Thursday, July 31, 2014

Successful Patient: Preparing for Surgery

My first surgery in 2002 terrified me.  Fortunately, my surgeon was a true Mensch and reassured me by holding my hand and telling me, "It'll be the easiest thing you've done in your life!" 

Yeah, right.  The actual surgery was easy for me.  I was under general anesthesia and oblivious to the hard work my surgeon was doing.  What's difficult about surgery is the preparation for it as well as the aftermath.  However, if the preparation is done well, the aftermath should be a lot easier.  If you're facing surgery soon (as I am), here are some helpful tips that I've learned in the last twelve years:

Follow Instructions
Whatever type of surgery you are having, follow your surgeon's instructions to prepare for it. To the letter.  Do not cut corners.  Your surgeon asks you to do certain things for specific reasons.  If you want to know why you need to stop taking certain medications, ask your surgeon.
Ask Questions
If you don't understand something, ask for an explanation or clarification.  Your surgeon has a vested interest in making certain you are an informed patient and that you understand everything about your procedure, including the preparations.

Share Your Concerns
Tell your surgeon about your concerns.  I've learned that the best way to do this is to write them down as they come to me.  I take my list to the initial consult along with any questions I've written down.  You and your surgeon are a team.  You need to let him or her know how you're feeling and what you're thinking about your physical condition and the procedure.  Remember, though, he or she isn't a therapist.  If you feel you need counseling, however, let your surgeon know.  He or she may be able to refer you to a good counselor.

Call Your Insurance Company
As soon as you have a surgery date, call your insurance company to find out if you need prior authorization for the hospitalization and the surgery. With my old medical insurance, which was the high risk state pool, I never had to do this.  It was a jolt to learn that my new insurance requires that we submit an application for prior authorization.  This process can take 2 weeks or longer, although most insurers offer an expedited review option.  I received my prior authorization letter this past Monday.  Relief.

Bring Your Support Network Up to Speed
For most people, this means immediate family.  For me, I have a small group of friends, "my crew," who are willing to help me with transportation, errands, and any other tasks I need done post-surgery.  I bring them up to speed as soon as I have a confirmed surgery date so they can prepare.  A few days before surgery, let your family and friends know if you'll welcome calls and/or visits in the hospital, which hospital, and a phone number they can call to reach you or find out how your surgery went. 

Write a To-Do List
If you organize your pre-surgery preparations, they won't feel overwhelming and you can have time for other things as well.  One of my big projects is to clean my apartment from top to bottom.  Why is this important?  I want to return to a clean apartment to decrease the chance of infection.  This includes laundering bed linens and towels.  My to-do list also shows me what needs to be done so I can prioritize.  For example, yesterday I met with anesthesiology.  This was required.  I knew, as a result of the time commitment, that I wouldn't get much of anything else done (and I didn't).  By writing my list early, I can allow for days like yesterday and still get what needs to be done, done.

Follow Instructions
This bears repeating.  In the 24 hours prior to surgery, your surgeon may ask you to do certain things to prepare, e.g. I will be on a clear liquids diet the day before, and I will need to take two showers with a powerful soap (one the night before, one the morning of surgery).  Also, during this time, do relaxation exercises of whatever kind works for you.  Be positive, think positive, and do positive during this time.  It's very important, I've learned, to arrive at the hospital relaxed and in a positive frame of mind.  Yes, I'm nervous.  I'm always nervous.  But I have complete confidence in my surgeon and his team, and I know I'll be just fine.

Communicate with your Surgeon
If your physical condition changes in any way in the two weeks prior to surgery, tell your surgeon.  If you contract a cold, if you develop a skin infection, or anything else, call your surgeon.  If you have any questions during those two weeks, call your surgeon (or the surgeon's assistant).  I usually keep in contact with my surgeon's office via e-mail.  Communication is of paramount importance here.  You will be signing a consent form before surgery that says you know and understand everything the surgeon has told you about the surgery and its risks.  If you have any questions, they need to be addressed before you sign that consent form.

Pack Your Bag
I've learned over my previous four surgeries to take little to the hospital.  I have certain OTC meds that I bring and need (and I tell my surgeon beforehand that I'm bringing them) and toiletries, a sweater or bed jacket, and a really good book or two.  I pack these things in a small overnight bag like the one above.  I will have a job to do during my hospital stay, i.e. getting back on my feet and doing what I need to do to progress to discharge.  It's amazing how fast the days go, too.  Always leave valuables like jewelry, credit cards, and cash at home.  You won't need them.

When You Return Home
Your surgeon will give you instructions for the post-op recovery period of four to eight weeks, depending on what kind of surgery you had.  What's important during this time is to not only follow those instructions to the letter, but also not to push yourself too much.  Your body needs a gentle building-up of strength while it heals.  I tend to crave protein which aids in healing.  I walk and walk, slowly lengthening the duration and increasing the difficulty over time.  I sleep as much as my body tells me to sleep.  I do not work for at least two weeks after I return home, sometimes longer depending on how I'm doing.  What's important during this time?  Support the healing process which takes time.

One More Thing....
Your surgeon, his team, and everyone at the hospital caring for you have a vested interest in you having a successful outcome.  They work hard to achieve that goal.  Please remember to show them your appreciation for their hard work on your behalf.  Stay positive during your hospital stay.  One of the things I do constantly is say thank you.  The lab tech who shows up at my bedside at 5:45 a.m. to draw blood is just doing his job.  I've had some great conversations with these people at that hour.  If you are unhappy about something, in pain, or need help, let your nurse know so you can get what you need or resolve an issue (especially with roommates).

My surgery is next Wednesday.  I plan to write one post at least from the hospital, as long as I'm doing well and have the time.  My first priority, however, will be to do my job as a patient eager to go home.....

No comments: