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What to Ask Your Surgeon Before an Operation

By Kara Mayer Robinson, Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 11, 2016

Getting nervous as the big day approaches? You'll feel more relaxed if you meet with your surgeon beforehand to get your questions answered. He can tell you what to expect and explain how to prepare.

Where will the operation take place?

Most surgeries used to happen at hospitals, says Frederick L. Greene, MD, FACS, a medical director at the Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, N.C. Now many are done in an "outpatient" center, which means you don't have to stay overnight.

What will happen during surgery?

Ask your surgeon to walk you through the steps. Find out what kind of technique will be used.

Also ask about the type of anesthesia you'll get to keep you numb and pain-free during the operation.

Who will be involved?

A group of professionals will take care of you before, during, and after surgery. Besides the surgeon, there may be an anesthesiologist, nurses, and assisting doctors.

Todd J. Albert, MD, surgeon-in-chief at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, suggests you ask your surgeon who's on your medical team and how much experience they have.

What can I do to prepare?

Find out what you'll need to do to get ready. For instance:

  • Will I need to get tests?
  • Do I need to give blood?
  • Are there certain medicines I need to take?
  • Will I have to stop eating or drinking at a certain time?

Ask your doctor what you can do before surgery to boost the odds of a good result, Albert says. He may want you to exercise or improve your nutrition.

There may also be things you shouldn't do. For example, you may have to limit or avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and specific medications.

What's the recovery like?

Get details about what you can and can't do after your procedure. You may need to take time off from work or get help to care for yourself or your kids.

Consider things like:

  • How long will I be in the hospital?
  • When I'm home, will I need special help, supplies to care for my surgical cut, or medication?
  • Will I need physical therapy?
  • When will I feel back to my old self again?
  • Is there anything I can do to help my recovery?

Ask for a timeline. "Find out what you'll be able to do on day 1, day 5, etc.," Albert says. Many surgeons have a fact sheet with all these things listed.

What are the risks?

Think about possible impacts to your health:

  • What's the most common one?
  • What's the worst thing that can happen?
  • What are the chances of a complication?

Can I ask you more questions later?

It may be a lot to take in during this visit. Ask your surgeon if it's OK to call or come back later with questions.

You may also want to bring a family member or friend who can take notes or fill you in later on things you may have missed during the appointment.

What You Should Tell Your Surgeon

On the other hand, there's information you should share. It's important for your surgeon to know your medical history:

  • Your medications and their dosage, including aspirin, acetaminophen, or antibiotics
  • Herbs and supplements you take
  • Allergies
  • Medications or treatments you've already tried for your condition
  • Other operations you've had
  • Any problems you've had during other operations, like nausea and vomiting

Once you've had your questions answered, you'll feel more confident as your surgery date gets closer.


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