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What Happens in Surgery

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 11, 2016

The more you know about what to expect when you go for your surgery, the less nervous you'll be. If you have any questions about what will happen, call your surgeon's office before the day arrives.

Who will be on my surgical team?

A group of doctors and nurses work together to make sure everything goes smoothly. The specific people depend on the type of procedure you're going to have. In general, your team will have these pros.

Surgeon. This doctor leads the team and does the operation. Surgeons have to complete 4 years of medical school, plus at least 4 years of special training. The one you choose should be experienced in the type of procedure you're having.

Anesthesiologist. This doctor gives you medicine that makes you pain-free during surgery.

Certified registered nurse anesthetist. He assists your anesthesiologist and monitors you before, during, and after your operation to make sure you get the right amount of pain medicine.

Surgical tech. He sets up the tools your surgeon will use and makes sure they're sterile.

Operating room nurse. He helps the surgeon during your procedure. For instance, he may pass instruments and supplies during the operation.

Will I feel any pain during the operation?

You'll get medicine, called anesthesia, so that you won't feel anything. The type you get is based on the procedure you're having and your overall health.

Local anesthesia. It blocks pain in just the part of your body where you have surgery. You'll still be awake and alert.

Regional anesthesia. You're injected with medicine that numbs the larger area of your body where the surgery takes place.

General anesthesia. It puts you to sleep and numbs the pain during your operation. You get this type of medicine through an IV in your vein or by breathing into a mask.

What happens when I get to the hospital?

You'll usually be asked to arrive about 2 hours before your operation starts. A registered nurse will greet you, help you prep, and discuss your medical history and the medicines you take. You'll also get a chance to talk to people on your surgical team about the operation.

What happens when I get to the hospital? continued...

Before you go to the operating room, you change into a gown. The nurse will remind you to remove things like your jewelry, glasses or contact lenses, hearing aids, or a wig if you have them.

A nurse checks your heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. The surgeon may mark the spot on your body where the procedure will be done. A nurse places an IV line in your arm so the doctor can give you fluid and medicine during your operation.

When it's time for your surgery, you're wheeled into the operating room on a stretcher.

What will happen during my surgery?

Once you're in the operating room, you breathe oxygen through a mask. Your anesthesiologist gives you medicine to prevent pain.

Your surgical team will track your health during the whole procedure. They'll probably use:

  • A clip on your finger to measure your oxygen levels
  • A cuff on your arm to check blood pressure
  • Pads on your chest to keep tabs on your heart rate

How does my surgical team prevent infection?

It's rare to get an infection during surgery. Your team does everything it can to protect you.

Before the surgery starts, a nurse cleans your skin with an antiseptic.

He may remove hair from the area and place a sterile drape over your body. It will have an opening in the place where the surgeon will work.

Your doctors and nurses will clean their hands and arms up to their elbows with a germ-killing cleaner before the operation. They'll wear masks, gowns, and gloves.

Afterward, your cut gets cleaned and covered.

You may also get antibiotics before your procedure to help prevent an infection from starting.

Where will I go after my surgery?

You'll wake up in a recovery room. A nurse checks your heart rate, breathing, and the bandaged area where your procedure was done. He might ask you to take deep breaths and cough to clear your lungs.

Until you're fully awake and all your medical signs (like blood pressure and heart rate) are stable, you'll stay in the recovery room. How much time you spend there depends on what kind of surgery you had.

After that, you'll get sent either to a hospital room or back to your home. Either way, you'll be ready to be greeted by your loved ones and begin the road to recovery.


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