Six Ways to Prepare for Surgery

Operating Room

Photo by Ruhrfischer/Flickr.com

A handful of years ago when my husband, Anthony, and I were still dating, he quizzed me about my experiences in hospitals. He wanted to know if I’d ever been hospitalized or rushed to the emergency room. I answered no to both questions. The only times I’d visited hospitals were to visit sick relatives or to report on healthcare for newspapers. I still remember the look of disappointment on Anthony’s face when I made this revelation. He, after all, had been hospitalized multiple times. Over the years he’d suffered from appendicitis, sports injuries and once in college was even struck by a hit-and-run driver as he stood on the sidewalk with friends. How did I have the good fortune to pass through my childhood, teens and twenties with no serious injuries or illnesses?

Little did we know that my luck would change in 2011, our first year of marriage. After just 10 months of matrimony I suffered a severe allergic reaction to hair dye that ballooned my face to triple its size. Off to the emergency room we went—at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. Nine months after that I discovered that I had a huge uterine fibroid tumor (the doctor likened it to the size of a newborn’s head) that would require major surgery to remove. I had the surgery, an abdominal myomectomy, in the spring. But I wasn’t quite finished going under yet. Just more than a month ago I had all four of my wisdom teeth extracted.

The combination of that surgery and starting a full-time newspaper job in August resulted in me taking an abrupt break from writing for this website. Now I’m back, and though I won’t be able to write as frequently as I once I did, I’ll aim to write at least once weekly. I’m devoting the first entry upon my return to the tips I’ve learned about surgery over the past year.

 Practice Guided Imagery

I lived in a state of terror before my abdominal myomectomy. I did not want the surgery and even put it off for three months hoping that acupuncture, dietary changes and alternative medicine would do the trick. (They didn’t.) General anesthesia freaked me out—blame Michael Jackson—as did the possibility of needing a blood transfusion or losing my uterus should I lose too much blood during the operation. To counter my feelings of anxiety I turned to guided imagery. I listened to Belleruth Naparstek’s “Meditations to Promote Successful Surgery” CDs daily during the weeks leading up to my surgery. The Cleveland Clinic, UC Davis Medical Center and Blue Shield of California are a few of the healthcare organizations that have endorsed Naparstek’s work. She instructs patients to imagine their medical team as competent and caring professionals and to imagine themselves rapidly recovering post-surgery. Did it actually help? Who knows? All I can say is it certainly didn’t hurt. I didn’t have complications following surgery and I quickly bounced back from the ordeal.

Exercise

Exercise likely helped me before, during and after surgery. As I’ve mentioned, I was a jumble of nerves pre-surgery, but running nearly every day for months before the operation prevented me from becoming a complete basket case. In addition, a number of studies show that patients who exercise routinely before surgery have shorter hospital stays than their sedentary counterparts.

 Discuss Your Meds With Your Doctor

Prior to my medical procedures I wasn’t taking prescriptions drugs, but even over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen and supplements such as Vitamin E may cause excessive bleeding during surgery. About a month before both of my surgeries I stopped taking all over-the-counter medicines and multivitamins to reduce this risk. Don’t wait until the last minute to tell your doctor what meds you’re on, be they over-the-counter or otherwise. You want any medication or supplement that can result in complications during your surgery out of your system as soon as possible. Tell them weeks ahead of your surgery so you can take action sooner.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

I had no idea what to expect before my surgery, and reading the stories of women who’d undergone myomectomies before me didn’t really help. Many of these women made the operation sound much worse than it was for me and made their recoveries sound more grueling and longer than mine was. The thing is, most people who are going to take the time to post about a medical procedure online probably didn’t have the best experiences. Moreover, most of these people don’t disclose their age, weight, medical history and any other factors that likely influenced how their surgeries turned out. So, don’t expect your surgery to go poorly because it did for some anonymous person online whose lifestyle you know nothing about. On the flipside, don’t expect your surgery to go well because it did for the marathoner ten years your junior, when your idea of exercise is walking from the living room to the refrigerator. Lastly, don’t assume one surgery will go well just because another surgery you had did. Because I bounced back quickly from my myomectomy, I expected to recover from my wisdom teeth extraction in a matter of days. It actually has taken a good month for my mouth to feel normal again.

Don’t Expect Things to Go as Planned

Before my myomectomy I had the day of my operation all figured out. I would pray, do my guided visualizations and say my good-byes to my husband and father (who were with me on the big day). It turned out I had no time to do any of this. The hospital moved my surgery from noon to morning, which meant that I spent the time before my surgery being rushed around by hospital personnel asking me to sign forms and strip down. This only heightened my anxiety. I’d specifically asked people to pray for me around noon, so when the operation was moved up I just knew it meant that I would die on the operating table. No one would know to pray for me at the earlier time. “But we won’t actually cut you open until noon,” my surgeon insisted. He showed me the cross he wore around his neck. “I’ve spent a lot of time praying for you and thinking about you,” he went on. This gave me a glimmer of hope. Then he promptly ordered the anesthesiologist to knock me out.

Expect Hero Worship

Sometime before my surgery I watched an episode of “48 Hours Mystery” where a doctor enlisted one of his patients to kill someone for him. I doubted that any doctor I knew would recognize me if we passed on the street, let alone feel comfortable enough asking me to kill for him. But if a doctor has helped you through a major health crisis, the patient and physician bond certainly strengthens. You do get to know each other. My doctor seemed more brilliant, more kind, more charming than ever following my surgery. I finally understood why my general practitioner had gushed about him like she was a teenage girl discussing her favorite boy band when she referred me to him. And while my doctor certainly wouldn’t be able to get me to kill for him, I might be convinced to corner his enemies in a dark alley and give them my best version of the “I know some people who know some people” speech. I’m kidding, but you get my drift. Hero worship is real after surgery, and the more fearful you were before the operation, the more thankful you feel to your medical team for getting you through it safely.

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