UNC Health Care
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7 Ways to Prepare for Surgery

If you’re going to have surgery in the near future, it’s important to spend some time preparing. Planning ahead can help ensure you have a successful operation and heal faster.

UNC Health trauma and acute care surgery nurse educator Beth Schreiber, RN, suggests you take these seven steps in the weeks before surgery to increase your chances of a successful outcome.

1. Team up with a primary care physician to improve your health.

If you think you may need surgery, talk to your primary care physician. If you do not have a primary care physician, find one, as you will need a referral from a primary care physician before you can see a surgeon.

A primary care doctor helps patients get healthier before surgery by addressing any relevant issues. For example, surgeons prefer a patient’s body mass index to be 32 or lower to minimize the risk of complications and to make recovery easier.

“The primary care physician can help patients work on nutrition, and they can refer a patient for weight loss management if needed,” Schreiber says.

If you smoke, your primary care doctor can help you quit. It’s ideal to do this at least six weeks before your surgery, Schreiber says. Your provider can find you a smoking cessation program or prescribe a nicotine patch.

If you have high or low blood pressure, your primary care physician can prescribe medication or a treatment plan to make sure your blood pressure is regulated before surgery.

2. Address chronic conditions.

If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or heart disease, your condition needs to be under control before surgery.

“If none of these other medical issues have been addressed, we have to stop and get all those things addressed before we can schedule surgery,” Schreiber says. “For example, if a patient has diabetes but it’s not very well controlled, that affects healing.”

Make sure to call and, if needed, visit any specialists you see, such as cardiologists and endocrinologists, to confirm that they think it is safe for you to undergo an operation.

3. Check in with your employer.

After surgery, you may need to recover for two to three weeks or longer. Notify your employer well in advance. Check with your human resources department to understand your benefits, to learn about your options for short-term disability and paid time off, and to complete any necessary forms.

You also may have activity restrictions after surgery, such as not lifting heavy items. If you have a job that requires physical exertion, such as construction, ask your employer about options to do light-duty work after surgery, Schreiber says.

4. Line up transportation and extra help.

You will not be allowed to drive immediately after surgery, so reach out to a friend or loved one to make sure you have a ride home. You also may need assistance with daily tasks after surgery, such as cooking, doing laundry and taking pets for a walk. If you are a parent, you may need help caring for your children after surgery.

If you do not have someone to help, paid help is an option if you can afford it. You also can ask hospital social workers to help identify support services.

5. Complete necessary paperwork.

Make sure you complete all forms required by your surgeon’s office before the day of your surgery; a couple of weeks before is ideal so the forms can be filed. Fill out a power of attorney or healthcare proxy form to reference in the highly unlikely event that you need someone you know to make healthcare decisions for you.

Check in with your insurance provider so you know what documentation is required and what you can expect for out-of-pocket expenses.

6. Pick up medications.

Fill any prescriptions your surgeon prescribes, as well as any medications you take regularly so you don’t have to worry about filling them during recovery. Also stock up on any over-the-counter drugs and supplies you may need, such as ice packs or extra pillows. Ask your surgeon what items you might need to recover from the particular procedure you will be having. Also, pack a toiletry bag if you’ll be in the hospital overnight.

7. Expect extra safety precautions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Your surgeon’s office will contact you to let you know the safety precautions in place at the facility where you will be having your surgery.

“We are COVID-testing patients two days prior to surgery,” Schreiber says. “If you test positive, we will cancel your surgery.”

Know that healthcare workers are focused on your safety and their own. Waiting rooms are either no longer being used—some offices might ask you to wait in your car—or strict physical distancing measures are in place.

Clinics are minimizing the number of staff who see each patient, and everyone is wearing masks and other personal protective equipment as needed. Surfaces are frequently sanitized, and hand-washing is a constant.

“I make sure the patients have my number so they can call me anytime if they are not feeling well right before surgery and we can reschedule,” Schreiber says. “Patient safety is our priority.”


Think you might need surgery? Talk to your doctor or find one near you