-profit agency established for the collection and analysis of medication error reports and the development of recommendations for the enhancement of patient safety. ISMP Canada works to promote the safe use of medications throughout the health care community in Canada through improvement in drug distribution (institution and community), naming, packaging, labelling, computer program design, and drug delivery system design. The institute collaborates with health professionals, institutions, schools, professional organizations, the pharmaceutical industry, and regulatory and government agencies to provide education about adverse drug events and their prevention.
|KidsHealth for Parents, Children, and Teens|
|Nemours Home Office|
|10140 Centurion Parkway|
|Jacksonville, FL 32256|
This website is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. It has a wide range of information about children's health—from allergies and diseases to normal growth and development (birth to adolescence). This website offers separate areas for kids, teens, and parents, each providing age-appropriate information that the child or parent can understand. You can sign up to get weekly emails about your area of interest.
Other Works Consulted
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- Costello AM, Bockstiegel R (2009). Preparing for surgery. In B Narins, ed., Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery and Medical Tests: A Guide for Patients and Caregivers, 2nd ed., vol. 4, pp. 1331–1337. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.
- Doherty GM (2010). Postoperative care. In Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Surgery, 13th ed., pp. 24–32. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Doherty GM (2010). Preoperative care. In Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Surgery, 13th ed., pp. 12–23. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Ford-Martin P (2009). Recovery room. In B Narins, ed., Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery and Medical Tests: A Guide for Patients and Caregivers, 2nd ed., vol. 4, pp. 1366–1367. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.
- Franz J, Bockstiegel R (2009). Post-surgical pain. In B Narins, ed., Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery and Medical Tests: A Guide for Patients and Caregivers, 2nd ed., vol. 4, pp. 1320–1324. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.
- Grant PJ, Jaffer AK (2009). Preoperative assessment and care of the surgical patient. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 8, chap. 4. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
- Gross RJ (2007). Preoperative planning for ambulatory patients. In NH Fiebach et al., eds., Principles of Ambulatory Medicine. 7th ed., pp. 1605–1633. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Hardin RE, Zenilman ME (2010). Surgical considerations in the elderly. In FC Brunicardi et al., eds., Schwartz's Principles of Surgery, 9th ed., pp. 1709–1730. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Hernandez AF, et al. (2004). Preoperative evaluation for major noncardiac surgery. Archives of Internal Medicine, 164(16): 1729–1736.
- Marquardt DL, et al. (2007). Postoperative management of the hospitalized patient. In WW Souba et al., eds., ACS Surgery Principles and Practice, 6th ed., pp. 77–86. New York: WebMD.
- Smeltzer SC, et al. (2010). Postoperative nursing management. In Brunner and Suddarth's Textbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing, 12th ed., pp. 461–483. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Smeltzer SC, et al. (2010). Preoperative nursing management. In Brunner and Suddarth's Textbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing, 12th ed., pp. 425–441. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Catherine D. Serio, PhD - Behavioral Health|
|Last Revised||November 8, 2012|
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