Countdown to surgery

Hour glass signifying the countdown to surgery

Are you scheduled to have a surgery soon? If so, we’d like to help you get ready for the experience by sharing both the official medical profession guidance and insights from a personal connection on what worked for them. Here’s our countdown from a month before (if you are given that window of time) to surgery day.

Questions to ask

The American Society of Anesthesiologists recommends getting informed so you can have peace of mind. Here are some of the things they suggest asking your primary care provider, and surgical staff:

  • Are your physicians qualified? Ask about their experience performing the specific procedure you are having to make sure they are qualified with the appropriate medical education and training.
  • Is the facility licensed and accredited, and are emergency procedures in place? If you are having surgery outside of a hospital — at an outpatient facility or your doctor’s office — be sure it’s appropriately licensed by checking with your state’s health department.
  • Who will provide the anesthesia? Be sure your anesthesia care is led by a physician anesthesiologist (a medical doctor who specializes in anesthesia, pain management and critical care medicine, and works with your surgeon and other physicians to develop and administer your anesthesia care plan).
  • How can you avoid surprise medical bills? Make sure your insurance coverage is in order before surgery so you don’t receive any unexpected bills. Talk with your insurance company to verify that the hospital or medical center and each physician and provider caring for you are in-network.

Data gathering

Preparation is key – gather the following information both digitally (on your phone in a section called MEDICAL so you have a historical record, and can update it regularly). Then bring a folder with print outs as a back-up – that you can leave with a loved one on the day of the surgery.

  • Past surgeries
  • Illnesses
  • Vaccinations
  • Allergies
  • Medications taken/taking now
  • Vitamins/supplements

Everything about you that the surgical team needs to know to make sure they can take care of you.

Getting healthy before undergoing the knife

It sounds strange, but, in our experience, surgery is like a prize fight – you need to be as healthy as possible to withstand the procedure and recover after. We understand that something’s wrong physically, that’s why you need surgery. But the rest of your mind-body-spirit needs to be as well as possible right now.

  • Do you suffer with depression? Are you medicated and/or under a therapist’s care? Read this for support and ideas on how to get help. The pain medications administered before surgery can mess with your head – it’s important to be honest with your medical team, and get support after discharge.
  • How’s your psyche? Always intended to start meditating but never got round to it? This is a great time to start – it will really help you deal with the brain fuzzies of surgery, worries beforehand, and dealing with recovery afterwards. Here’s what we know about meditation.
  • Do you abuse alcohol/drugs to cope with life? If so, you must tell them. It will be dangerous to take you under anesthesia if you’re already under the influence – or suddenly go into withdrawal.
  • Need help quitting smoking? We’re here for you – start reading this and let’s get you beyond nicotine addiction for good.
  • Struggling to eat properly? We’ve been there – try this. Especially if you need to detox your fridge so there’s healthy food to eat when you return from the hospital.
  • Not sleeping well? Perhaps you need a slumber detox – here’s what know about that. Sleep is essential for cell repair after surgery. Make sure you’re coming home to a haven of rest.
  • If you’re a recovering alcoholic/addict, be upfront with your surgical team, and your sober/clean support group. There are ways of mitigating the effects of introducing narcotics into your bloodstream so you don’t get triggered and relapse after being discharged. If your insurance covers it, you can request they keep you in hospital under medical care until the pain medications are out of your system so you’re safe to go home and continue your recovery path.

Surgery day

It’s here – and so are we (virtually at least) supporting you. Yes, it’s scary to consider what’s about to happen. But the good news is you won’t remember it due to the strange nature of anesthesia.

  • Don’t eat or drink (if that’s what they told you): Your surgical team will have given you pre-surgery diet instructions – follow them – it’s important you don’t have anything in your body while under general anesthesia or sedation. Different rules apply to local anesthesia – make sure you know which you’re getting.
  • Bring a companion: Don’t struggle through this situation alone – you need support. Most, if not all, surgeries mean you’ll need someone to bring you home afterwards because you’ll not be able to drive. Depending on the level of pain narcotics in your system, you might well feel a sense of overwhelming sadness too. That’s totally normal. Ask a companion to have dark glasses and a warm scarf/wrap with them when they meet you. You’ll need care and understanding for the foreseeable as you get well again.
  • Comfort is key: your body is going to feel very tender, and quite possibly swollen, after surgery, so wear loose fitting, warm and cozy clothing. If your surgery is head/neck based, you won’t be able to pull anything over your head so bring a front-fastening shirt and cardigan. No tight jeans and forget the workout clothing for a few days. You need gentle textiles and plenty of sleep now. No bling (leave the jewelry, quantified self digital gadgets, smart watches and so on at home).
  • Anesthesia effects: We can’t sugarcoat this for you – you’re going to feel deeply strange and kinda “out of your body” after the surgery. Much of this is due to the effects of anesthesia which, according to the The American Society of Anesthesiologists might include (remember everyone is different): nausea, sore throat (due to the breathing tube), possible delirium/confusion (this will pass), sore muscles, itching (side effects of pain narcotics withdrawal), chills/shivering (body temperatures fluctuate during/after surgery – stay wrapped up warm and rest).

Personal story

We asked one of our researchers who has had several surgeries, including a hospital stay, to share their personal experiences with us. Here’s what they said:

It’s 4 AM:

“I’d not eaten or drunk anything since midnight and knew that my first cup of coffee was going to be hours away. A friend came and met me at my apartment building and we got a cab together. During check-in, I was asked for my “Advance Directive” (final wishes, just in case, as there was a slim chance I wouldn’t make it out of this one – SCARY!) and to go over the medical information they had on file. Then they ran my insurance card (again), and took me through the double doors.”


Once inside, I had to take off my clothes and shoes, put them in a marked bag and slip into one of those deeply unattractive surgical gowns which ties up at the back, put on on paper booties, and cover my hair with a surgical cap (not a good look). I was fascinated to see the gown had wires threaded through it – this was to keep me warm during surgery apparently. Then I followed a nurse into an anteroom and got onto a gurney. They hooked me up to IVs and started to get me ready. I’ve been a meditator for 15 years so I started doing deep breathing and visualizing a safe place where I could “wait” mentally while I went under the knife.”

Enter the surgical team:

“It was time – I was wheeled into the hallway, slightly out of it now, but continuing my breathing. My surgeon arrived with the team and smiled at me. I smiled weakly back. Someone held my hand as I was wheeled into the surgical theater. I don’t remember arriving because the anesthesthesia “rolls back” your memory a few moments to protect you.”

Coming to in the ICU:

“The next thing I remember was waking up in the ICU with a nurse adjusting my oxygen mask and trying to breathe, gasping. I came in and out of consciousness for what felt like hours, but was probably minutes. Everything hurt in my body, or, more correctly, I was aware that there was massive discomfort, behind the woozy effect of the major narcotics they’d inserted into my bloodstream. But I do remember feeling a huge sense of relief that I’d survived. Later, in the recovery room (I was kept in hospital overnight), my surgeon peeked in to check on me. The surgery had gone on for 5 hours and there had been complications (so I was lucky to be alive). But everything looked good now, they said.”

The worst part? 

“Coming in and out of pain as the narcotics wore off. Waking up in the middle of the night and struggling to get to the bathroom while negotiating the indignities of an IV drip on a stand with wheels (not fun).”

The best part?
“The nursing staff were amazing – kind, loving and helpful. To keep the circulation in my legs moving, I had electronic pumps on my calves and they kept making bionic jokes which helped.”

Top tip?
“I’d asked a friend to drop off an overnight bag – it contained favorite books and an iPod crammed with audiobooks and soothing playlists; comfy wrap and socks; Kleenex (anesthesia makes you weep); and face/hand cream (which masked the awful hospital detergent smell that I’ll never forget). The next morning, I had two friends arrive and bring me a latte (first caffeine in 36 hours – agony – I’ve since quit – never want to be that jonesing for a cup of Joe again), a copy of the Financial Times newspaper and plenty of cheering tales from the world outside. Isolation and loneliness are the worst aspects of post-surgical hospital stays and all these things made it so much better. Plus, I wasn’t sick – or dying – anymore – and that was brilliant. I’m so grateful to still be here. I almost was not (*gulps*). Thank goodness for modern surgical advances.”


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