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Before You Have Surgery: Things to Know

Preparing Before Your Surgery


Updated March 20, 2013

Anesthesia and Surgery Image

Anesthesia & Surgery

Photo: © Andrew Olney/Getty Images

Before you decide to have surgery it is essential that you take the time to prepare for a great surgery and weigh your options. The decision to have surgery is one of the biggest health care decisions a person can make, so doing your research is important. A successful procedure requires some work before the big day, including investigating your options when it comes to procedures, surgeons and whether or not the risks of surgery are acceptable.

Having a good outcome, and being healthier than you were prior to surgery, is the goal. For some people, an excellent result means an end to pain, for others it means years of additional life. Regardless of the goal, having a highly successful surgery does not happen without effort.

Exploring whether or not you actually need surgery is part of preparing to have the best outcome you can have. Learn more about non-surgical options, as well as the downside of postponing surgery.

There are cases where surgery is an absolute necessity, but yours is not necessarily one of them. Physical therapy, medication and minimally invasive procedures can go a long way in preventing the need for surgery. Avoiding surgery, in some cases, is the best way to have an outstanding result.

If you decide to have surgery, the most important decision you can make is choosing the right surgeon. Don’t rely on the phone book or a friend of a friend’s recommendation; do your own research to find a qualified surgeon.

There are many types of surgeons, ranging from general surgeons to highly specialized practitioners, some board certified, some not. Determining what type of surgeon you need is just as important as finding a skilled doctor, as the world’s finest brain surgeon cannot help you if you truly need an orthopedic surgeon.

Once you have found your ideal surgeon, it is time for a serious discussion of the risks of surgery. No surgery can be risk-free, but being aware of the risks is an essential part of making sure surgery is right for you.

Weighing the risks versus the rewards of your procedure will help you determine if you are ready to undergo surgery. If the benefits will dramatically improve your quality of life, and the risks pale in comparison, it may be time to schedule your surgery.

If you are unsure that surgery is right for you, you have options. Consult with another surgeon, explore a less invasive procedure, or postpone until you are confident that you are making the right choice.

If your surgeon, or your family, is insisting upon surgery and you feel like you are being pressured into a procedure that you don’t want, explore your rights. Learn more about the patient’s bill of rights, including the right to say no to surgery, before you make your decision. In most situations, you have the right to say no, even if the surgeon is absolutely convinced that surgery is a necessity.

If you decide to go through with surgery after gathering the information that you need, it is time to make sure your surgeon is as well-informed as you are. There are certain things he or she must know before you go for your procedure. Being candid with your surgeon is absolutely necessary, and some information that is very important doesn’t always seem so until it is too late.

If you have decided that surgery is right for you after doing research on the procedure, your surgeon and your surgical risks, it is probably time to take the plunge and schedule your surgery. One more piece of planning should happen in the weeks before your surgery, which is planning for your discharge.

Preparing for your recovery may require little more than having ibuprofen and an ice pack on hand, but it is important to have what you need waiting for you when you arrive home. If you need special accommodations when you return home, such as a hospital bed or a wheelchair, plan to have these items waiting for you.


Having Surgery? What You Need To Know. The Department of Health and Human Services, Agency For Healthcare Research and Quality, October 2005.

How Can I Recover From Heart Surgery. The American Heart Association. 2007. http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@hcm/documents/downloadable/ucm_300447.pdf

Patient Information Pamphlet, American College of Surgeons, 2007

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