OGDEN — Sometimes surgery is an emergency that can’t be helped. However, if you are facing elective surgery and have time to prepare, experts say there’s a lot you can do to have success both before, during and after the operation.
First of all, research your doctor. According to the American College of Surgeons, every patient should ask for recommendations, go online to read reviews and talk to former patients. It’s also appropriate to ask the surgeon how long they’ve been practicing and what their experience is with the procedure you are having.
According to Consumer Reports on Health, a battery of tests before surgery may not be needed, and in fact, might even cause harmful false alarms, but many doctors still order unnecessary tests out of habit or fear of a lawsuit, the report states. You should only have the tests that will clear you for the type of surgery you’re having. Ask if the surgical facility is accredited and properly staffed as well as the risks and benefits of the operation.
“For example, if you have high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems, an EKG will be ordered,” said Valerie K. Rumpsa, a registered nurse at Lakeview Hospital. “If you have lung disease or congestive heart failure, a chest X-ray will be ordered. Each test is only ordered if necessary to perform your procedure and give the best information needed to optimize your care and prevent complications.”
Fasting? Not so fast
Many people are also told to fast up to 12 hours before surgery to avoid aspiration. However, the American Society of Anesthesiologists has revised its guidelines for some patients, allowing them to consume clear liquids, black coffee, carbonated beverages and fruit juice without pulp up to two hours before surgery. Very light meals, such as toast and tea, can be consumed up to six hours before surgery and heavy meals up to eight hours before surgery. The new guidelines were put into place after extensive research over the past 10 years, including nurse researchers at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas who showed that fasting too long can cause stress on the body, such as headaches, dizziness and dehydration, and actually slows recovery time.
Nutrition is also important in the weeks before surgery, say the experts. Rumpsa said a healthy diet and exercise program helps with the healing process after surgery and regular exercise helps to build strength and energy, getting you out of bed and walking around sooner. In a 2013 report done by the British Journal of Anesthesia, people who were in an exercise program before receiving heart surgery had shorter hospital stays, fewer blood clots and fewer cases of pneumonia.
Relax, breathe deep
It’s also wise to practice deep breathing if you know you’re going to be having surgery in the near future, Rumpsa said. Sit or lie down and place one hand on your abdomen. Breathe slowly through your nose and concentrate on filling your lower lungs with air and feeling your abdomen rise. This deep breathing technique can help reduce your risk of contracting pneumonia after surgery and can also help with anxiety.
Another concern after surgery is the risk of developing blood clots. Rumpsa said this can be prevented by taking medications as ordered and doing ankle rotations and position changes.
Other tips and advise from Rumpsa to ensure a successful surgery include showering the morning of surgery, removing items with metal, contact lenses, make-up, nail polish and jewelry. If you are having total joint replacement surgery, prepare your home by removing throw rugs, electrical cords, clutter or anything else you could trip on.
Stop smoking. Smoking delays healing. Bring a list of medications you are currently taking. Change your bedding before you leave so you come home to fresh, clean sheets. Keep your incision site clean and dry, get plenty of sleep, walk with assistance if you are dizzy and drink plenty of fluids.
Rumpsa also recommends preparing an advance medical directive before having surgery.
And last but not least, relax. Psychological stress can trigger chemical changes in the body, impairing the immune system, according to Consumer Reports on Health. Anxiety has been linked to slower healing, more pain and longer hospital stays. Deep breathing, listening to music, exercising and talking to your doctor are all ways that can help.