Surgery – preparation

Tips for preparing for surgery

Key points about preparing for surgery

  • Having surgery can be a challenging experience.
  • Whether it’s a small procedure or a major operation, preparing ahead of time can help you to have a successful procedure, smoother recovery and faster healing.
  • Here are a few tips to help your prepare for surgery.
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At some hospitals and for some surgeries you may be asked to attend a pre-operative assessment clinic (also called pre-admission clinic). You'll be asked questions about your health, medical history and home circumstances. Sometimes some tests, such as blood tests, may be carried out. This is to check whether you have any medical problems that might need to be treated before your operation, or whether you'll need special care during or after the surgery. You need to bring any medication you are currently taking to this pre-admission clinic.

This is an opportunity to find out as much as you can about what's involved in your operation. It's a good idea to take along one key person to your appointments, so they know what is happening and can support you. The more you inform family/whānau and friends about your health, the more helpful they can be. Ask questions about what to expect after surgery.

Video: Shared Decision Making, a short film

This short film describes how shared decision making could help you plan for surgery. This video may take a few moments to load.
(Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Australia, 2020)

Examples of questions to ask about your surgery

If there is something you don't understand about your operation, it's okay to ask questions, such as these:

  • What is the surgery I am having?
  • Are there any possible side effects or complications of this surgery?
  • How long will I take to get better?
  • Will I need to stop eating or drinking on the day of the procedure? If so, for how long?
  • How long will I stay in hospital for?
  • What type of help will I need for when I go home?

About your medicines

Before your surgery, let your doctor know about all the medicines you are taking, as well as vitamins and herbal supplements you take.

  • Ask about whether you should continue taking them or if you need to stop.
  • If your hospital doctor has asked you to take any medicines before surgery, make sure you do so.
  • If you take insulin or tablets for diabetes, discuss this with your doctor before your surgery.
  • If you have been told to stop taking any regular medication, you must do so – if you don’t your surgery might have to be cancelled. 
  • Also, tell your doctor if you are allergic to certain medication or if you or any of your relatives have had a problem with anaesthetic.

Generally people who maintain a reasonable level of health before surgery have better results. Get yourself as fit and healthy as possible before surgery by stopping smoking, exercising as advised by your doctor, eating a balanced diet and limiting or avoiding alcohol.

One of the many functions of your skin is to act as a barrier to infection. It keeps out the sort of bacteria that can enter your bloodstream and cause problems with a new hip, knee or other implant. This is why it is important to avoid cuts, grazes or even insect bites before your operation. Infected eczema, psoriasis, leg ulcers or other open wounds could also lead to an operation being cancelled on the day. If you damage your skin or you have a flare-up of a skin condition between your pre-operation assessment and your treatment, it's vital that you call the hospital and ask to speak to a nurse. The nurse will be able to discuss your concerns and decide if you need to attend another assessment.

Video: Staying safe before and after surgery (English version)

This video may take a few moments to load.

(HQSC, NZ, 2018)

Most people experience a certain amount of anxiety before an operation, but if you are really anxious don’t be afraid to contact the hospital to let them know. They will be able to provide advice and information to help you feel less anxious. Some may even allow you to visit the hospital beforehand to meet the team and see the care environment.

If your operation or procedure is a day surgery, where you will be able to go home on the same day, you will not need to pack an overnight bag. For other surgeries, you may need to be in hospital for a days afterwards. In this case, you will need to pack a bag. Make sure you have everything you need. If you are staying in hospital, make a list of all the things you might need and start packing a few days before.

Examples of items you may want to take with you
  • nightwear, pyjamas
  • day clothes
  • underwear
  • slippers
  • a small hand towel
  • toiletries (toothbrush, hairbrush, razor)
  • sanitary products
  • mobile phone
  • books or magazines
  • eye glasses or contact lenses
  • mobile phone and charger
  • any equipment you need to help you move (such as a walking stick) or communicate (such as a hearing aid)
  • address book with important numbers
  • small amount of money (no more than $20)

Don’t forget to make travel arrangements, as it is unlikely that you will be able to drive yourself to and from hospital. If you are relying on friends or family, give them plenty of notice so they can ensure they are free to help.

Be sure to let family and friends know about your hospital’s visiting hours, and let them have a contact number just in case. If a family member or friend is taking you home when you are well enough to be discharged, make sure they know when and in plenty of time for them to be free to help.

If your doctor has advised you not to eat or drink for a specified period of time before your operation, always follow their advice. This includes light snacks, sweets and water. If you don’t, your operation might be cancelled. Having an empty stomach greatly reduces the risk of vomiting under anaesthetic. If you are on insulin for diabetes you will still need to follow the fasting advice, but let your medical team know about your condition.

Make sure to have a bath or shower before you arrive, and remove all body piercings, make-up and nail polish. As well as reducing unwanted bacteria in the hospital, it also helps the medical team to see your nails and skin so they can check your blood circulation.

If for whatever reason you are unable to come to hospital for your surgery, please let the medical team know as soon as possible. If you develop a cough, cold or fever a few days before surgery, let the medical team know so that they can assess whether or not it is safe for your surgery to go ahead. Let your hospital know too if you have had diarrhoea or upset stomach. Whether it is you or the hospital who has to cancel, every effort will be made to find an alternative date for your surgery, as quickly as possible. 

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