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What can I do to help make my operation and recovery go smoothly?

Talking with your surgeon, nurse, and other members of the health care team about your care is the key to getting the best care possible. Learn what steps you should take before and after your operation, follow all directions carefully (such as not eating or drinking for a certain amount of time before the operation), and ask questions if you don't understand something.


What should I do before the operation?

Talk with your surgeon about the operation, including why you need it. Make sure you find out about the risks, expected benefits, possible complications, alternatives, and recovery time. Tell your surgeon your medical history. Don't forget to mention chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, or allergies to anything, including medicines, foods, preservatives, or latex. Share your health information with everyone on your surgical team, in case the information hasn't been passed along to others involved in your care.


Tell your surgeon if you or close relatives have had problems with anesthesia, such as a high body temperature.


Also tell your surgeon if you snore. Loud and frequent snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea. The anesthesia provider needs to know if you have sleep apnea so she can adjust the medicines and care she gives you during surgery.


Tell your medical team about all the medicines you take or have recently taken, including herbal supplements, vitamins, and over-the-counter (nonprescription) products. These could interact with medicine used in your operation, causing problems. Ask if you should take your usual medicines on the day of your operation.


If you drink alcohol every day or use recreational drugs, be honest with your surgeon because alcohol and drugs can affect your safety during an operation.


If you smoke, try to stop before the operation. Smoking increases your risk of infection and breathing problems. If you can't quit, make sure your surgeon knows that you smoke.


What should I do on the day of the operation?

Make sure you read and understand the patient-consent form before signing it. If you don't understand it, ask the surgeon to explain. Check that the information on your ID bracelet is correct. Remind your surgeon and nurses about your allergies or chronic health conditions, if you have any.


Have someone on the surgical team mark the operation site with a special pen to prevent any confusion. For example, if you're having an operation on your left knee, someone should mark that knee.


Arrange for a family member or friend to be at the hospital or surgery center to help you get home after the operation.


Surgery is over. Now what?

Hand washing is the most important thing you can do to prevent any kind of infection. Wash your hands often, especially after using the restroom. Don't be afraid to remind hospital staff to wash their hands too. Avoid people who have colds or other infections. Keep the dressing over your incision dry and clean. If it gets wet or bloody, call your nurse.


Even if you're uncomfortable, be sure to walk and take deep breaths. The nurse will give you medicine to make these activities less painful. Be sure to tell your nurse if you need more medicine.


Your doctor will prescribe pain medicine for you in the hospital and to take at home if you need it after you're discharged. Don't try to tough it out; taking pain medicine as prescribed speeds up recovery by letting you do activities that you might avoid if you're in pain. When you're at home, don't take a bigger dose without talking with your doctor.


Before you go home, make sure you understand your discharge instructions. Follow the doctor's orders about what you should eat and what you can and can't do. Keep your follow-up doctor visits and arrange for help at home if you need it.