Getting ready for surgery

If you are waiting to have a scheduled surgery, you may not realize that there are things you should do in those days or weeks before to increase your chances of a successful outcome.

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Don’t simply wait for the scheduled date. Take these actions to be as healthy and strong as you can be, says general surgeon Kevin El-Hayek, MD. He offers patients these five tips:

1. Eat a “cleaner diet”

In the days before surgery, eat foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals. “I use the term, ‘cleaner diet,’ focused heavily on fruits and vegetables,” Dr. El-Hayek says. “We know that overall inflammation goes down when you eat foods rich in those respects.”

Also, avoid processed foods, red meat and other foods which are more difficult to break down. ”As the body is preparing for a shock that’s coming up, avoiding those things will decrease inflammatory markers,” he says.

2. Exercise regularly

Among other benefits, getting more exercise in the weeks before a surgery will increase your chances of walking sooner after the surgery.

“Even if you’re not an athlete, patients can train their bodies during the weeks leading up to surgery,” says Dr. El-Hayek. Even something as simple as parking farther away from the door where you work or shop can help.

“Shoot for 5,000 to 10,000 steps a day to increase your stamina. The main thing is that, undoubtedly, one of the discharge criteria you’re going to have to meet before you go home is getting close to your preoperative level of activity,” he says.

3. Kick bad habits

Use the time before surgery to quit smoking, stop drinking or using “any mood-altering substances that can affect your sleep or anxiety levels leading up to surgery,” Dr. El-Hayek says.

“Certainly in the few days leading up to surgery, alcohol and smoking can really affect the anesthesia.”

On the positive side, patients absolutely should engage in “meditation, prayer and things that are important to help people through the trauma that they’re about to undergo,” Dr. El-Hayek says.

4. See your internist

If you have two weeks or more before surgery, it’s especially important to check in and let your doctor know what’s coming up.

“Your primary doctor might want to make changes in your medications to optimize surgery,” Dr. El-Hayek says. “Your blood pressure and blood sugar need to be well-controlled. From a wound-healing standpoint, the better the sugars are controlled, especially for diabetics, the better recovery you’re going to have.”

And he mentions one other reason: “Your primary care physician is going to be the one who sees you afterward, who is going to be managing the changes that happen due to surgery.”

5. Find out about supplements, vitamins

Be sure to ask your doctor about vitamins and supplements, because some of them can interact with other medications, particularly anticoagulants.

Medications that impact bleeding, such as aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs (like Advil®), Plavix® and Coumadin® probably should be stopped, Dr. El-Hayek says.

“But these questions are addressed in the pre-op medical clearance appointment,” he says. “It really is the provider’s role to counsel patients on medication/supplement usage as this varies from patient to patient.”

If you’re planning to have surgery, you’ll want to spend some time preparing. That means taking care of your health, learning as much as you can about the procedure and getting to know the people who will be taking care of you. Planning ahead can help ensure you have a successful procedure and heal faster with a smooth recovery.

Planning ahead can help ensure you have a successful procedure and heal faster with a smooth recovery.

What should you do to prepare for surgery?

There are several steps you should take before your surgery so you’ll feel as relaxed and confident as possible. Start with answering these questions:

  • Are your physicians qualified? Ask your physicians about their experience performing the specific procedure you are having to make sure they are qualified with the appropriate medical education and training.
  • Is the facility licensed and accredited, and are emergency procedures in place? If you are having surgery outside of a hospital — at an outpatient facility or your doctor’s office — be sure it’s licensed (check with your state’s health department) and appropriately accredited by an organization such as The Joint Commission, the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC) or the American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAAASF). Also make sure the facility has medications, equipment and procedures in place to handle emergencies, especially if there is no emergency facility nearby.
  • Who will provide the anesthesia? Be sure your anesthesia care is led by a physician anesthesiologist. A physician anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in anesthesia, pain management and critical care medicine, and works with your surgeon and other physicians to develop and administer your anesthesia care plan. With 12 to 14 years of education and 12,000 to 16,000 hours of clinical training, these highly trained medical experts play a key role in your care. They meet with you before surgery, closely monitor your anesthesia and vital functions during the procedure and take care of you after to assure your recovery is smooth and your pain is controlled.
  • Am I as healthy as I can be? Spend the time before the procedure being as active as you can, eating right and getting good sleep. If you smoke, stop as soon as possible — even if it’s just a day or two before surgery — because smoking can cause problems with breathing and recovery from anesthesia and surgery. Other steps you take will be guided by your meetings with the medical team, including the physician anesthesiologist.
  • How do I avoid surprise medical bills? While your health and safety are your priorities, it’s also important to make sure your insurance coverage is in order before surgery so you don’t receive any unexpected bills. “Surprise medical bills” are caused by “surprise insurance gaps” that occur when your insurance plan offers a low premium but limits the number of physicians in the plan’s network. Before having a medical procedure, ask who will be involved in your care and whether they’re in your plan’s network. Call your insurance company to verify that the hospital or medical center and each physician and provider caring for you are in-network.

Preparing for Surgery: An Anesthesia Checklist

Download and print this checklist with the steps you can take to help ensure a successful surgery.

What do you talk about with the physician anesthesiologist?

Sometime before the day of your surgery, you should meet with your physician anesthesiologist so he or she can gather information that will help determine the right anesthesia care plan for you. Go to the meeting prepared to discuss your medical history, your health habits and your past experiences with surgery and anesthesia. Be sure to discuss these things in detail:

  • Your health habits and medications. Tell your physician anesthesiologist all about your health, such as how physically active you are and if you have chronic health issues, such as asthma or other lung problems, diabetes, heart disease, liver or kidney disease, allergies or any other medical conditions. Be sure to mention if you snore or have other sleep problems; these may be symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, which can make surgery and anesthesia more dangerous. Provide a list of all prescription and over-the-counter medications, supplements and vitamins you take. Your physician anesthesiologist might tell you to stop taking some of them.
  • Your use of alcohol or recreational drugs. The use of recreational drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, narcotics and stimulants should be discussed. These substances can affect how you react to anesthesia and the type and amount you’ll need.
  • Your experience with anesthesia. Tell the physician anesthesiologist if you or a family member has had a bad reaction to anesthesia or pain medication, and make them aware of any anesthesia side effects you’ve experienced — even if they occurred years ago. Also mention if you’ve ever had a stroke or have experienced heat stroke.
  • Your fears. It’s natural to fear surgery and anesthesia. If you’re afraid, tell your physician anesthesiologist. He or she can give you information to ease your mind and help you feel safe.
  • Your questions. Bring written questions to your meeting. Write down the answers, because it’s difficult to remember everything you hear. Bring a friend or family member who can take notes and ask questions, as well as provide information you may not have thought of.
  • Your recovery. The physician anesthesiologist continues to care for you after surgery, so ask about how any pain will be managed and any concerns you have about recovery, returning home and getting back to your normal routine.

Herbal and Dietary Supplements and Anesthesia

Learn how some supplements can affect the anesthesia used to control your pain during surgery or create other surgery-related complications.

What should you expect right before surgery?

As the day of the procedure arrives, plan to:

  • Follow pre-surgery directions and diet. Unless you’re having only local anesthesia, you may be told not to eat or drink anything after midnight before your procedure. This is because of the rare risk of food or liquid in your stomach getting into your lungs while you’re under sedation or general anesthesia. Ask your physician anesthesiologist for guidance; you may be told you can drink clear liquids and take your regular medications.
  • Bring a friend. You won’t be allowed to drive after outpatient surgery, or even after a few days in the hospital if you’re taking pain medication. Plan to have someone take you home.
  • Wear comfortable clothing. Wear or bring loose-fitting clothing. Your body might be sore or swollen from surgery, or you may have bulky bandages over your incisions. Leave jewelry and valuables at home.

Physician anesthesiologists work with your physician team to evaluate, monitor and supervise your care before, during and after surgery, delivering anesthesia, leading the Anesthesia Care Team and ensuring your optimal safety.

“One of the things that determine when you’ll get to leave the hospital, where you’ll go after you’re released and how long you may have to recover in a facility is your ability to go to the bathroom safely on your own,” says Lindsey Yourman, an internist and geriatrician in La Jolla, California, who is affiliated with the Jacobs Medical Center at University of California San Diego Health. “Whether it’s heart surgery or orthopedic surgery, that can become something that is compromised from bedrest.”

Before your procedure, strengthen your quad muscles (needed for getting in and out of bed) by doing sit-to-stand exercises; try 10 reps a day. And ask your insurance company if it will pay for a physical therapy session before you enter the hospital so you can learn other exercises for the muscles that are relevant to your surgery, Yourman suggests. “If you’ve had other indications for therapy, say, you’ve had some falls or trouble with balance, it may be covered.” For those who are frail, there are in-bed exercises, such as rolling over, going from a supine position to a sitting position, flexing your ankles back and forth, and boosting your grip strength (important if you have to use an assistive device). Hold a tennis ball in each hand, squeeze as hard as you can for five seconds, then relax slowly. Repeat 10 times.

Breathe deeply

Pulmonary conditions, including pneumonia, are among the most dangerous postoperative complications. And they’re pretty common. “One of the things that affect lung function is how deeply you’re able to breathe after surgery,” says Mark Neuman, M.D., associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

Bolster your lung power by getting a spirometer, which is a tube you blow into using strong, deep breaths to expand your lungs. (You can get one at a local pharmacy, big-box store or online for about $10.) Use it 10 times, once a day. Simple deep-breathing exercises can also strengthen your diaphragm and core muscles. Yourman suggests box breathing: Inhale deeply through your nose for four seconds; hold that breath in for four seconds; then take a deep breath out of your mouth for four seconds. Wait four seconds before taking another breath. A bonus, according to Yourman, is that deep breathing is good for stress relief. And, of course, if you’re a smoker, the single most important thing you can do before surgery is to quit.

Learn how to load up your plate

“Surgery increases stress on your body, depleting it of important nutrients, which impacts the way that your body responds to healing,” explains Cordialis Msora-Kasago, registered dietitian, nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She suggests building up a reserve to buffer the impact. You don’t have to scarf down energy bars or dump heaping tablespoons of wheat germ into you’re a.m. smoothie; simply maintain a well-balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, fiber and lots of lean protein, the building block for muscles. “Studies show that elderly patients can start to lose muscle in as little as three days when they’re on bedrest,” Msora-Kasago says. “There’s also a lot of evidence that having carbohydrate drinks three to five days prior to surgery may help optimize recovery,” Ko adds. “Talk to your surgeon to see if you should try them to help store short-term energy.”

After your procedure, Ko cautions, realize that “pain medication and anesthesia from surgery can cause constipation.” Down fiber (aim for 25 to 35 grams a day) to stay regular. If you can’t reach that goal from diet alone, pop a fiber supplement and follow it up with plenty of water — six to eight glasses a day. Vitamin C, when combined with zinc (pumpkin seeds are a good source), can also help build collagen to aid the healing of surgical wounds, Msora-Kasago notes.

Prevent postop delirium

Defined as a temporary state of confusion and disorientation that may occur shortly after surgery, postoperative delirium varies with age (older patients are more at risk) and the type of surgery. It affects about 5 percent of patients who undergo cataract surgery, for instance, but up to 50 to 60 percent of adults over 70 who have vascular or orthopedic surgery for something like a hip fracture, Yourman says.

“We’re finely tuned machines who do things throughout our day that maintain our normalness,” observes Michael Englesbe, a transplant surgeon and professor of surgery at the University of Michigan. “When you have surgery, it’s essentially a huge reset on all of those things. Everything gets out of whack.”

Retain some sense of familiarity by packing a well-organized bag containing a few objects from home — maybe a favorite blanket or pictures. Also, be sure to bring any hearing aid or glasses with you, as these can help you stay attuned to your environment. And be sure to rally friends and family to be with you as much as possible at the hospital; experts say these close relationships can be key to reorientating yourself to your environment by reminding you of who you are, where you are and why you’re there.

Finally, before surgery, have an honest conversation with your doc about all of the medications you’re taking, including over-the-counter drugs. “Some patients are on a half-dozen medications; then doctors throw another half-dozen in there around the time of surgery,” Englesbe says. “That cocktail of medications can cause havoc on people’s brains.” Medications that are sedating, such as benzodiazepines for anxiety and insomnia, and some antihistamines, can be problematic, warns Heidi Wierman, a geriatrician affiliated with Maine Medical Center in Portland. What’s more, if you take Xanax every day, but only cop to taking it every once in a while, you may struggle if you don’t have that medication after your surgery.

Stave off stress

Yes, there really is something to the belief in the power of positive thinking. A 2018 French study, for one, found that among patients undergoing colorectal cancer surgery, those who were more satisfied with their life before surgery had fewer complications after it and a shorter hospital stay. “Patients who bring a positive psychological momentum into surgery do better,” Englesbe says.

Cutting down on the anxiety surrounding your upcoming procedure can help, too. “Often patients feel stressed before surgery because they don’t know what to expect,” Ko notes. “When questions are answered — What’s going to happen before surgery and immediately afterward? How long are you going to be in the hospital? What’s the incision going to look like? — anxiety levels go down.” So don’t be shy to speak up and ask questions, even if it means making more appointments with your doctor ahead of your procedure.

Another way to put your mind at ease: Choose a proxy to speak for you and make decisions aligned with your preferences as you undergo surgery. In addition, make sure the proxy has a copy of your living will.

Finally, prepare for potential postsurgical headaches. “The logistics of life — worrying about who is going to take the dog for a walk or cook dinner when you’re down and out for a month — are some of the most stressful things,” Englesbe says. “Put a care team in place — two or three individuals to help with your recovery when you’re recuperating at home. Patients need to accept that love.”

12 Surgery Preparation Steps

November 8, 2017 (Updated: August 16, 2018) Lily Moran

Have you ever been told to avoid eating the night before a surgery? There’s a reason for that. Anesthesia can not only cause nausea, but freeze your larynx reflexes, and undigested food in your stomach can be aspirated into your lungs. Avoiding food before surgery is good advice, but I think it misses the larger point. Your diet and health habits weeks before and after a surgery will have more effect on the surgery outcome and your recovery. Here are 12 tips to maximize your chances of a successful surgery and recovery.

No matter what kind of surgery, no matter how major or minor, no matter your age, surgery can feel daunting. As much as I trust my comrades in the medical field, I still get butterflies before a surgery. For many, the need for surgery can feel like the loss of control. That’s especially true for surgeries that require anesthesia because patients have no idea how a procedure is going until it’s over.

It’s true, you can’t control everything surrounding a surgery. But you can control a lot more than you think. And what you can control can have a very positive effect on both the success of your surgery and the speed of your recovery.

Surgery Preparation Healthy Habits

Most surgeries are scheduled weeks or months in advance, giving you plenty of time to physically and mentally prepare. If surgery’s on your upcoming calendar, here are six pre-surgery health habits that I recommend to all of my patients.

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  1. Talk with your doctors about your medical conditions and medications, as they can have an effect on the surgery itself. For example, patients with high blood pressure before surgery are likely to see their blood pressure elevate during the induction of anesthesia. Some could even develop tachycardia, which is a rapid heartbeat. Apply that lesson broadly and inform the doctor of your entire medical history so that they are best prepared to avoid complications during the surgery.
  2. Cut the carbs from your diet, especially sugars and starches. Why sugars and starches? Sugar weakens your immune system by limiting its ability to fight bad bacteria. Here’s an example many of us can relate to at least one day of the year. Say it’s your birthday and you eat a big meal followed by cake and ice cream. How do you feel about 30 minutes later? That sugar high becomes a sugar crash! During the crash, your digestive system is overrun with sugar and other foods that are difficult to process. The good bacteria in your digestive tract has two main functions: breaking down food and warding off bad bacteria. It’s hard for them to fight bad bacteria when their hands are full trying to break down a large quantity of food with scarce nutritional content. Now multiply that over the course of weeks, months, or even years. This is why some people are chronically sick or have multiple health complications. Their sugar-loaded diet is handcuffing their immune system.
  3. Eat more fruits AND vegetables. It’s common sense that including more fruits and vegetables in your diet will deliver more vitamins and minerals. Those vitamins and minerals are essential for countless functions in your body, especially your immune system. Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant that fights the spread of toxins and infection. Vitamin K helps clot blood and helps delivers calcium to your bones. The list goes on. Finally, make sure you are eating a balance of fruits and Too much fruit means too much sugar. Vegetables are naturally low in sugar and usually deliver more vitamins and minerals than fruit without the carbs.
  4. Regular exercise before surgery has numerous benefits. First, it naturally regulates your heart beat and blood pressure, which reduces the chances of a negative reaction to anesthesia. Second, it can help flush toxins and bacteria out of your lungs and airways, which can reduce your chances of getting a cold, flu, or other respiratory illness. Exercise also strengthens antibodies and white blood cells, which are your body’s biggest line of defense against illness.
  5. Limit/stop drinking and stop smoking. Nothing is healthy about smoking, but it’s hard to stop cold turkey. Using a nicotine patch isn’t a long-term solution, but it can reduce the immediate negative effects that smoking can have on your body in the weeks before surgery. Drinking alcohol, even casual drinking, can have disastrous effects. For example, drinking was shown to have unpredictable effects on anesthesia and can cause other surgical complications such as excessive bleeding and liver damage. When doctors ask how much you drink or smoke, it’s vital that you answer with complete honesty.
  6. Learn about the surgery. You should trust that your doctors know what they are doing, but you should also know what they are doing. Know the answers to all the major questions about the surgery: What is the surgery? Why is it needed? What are possible risks and complications? What precautions are suggested? What is the expected recovery time? Are there alternative options? Ask all doctors and staff involved in the surgery. It’s your body. You have the right to know.

Post-Surgery Recovery Tips

Now that the surgery is over, it’s time to get yourself back to normal. Actually, you want to be better than normal! Here are six more post-surgery healthy habits that will help speed up your recovery.

  1. Continue that healthy diet. You’ve already done your body a favor by eating right before a surgery. Keep it up because now your body really needs vitamins and minerals to heal and recover. To help get a jump start on your post-surgery diet, stock up on healthy food a day or two before the surgery. That way, you have plenty of healthy food and drinks already at your disposal when you come home and have limited time and energy to shop. If the surgery requires a post-op hospital stay, give a shopping list (and a house key) to friends and family to help you out. Speaking of which…
  2. Lean on your support system. Your doctor may advise you to take it easy in the days after surgery. Still, some people are stubborn and operate as if they are the exception to the rule. It’s OK to ask for help. And it’s definitely OK to enjoy being pampered and cared for. It sure beats being alone, stubborn, and in pain!
  3. Wash your hands frequently. Germs cause infections and illness. The last thing you need when you are recovering from surgery is a cold, flu, or other infection.
  4. Laugh frequently and laugh hard. Surgery is scary. Recovery is hard. Take time to laugh. Not only does it cheer you up, but it’s good for you too! It curbs levels of stress hormones in your body. Stress isn’t in our heads. It can manifest physically by weakening your immune system. Before and after surgery, stock up on funny books and magazines. Record funny shows and movies. Subscribe to comedy video channels on YouTube.
  5. Continue to exercise. Your strength, flexibility, mobility, and endurance can be limited during surgery recovery. Going 100% is not advisable. Neither are high-impact exercises like running or other types of cardio. Look for low-impact exercises that are also accessible to many skill levels: biking, swimming, and even yoga. Always consult your doctor about exercising to ensure safety.
  6. Don’t forget about mental health. It’s perfectly natural to feel sad or anxious, especially when those thoughts revolve around surgery. It’s also common to feel hopeless or depressed after surgery because you are in pain and your quality of life isn’t as good as it used to be. Those are powerful reasons to attend to your mental health. Stay on top of your mental health by engaging in hobbies, visiting friends (or inviting them to visit), keeping active, and laughing a lot. If you feel you can’t shake the blues, seek professional help.

Better Health = Better Results

It’s a simple fact: people that practice healthy habits are far less likely to require surgery than those with unhealthy habits. Of those that do have surgery, their healthy habits set them up for positive results. Physical and mental preparation means you are likely to have a quicker recovery with less pain and fewer complications.

Ratini, Melinda, DO, MS. “Tips to Get Ready for Surgery.” WebMD. Published January 22, 2016.

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No one appreciates the news that they need surgery. After all, that news means there’s something wrong that needs to be fixed, and the idea of going under can be frightening. But new medical technologies and strategies are improving surgical outcomes, especially now that doctors know just how much impact self-care can have on surgical outcomes.

A lot of work goes into preparing the mind and body for surgery to ensure the best possible outcome and quickest recovery. Many surgeons suggest rehabilitation or “prehab” for short before surgery to strength the body. In addition to prehab, there are a number of steps that patients can take to prepare both the mind and body for surgery and improve overall health.

Start with these five easy ways to prepare for surgery and give yourself the gift of great self-care.

1. Change Your Perspective

Your mental fortitude is one of the most important factors for a successful recovery. We all deal with stress in different ways, and many of our coping methods are subconscious and based on our core beliefs. That’s necessary for dealing with less stressful situations; without coping skills, we’d be too easily overwhelmed by everyday occurrences.

It’s natural to view events like surgery as “forced upon us” and outside of our control. After all, most people don’t choose it. That negative attitude can impact your ability to recover and your overall health.

Surgery can become necessary for just about everyone. The human body just isn’t infallible; it can break down despite our best efforts. Actively try to change your view of surgery and its role in your healing process. Rather than seeing yourself as a victim, see yourself as a champion undergoing a trial.

Don’t let the idea of surgery become so daunting that it takes over your ability to function in your day to day life. If it does, or if you have anxiety, seek out a talk therapist who can help you deal with your emotions in a positive way.

Take an active and energetic approach to determining how you will deal with your surgery. You can rise to the challenge and learn more about yourself with a constructive mindset. Putting more effort and enthusiasm into a goal will yield a greater sense of accomplishment when you reach the end.

If you can view surgery as a challenge to meet or a winding path you must traverse, you will become stronger and more durable when it’s all said and done.

That sense of accomplishment can and will spur you on to better overall confidence, helping you get through the recovery process and go on to live your life as fully as you can.

2. Learn to Relax

Your mindset about surgery is important, but so, too, is your ability to self-sooth and relax yourself when you’re feeling frazzled. Sometimes you need to back away from everything to get a bit of perspective. Using relaxation techniques is one way to prepare for surgery.

Meditation enjoys a rich history that dates back several thousand years, and it’s increasing in popularity in the west. Though many people associate it with religion, anyone (including you) can learn and benefit from meditation practice.

Sitting and focusing on nothing may seem like a waste of time, at least at first, but that’s just not the case. Meditation studies show that regular practice can calm the mind, help you deal with emotions, and possibly, even make you wiser.

Add occasional meditation to your schedule and you’ll improve your ability to deal with the stress of surgery and your overall life. You’ll feel more positive and be less likely to get caught in anxiety traps.

If you just can’t get into the idea of sitting meditation, try yoga instead. Rather than staying in one place, you focus on becoming more in tune with your body by holding poses. Deep breathing slows your heart and lowers blood pressure, and may even reduce cortisol levels in the body.

Even just adding light stretching and cardio to your daily routine can help you prepare for surgery by improving your mood and physical health. As you become more in-tune with your body, you also improve your ability to detect issues with it — something that can reduce the likelihood of overlooking illness in the future.

3. Organize Your Home/Life

An organized house is an organized mind, and that organized mind is more likely to better cope with stressful experiences. Prepare for surgery by cleaning and organizing your home before you hit the surgical stage so that you have one less thing to worry about during the healing process.

Mental health aside, even the physical benefits of organization are worthy of investigation. Making your home easy and efficient to use while you recover can prevent dangerous falls and save precious energy reserves. Put dishes on the lowest section of the cabinet, stack fresh linens in easy reach, and make freezer meals to last two to six weeks. Clear out obstacles and think of the objects you don’t use; throw or put them away in storage.

Tackling home organization benefits overall life in many ways, too. Keep at it and your new organization skills will become a true habit. That means no more searching for hours for that favorite hat or your little one’s homework. You know where your medication is, you know where your favorite book is, and you don’t need to feel stressed about the mess!

4. Eat Healthier

Do you eat healthy? Could your diet use a bit of improvement? If so, you’re not alone. The average American eats poorly at least some of the time, either because fast food is easier to access or because they’re just too busy living life to cook at home.

This is especially true if you have a surgery coming up. What goes in directly computes to how you feel, and may even impact your healing process. To prepare for surgery, stick with fresh, wholesome foods whenever possible, and skip the sugar — it can impede healing in large amounts.

After surgery, most patients notice a reduction in appetite and motivation. The better you eat in advance of your surgery, the less likely this lack of appetite is to impact your overall health. Stock up on healthy snacks and healthy freezer meals to make eating easy. If you’re concerned about your ability to eat, speak to your doctor about Boost or Ensure-like drinks.

The type of surgery you have will dictate what foods are most appropriate for your new diet. Never start a new diet without first clearing it with your doctor. He or she can help you to create a healthy food plan that works best for your unique health situation.

The general theme of a health surgery prep diet is cutting down on carbohydrates while increasing your fiber and protein intake. Stock up on real fruits and juices for extra vitamin C.

Despite the unique nature of diets, there is one thing all doctors agree you should get rid of: alcohol and cigarettes. Skip them for at least a month or two prior to your surgery. Cutting back on alcohol especially will reduce your caloric intake and help you lose weight and trim down over time.

5. Get More Exercise

Your physical condition before surgery also matters. The better shape you’re in, the faster and more efficiently your body will heal itself afterwards, so one strategy to prepare for surgery is to squeeze in regular exercise in the months leading up to it.

Consider picking up a gym membership if your doctor approves. There’s no time like before a major surgery to improve your lifestyle for the better with a regular exercise plan. Whenever possible, spend at least six weeks on your new exercise program before your surgery. This is just the right amount of time to create a workout habit rather than a temporary fix.

Depending on what you’re having surgery for, you may or may not be able to exercise with ease. If this is the case, seek the advice of a physiotherapist. Even patients in wheelchairs and those who are bedbound can often do modified exercises to help them stay in shape.

A physiotherapist can also identify useful exercises to strengthen areas of the body that directly impact your surgery, e.g. the muscles surrounding a joint.

If you’re ambulatory, improve your cardio by going on regular walks or swimming. Both are excellent low-impact exercises that burn calories and build muscle strength. Continue to build up your muscles by lifting weights, carrying weights while walking, or performing strength training techniques.

6. Make Plans for After Surgery

To relieve stress and prepare for surgery, make sure you have a plan put in place for after your surgery. This includes having a family member or friend who can drive you home and making sure your home is set up for your return. You want to make sure you have the necessary medical supplies stocked at home to assist you during your recovery. Depending on the surgery, you might want to have a hospital bed in your home for you to use until you’ve fully recovered. Visit your local pharmacist to pick up any medical supplies you might need. Having a plan set in place before you go into surgery will put your mind at ease.

These are just six of many strategies to prepare for surgery. Do you have another strategy that has worked for you in the past? Let us know in the comments below!

Getting Ready for Surgery

Bowel preparation

Some operations require the bowel to be cleaned out before surgery using laxatives, enemas or other bowel cleansing preparations.

You will receive instructions from your surgeon if you need bowel prep before your surgery. Please follow these instructions carefully. Failure to properly prepare your bowel for surgery will cause your surgery to be delayed or cancelled on admission.

8. What to expect after surgery

After General Anesthesia

You may feel some minor side effects after general anesthesia. These can include sore throat, hoarseness, nausea, vomiting, headache, sleepiness, lack of appetite or muscle aches and pains. They almost always go away in 24 to 48 hours. Call your doctor or nurse for further advice if they do not settle down.

Post operative confusion (delirium) is more likely to happen if you are 75 years or older, take sleeping pills, anti-anxiety pills, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or use illicit drugs regularly. Telling the nurse before your surgery can help prevent this from happening.

Learn how to recognize delirium by reading the Pamphlet for Families: “Delirium in the Older Person: A Medical Emergency” or by watching the video “Delirium in the Older Person: A Family Guide.”

Anesthetic drugs, including intravenous (IV) sedation may stay in the body for up to 24 hours after your operation. During this time you may be impaired. Therefore, for 24 hours after anesthetic or intravenous sedation it is recommended that you.

Do not:

  • make important decisions or sign documents
  • drive a car or work with machinery
  • do any dangerous activities like bike riding, swimming, or climbing ladders
  • travel alone by public transportation e.g. bus
  • go to work or do business
  • drink alcohol
  • take tranquilizers or sleeping pills
  • have primary responsibility for the care of another person e.g. babies, small children, frail elderly

Pain Control

Your nurse will help to take care of any discomfort you may have. Pain can be managed in several ways. These include pills, injections, patient controlled analgesia (PCA) pumps and epidural injections. Your surgeon and/or anesthesiologist will decide which is the best method for you depending on the type of surgery you have.

Pain medications work best when taken at regular intervals and before the pain gets too bad. Do not hesitate to tell your nurse when you are getting uncomfortable. You should be comfortable enough to turn, move your arms and legs in bed and to do deep breathing and coughing exercises.

To help measure your discomfort, your nurse may ask you to rate your pain using a “pain intensity scale”. One easy method is to use a number scale and rate your pain from 0 – 10. Zero means no pain and 10 means the worst pain you can imagine. You can also describe pain with words like none, mild, moderate, severe or worst possible.

Pain Intensity Scale

Incisions, dressings and drains

Incisions are closed with stitches (sutures), clips (staples) or dissolvable stitches. Your surgeon will decide which is the best method for you. You may have a bandage over your incision that will be changed as needed. Sometimes your surgeon needs to put a drain near the incision to help remove excess fluid. If this applies to you, your surgeon will explain this before surgery.

Fluids and diet

Your intravenous (IV) will be removed as soon as you are drinking enough fluids. Your diet will be increased depending on the type of surgery you’ve had and how you are tolerating the food.


Follow post-op activity instructions from your surgeon. Generally, you will recover quicker if you move about as soon as possible. Do not get up on your own until the nurse tells you it is okay. Your nurse will encourage you to deep breathe and cough and to do leg exercises while you are in bed. You will be helped out of bed as soon as it is allowed for your type of surgery.

Breathing & Leg Exercises Before and After Surgery


Your nurse will watch your urinary and bowel functions after surgery. Some patients will have a catheter to drain urine placed in their bladder before or during surgery. If this applies to you, your surgeon or nurse will explain this before your surgery.

9. Your Hospital Stay

Most patients are admitted the same day as their surgery. Check in at the front desk. You will be directed to the surgical admission area to:

  • change into a hospital gown
  • sign your Consent for Surgery form (if you have not already done so)
  • complete admission procedures
  • receive pre-operative medications and have an intravenous started, if ordered by your doctor

One family member or friend can stay with you until you are taken to the operating room. They will be asked to take your belongings home for safekeeping and bring them back after your surgery. If you are alone, the staff will transfer your items to your room.

Before going to the operating room, you will be asked to:

  • empty your bladder
  • remove your glasses/contact lenses, prosthesis, wigs, body piercings and/or dentures

You will be moved to the operating room “holding area”. You will be asked questions you have already answered. This is to double-check all your information. Your surgeon or anesthesiologist may visit you there.

You will be taken into the operating room when it is ready. A nurse will stay with you to explain what is happening, answer any questions and offer support. The length of time of your surgery depends on the type of surgery.

After surgery you will be moved to the recovery room. The recovery room nurses will watch you closely. They will give you medication for pain and nausea as needed.

The length of time you are in the recovery room will depend on the type of surgery and how you respond to the anesthetic. It is common to not remember much of your time in the recovery room.

If you are staying overnight, you will be moved to a nursing unit. There are many things that can delay your arrival in your room after surgery. We request that family/friends allow extra time for you to get to your room.

10. Going Home

Day surgery discharge is usually one to two hours after the surgery. Discharge for overnight stays is usually between 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The staff will tell your family/friend when to pick you up.

If you are discharged before someone is able to pick you up, we may ask you to wait in the lounge for your ride.

Discharge instructions

Before you leave the hospital your nurse will:

  • help you to get dressed, if needed
  • review your care instructions with you
  • provide you with written discharge instructions and prescriptions, when applicable

Please ensure that you have all your belongings and any medications or valuables with you before you leave the hospital.

On returning home

When you return home, be sure to:

  • follow the instructions given to you
  • fill any prescribed medications and take as directed
  • make/keep appointments for follow-up care with your doctor
  • contact your doctor, a walk-in clinic, HealthLink BC at 8-1-1, or the Emergency Department for any problems after surgery.

Hospital bill

Most hospital stays are covered under the B.C Medical Services Plan. Uninsured residents, non-Canadians, or persons not covered by the health care plan must pay the full cost of their stay and/or procedure prior to admission. You may pay by credit card, debit, cheque or cash.

Rehabilitation Services

Sometimes after surgery, patient’s require some form of rehabilitation services. If this pertains to you, your surgeon will send in a referral for you with specific instructions.

Adult Rehabilitation Services
Queen Alexandra Orthotics, Prosthetics and Seating

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