Millions of Americans undergo surgery each year. If you’re one of them then it’s probably an anxious and unnerving time. You’ve got lots of questions to ask and only one or two chances to meet with the surgeon before the operation. It’s important to make the most out of these meetings and get as much information as possible. For example: What exactly is going to happen during the surgery? How is the recovery expected to go? Are there alternatives to the surgery? Should you do anything special to prepare yourself for the procedure?
While it’s normal to have a bit of trepidation before surgery, having a discussion with your surgeon will help ease your worries. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s understandable to want to know what will happen before, during and after the procedure.
So with that in mind, here are a few questions to ask that might help guide your conversation. Be sure to write down your questions before your appointment or you’ll likely forget!
1- Why do I need this operation?
It may sound obvious but many patients don’t fully understand why they’re having their operation. You should be able to explain your surgery in simple terms to someone else. If you can’t, you may not completely understand it yourself. Ask your surgeon for a clarification that you’ll understand.
It’s also helpful to ask about the success rates of the surgery or the ways that it may impact your life (ie. your work life, mobility, hobbies or leisure activities). Be sure to understand the basics of the procedure and what you will get out of it.
2- What are the risks and benefits?
Surgery always carries some risks. It is important to weigh the benefits against the risks beforehand. Your doctor should discuss this with you but ask for an outline of the possible complications. Some complications might be infections, bleeding, or slow wound healing. If you don’t understand the medical terminology, write them down and research them later.
3- Are there other treatment options, and is this operation the best option for me?
Some doctors or surgeons may automatically recommend surgery as a treatment for your condition. While much of the time this is a sensible plan, surgery isn’t necessarily the only plan. Speak to your doctor about possible non-surgical alternatives. This does not mean that you should refuse the surgery. It’s just nice to know all the options that you have (although sometimes surgery is the only option). Your doctor should explain the risks and benefits of these options so that you can make an informed decision.
“Watchful waiting” may also be an option. This is when your doctor will actively monitor your condition over a period of time to observe changes and the progression of your condition. This may involve visiting your doctor every few months or weeks for a checkup or follow-up scans. This option is not always appropriate for all conditions. You may still need surgery in the future. But if your condition improves or stabilizes, you may be able to postpone surgery for a time.
“Watchful waiting” is not appropriate for all medical conditions and sometimes surgery is inevitable. But it doesn’t hurt to ask the question.
4 – How do I prepare for the procedure?
Depending on the procedure itself, some preparation might be needed. For some, it may be sticking to a healthy diet and avoiding certain foods. For others, it may mean losing a certain amount of weight or you need to quit smoking. Speak to your doctor about what is expected of you before the procedure.
Special diets, foods, supplements
Everyone undergoing an operation is always advised to keep a healthy diet leading up to the procedure. However, if you’re having a major operation (hip or joint replacement, abdominal surgery, heart surgery etc.), pay special attention to your pre-surgery diet. You need to make sure you’re getting enough protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
If you’re not able to get all the vitamins and minerals you need on a daily basis, supplements are an option. Before starting a supplement, talk to surgeon. Some nutrients act as blood thinners which you will want to avoid before surgery. You will need to find a supplement that does not include blood thinning elements. Good nutrition can play a huge role in making your recovery faster, smoother, and uneventful. Don’t neglect it.
5- What can I expect after the surgery?
This is one of the most important questions you can ask. Yet, very few people do. You need to know what to expect after the operation. It shouldn’t come as a complete surprise when you’re not able to hit the gym or run a marathon the day after the procedure.
Ask for a rough timeline of how long the recovery will take. Ask what your limitations will be during your recovery. No surgeon can tell you with 100% certainty how your body will respond to surgery, if you will develop any complications, or how the healing will go. Still, they can usually give you an estimate based on what other patients in your position have experienced.
If you work or undertake any activities important to you (lifting, driving, or exercise), ask when you’ll be able to get back to them. Be sure your loved ones understand what to expect in the weeks following the surgery. Knowing what to expect makes the recovery process easier to navigate.
Asking questions of your doctor isn’t a waste of time. It’s a chance to get more information about the procedure. When you don’t ask certain questions, your doctor may think you already know the answer.
Lastly, don’t leave your appointment having more questions than you had going in. If in doubt, ask your doctor where you can find printed material about your condition. Many doctors have this information in their offices.
- If you do not understand your doctor’s responses, ask questions until you do. It is important to discuss all aspects of your treatment and recovery.
- Take notes or ask a family member or friend to accompany you and take notes for you. That way you do not need to worry about forgetting the information. It always good to have someone close to you understand the procedure as well.
- Ask your doctor to write down his or her instructions, if necessary. If you still have questions, ask the doctor where you can go for more information.