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Frequently Asked Questions about Surgery

(Originally posted May 1999 on About Anesthesiology)

See also the sections on:

(Disclaimer: These answers represent my personal opinion. Although they reflect my professional training and judgement, the only person who can determine what a specific individual needs and answer all the pertinent questions is that person's own doctor after talking to the patient, examining the patient, obtaining any tests that are indicated, etc.)

  1. Who will be in the operating room when I am having the surgery done?
  2. What are the pre-surgery appointments for? Why do I have to see so many people and answer so many questions?
  3. What is informed consent?
  4. What do I need to tell the anesthesiologist?
  5. Will I need to receive blood for the surgery?
  6. Why can't I eat or drink before the surgery?
  7. What about jewelry? Why do I have to remove it all?
  8. What happens in the operating room once I get there?
  9. What about anesthesia?
  10. What happens after the surgery?
  11. After I recover? Then what?

 

1. Who will be in the operating room when I am having the surgery done?

When you are undergoing a surgical procedure, your care is in the hands of many people who make up the operating room team. Your surgeon will obviously be present and will likely have assistants which may be other surgeons or physicians, nurses and/or technologists. A specialist in anesthesiology will be present as well - either a physician (known as an anesthesiologist) or a certified registered nurse anesthetist (or CRNA). Their job is to prevent discomfort, monitor your condition and care for the general needs of the patient. Others in the room include a scrub nurse who prepares the instruments and supplies and a circulating nurse who assists with patient safety and other needs in the room.

2. What are the pre-surgery appointments for? Why do I have to see so many people and answer so many questions?

The pre-surgical appointments serve a dual purpose. First, they are a chance for your team to gather important information about you and your medical condition in order to ensure yor safety and your comfort. In addition, it is a chance for you to ask any questions you might have about what is going to happen, make decisions about your options and give informed consent.

3. What is informed consent?

Informed consent means that you, the patient, has been presented with the options for treatment, the commone and serious risks and expected benefits of each option and what the likely outcomes of the treatment (or of no treatment) are. In addition, you should be given a chance to ask questiosn. Informed consent is usually given in writing and requires a signature (exceptions are extreme emergencies).

4. What do I need to tell the anesthesiologist?

It is important that you are complete and honest when answering questions prior to surgery. These questions relate to your general health and any specific medical conditions that may present a risk to you. You should be prepared to discuss your health history, the history of your blood relatives (if known), any medications including over the counter products, smoking, drug use, past experiences with surgery and anesthesia, etc.

5. Will I need to receive blood for the surgery?

Whether you will need a blood transfusion will depend on your medical condition, the type of surgery you are having, your personal beliefs and preferences, etc. This should be a topic of discussion with your surgeon and anesthesiologist.

6. Why can't I eat or drink before the surgery?

You should not eat or drink anything before your surgery. You anesthesiologist will give you instructions about how long you need to fast. You should also refrain from smokingSome types of surgery require you to be fasting in order to aid in the actual surgery (stomach surgery for example) or to reduce the chances of infection. Anesthesia is a risk when it is given with a full stomach as well and can result in what is known as aspiration. Basically, aspiration occurs when stomach contents end up in the lungs - this can lead to a serious pneumonia and a life threatening situation.

7. What about jewelry? Why do I have to remove it all?

During surgery, the surgeon may use an instrument to stop bleeding. This instrument relies on an electrical current. If you are wearing metal jewelry which is in contact with your skin, you might receive an electrical burn in the area of contact.

8. What happens in the operating room once I get there?

You might be given some medication prior to entering the operating room. Therefore, you might be aware some of what happens when you first enter the operating room but you may or may not remember it. The lights may be very bright and it might feel very cool in the room. There will be a great deal of equipment in the room. The operating room team will be dressed in gowns, masks, head covering, etc. which may make them look unusual or unrecognizable. You will be moved from the stretcher to a narrow table and monitors to watch your vital signs will be attached to your body.

9. What about anesthesia?

There are four types of anesthesia commonly employed - general, regional, monitored anesthesia care (MAC) and local. In very broad terms: general affects your entire body and may be given intravenously or as an inhaled gas. These medications make you dizzy or drowsy and cause you to lose consciousness. As a result of these medications, you might stop breathing on your own and therefore you might have breaths given to you through a mask or a small tube gently inserted into your lungs through your mouth. Regional anesthesia only affects a section of your body, making it numb. You may remain awake or be sedated. Monitored anesthesia care (MAC) involved medications given to make you drowsy and to relive pain. Local anesthesia affects only the location of surgery. It is usually injected, but can sometimes be given as a ointment, cream or spray. You may remain awake or be sedated for this as well. Additional details about anesthesia are in the Frequently Asked Questions about Anesthesia section.

10. What happens after the surgery?

You will be allowed to rest ina recovery area or in a room while the anesthesia wears off. This is an opportunity for your medical care to continue and to insure that you do not have any problems from the surgery or anesthesia. You might have some side effects - common ones include nausea, vomiting, shivering, thirst, a sore throat or a sore jaw. Many of these are irritating but not dangerous or life threatening. Many are easily treated. Make sure you let your nurse know if you should experience anything unpleasant.

11. After I recover? Then what?

You may go to a hospital room and stay. Depending on your surgery, you might be able to go home (ambulatory surgery). You will be given specific instructions about wound care, eating, activity level, medications, etc. and should follow these carefully. Again, don't be afraid to ask questions when you receive these instructions.

 

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