Surgery nerves. They are to be expected. Especially if it is a major surgery. The reality is, you will probably be nervous before your surgery. But surgery does not have to be scary—don’t let it cause you panic. Don’t worry yourself by googling surgery horror stories. Instead, focus on what you can do to have a great surgery and recovery. And trust the doctor you chose. After all, you picked them for a reason. You will still be nervous. But, here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare for surgery day.
You Have Some Control
You have a say in what happens. It’s you who will choose the surgeon. And most of the time, you choose when you have your surgery. Picking a surgeon can help you feel in more control of your surgical outcomes. How can you pick the surgeon that will best fit your needs? You need a surgeon you can trust—that goes without saying. First, start by making a list of potential surgeons. Here are some things to consider when compiling your list:
- Are they covered by your insurance?
- Do they have positive patient experiences?
- Do they work with a hospital you trust?
It is important to review and research each surgeon on your list. You can even conduct interviews with the surgeons if that will make you feel more comfortable. Have an initial visit with the top surgeons on your list. Having an initial visit does not mean you are committed—if you do not like the appointment, go with another option.
Here are some questions to ask your surgeon during the first visit:
- How many of your patients have this surgery?
- How invasive is this surgery?
- What are my risks?
- What will my recovery look like?
- Is there anything I can do to avoid surgery?
- Is there a diet/exercise program I should follow before and after my surgery?
Just like picking a surgeon, you can sometimes pick when to have your surgery. Depending on the nature of your surgery. This is especially true for elective surgeries. An elective surgery is a procedure that is planned in advance and is not an emergency. Here are some examples of an elective surgery:
- Cosmetic surgery
- Cataract surgery
- Orthopedic procedures
- Diagnostic surgery
Since these surgeries are typically not performed in an emergency situation, you will be able to choose when you have the procedure. But, most importantly, you have a lot of control over how successful your surgery is. Yes, there is a lot out of your control—but you would be surprised at what is within your grasp. Specifically, you will be an integral part of your surgery preparation. Because your surgeon can tell you how to prepare, but you have to be the one to do it.
How to prepare for surgery
One of the most important preparation tips is this: be the healthiest version of yourself. Your chances of having a smooth surgery will drastically improve if you are in optimal health. If you don’t exercise, begin a light exercise routine. If your diet is lacking key food groups, focus on creating a more well-balanced diet. And get rest—plenty of it. Quality nutrition is an absolute necessity. Without, your body will be ill-equipped to recover.
What nutrients do you need to properly prepare?
Vitamin C. Your immune system needs to be top notch before, during, and after your surgery. Which means your body will need a lot of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. This vitamin boosts your immune system, helping your body fight damage and infection and promote wound healing.
Vitamin D. Especially important for bone surgeries. If you’re having surgery because of a fracture, low vitamin D levels can cause future fractures and revision surgery.
Protein. Your body undergoes significant stress during a surgical procedure, increases demands for protein and energy. To fulfill those demands, you will need to increase your amino acid (protein) intake to make sure body has the energy it needs to recover. Protein is needed for tissue and muscle repair.
Probiotics. What is a probiotic? Probiotics are live bacteria that have numerous health benefits. Taking probiotics before your surgery will help reduce the risk of infection and boost your immunity.
Zinc. Integral in wound healing and tissue regeneration, which is important in any surgery.
Smoking and alcohol can be great inhibitors to a successful surgery. If you can, quit before your surgery day arrives. Discuss with your doctor potential paths to quitting. A lot of preparation occurs before and even on your surgery day.
Here are a few more:
Make arrangements. It is important to make surgery arrangements well in advance. Figure out who is driving you and picking you up, what you will need at the surgical center, etc.
Aim for comfort. Dress comfortably the day of your surgery—go with loose fitting clothing.
Know what you need to know about anesthesia. Going under makes most people nervous. But knowing what to expect can make it easier. Ask your doctor for the what’s what on the anesthesia that will be performed.
Ask about current medications. If you are on any medication, make sure to ask your surgeon about continuing to take them. Food & drink. Depending on the surgery, you will have to stop eating and drinking at a certain time. Get the details from your surgeon.
Recovering from surgery
Even though the surgery itself is over, it isn’t really over. If only it were that simple. Surgery recovery can seem tedious and difficult. Luckily, this is another area where you have some control because there are things you can do to have a better recovery. Just like when preparing for surgery, the quality of your nutritional intake will help determine the quality of your recovery. The nutrients you need after surgery are similar to the nutrients you need before surgery. Here’s a quick reminder:
Protein. A major component of tissue and muscle. Which means to rebuild and repair the tissue and muscle damage, you will need amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Glutamine, for example, boosts your energy levels and supports your immune system.
Antioxidants. Like vitamin C and A. Antioxidants help fight cell damage caused by free radicals and promote wound healing and reduced risk of swelling and infection.
Calcium. Essential for bone healing and soft tissue repair.
Bromelain. This is not a well-known nutrient but powerful. It is actually a pineapple enzyme that can help reduce scarring, bruising, and swelling (thank you antioxidants!).
Unfortunately, you often won’t have much of an appetite following surgery. Understandable. But, getting those essential nutrients is non-negotiable. Speak to your surgeon about supplements and other ways you can fill your nutritional needs following surgery.
Tackle your pain
One of the best things you can do is stay on top of your pain. Because there will be some pain—it will vary depending on the nature of your surgery. Effective pain control can:
- Help you get back on your feet faster,
- Speed up your recovery, and
- Reduce the risk of infection and blood clots.
How can you better keep your pain under control? Before your surgery, put in place a pain management plan with your physician. Figure out your medication options—and fill that prescription BEFORE you get home from the hospital. Even do it on your way home. Address any concerns you have about taking medication.
Don’t do too much too soon—but don’t stay down too long
You don’t want to strain yourself and risk complicating your surgery. Even if you are feeling better than you expected right after your operation. Resist the temptation to jump back into regular life full force—especially when it comes to activities like intensive exercise. You will feel anxious to get back to your day-to-day routine. But give yourself time. If you push yourself too hard, you risk further injury, opening surgical wounds, and pushing back your recovery. However, you don’t want to stay off your feet for too long. True, you shouldn’t overwork yourself. But if you proceed with some caution, you can get yourself moving. Here are some things you can do:
- Get out of bed and walk around your room
- Walk to the kitchen and make a snack
- Step out your back door for a few minutes
If you don’t move enough, you can risk getting a blood clot. Blood clots and pulmonary embolisms cause around 600,000 hospitalizations and year—50,000 people die from pulmonary embolisms. Clots are more likely to happen in the few days after surgery when patients are bedridden. Which is why moving around is essential—even if you just stand up throughout the day.
You Are Having This Surgery For a Reason
If you are having surgery, it is for a reason. You can discuss these reasons with your physicians. Some of these reasons you are having surgery could include to
- Make a cosmetic change
- Improve a condition or disease
- Reduce pain or discomfort
- Address an emergency situation
- Fix or operate on an injury
If you aren’t positive you need this surgery, ask your doctor about other options. If you and your doctor have concluded that surgery is the best option, take a deep breath. You are having this surgery for a reason. When you get nervous, remind yourself of that.
Lots of People Have Surgery—Even the Exact Surgery You are Having
You aren’t the first one to have this surgery. And you won’t be the last. Here are some of the most common surgeries that people have.
Appendectomy. This is the removal of your appendix. This surgery is necessary if your appendix becomes infected, causing appendicitis.
C-section. Around 30% of pregnancies result in a c-section. This procedure is performed when delivering vaginally is not considered safe. The surgeon will make an incision into the mother’s abdomen in order to remove the baby.
Replacement surgery. Examples of this type of surgery are knee or hip replacement surgery. These surgeries are needed if you are in constant moderate to severe pain, experience inflammation that doesn’t get better with medication or lose range-of-motion.
Coronary artery bypass. This procedure is for people suffering from chest pain and coronary artery disease. The surgeon will help create blood flow around the obstruction caused by plaque buildup. Fracture repair. If you have suffered a fracture, sometimes surgery is needed to repair the broken bone. It often involves using screws, plates, or rods to help stabilize the break and support new growth.
Biopsy. The purpose of a biopsy is to run diagnostic tests. It involves removing a small piece or area of tissue, which can be taken from anywhere in the body. There are so many types of surgeries and procedures. If you are nervous, speak with your surgeon about their experience with your specific operation.
Tips for Calming Your Pre-Surgery Jitters
As mentioned, you will be nervous about your surgery. But again, you have some control. The key is to distract yourself and fill your time with better things than worry. How can you calm you pre-surgery butterflies?
Get a massage. Is there a better way to relax? A massage will not only help relax your mind but relax your body. You don’t want to be all tight and tense before the operation.
Spend time with friends and family. Have some fun before the big surgery day. If you have a support system, whether of one or ten people, you will feel more at ease and confident before the procedure.
Create a pre-surgery playlist. It is time to crank up the Enya—or whatever genre or artist puts you at ease. Having music to listen to on your surgery day will help keep you calm, at peace.
Read a book. Reading is one of the best forms of distraction. Whether you dig the romances or can’t get enough of the sci-fi, lose yourself in a good book. In fact, have a stack of books ready for when you are recovering.
Drink a lot of water. Life seems to go a little better when you are hydrated. You just feel better. And you want to be extra hydrated, especially during your recovery. Drinking water will keep you healthy before your surgery.
Retail therapy. You deserve to treat yourself. Go out and buy yourself a new pair of slippers or a new blanket to have after surgery. Maybe purchase a new movie. Buy the thing you have had your eye on for a while. Doing so can help you feel excited and focused on something besides your surgery nerves.
Become a master chef. Okay, not really. But, try out a few new recipes. You may not have much of an appetite after your surgery. Break open that cookbook that has been gathering dust and make a fun meal for your family or just for you.