Top 8 Steps You Should Take to Prepare for Surgery: This Means War

You know that game you play when you are comparing the best of two evils?

                    Would you rather (fill in space) than (fill in space)?

As my parotid tumor surgery approaches next week, I find myself playing this little mind game. Here are some examples:

I would rather sit next to someone chewing on ice or gum with their mouth open while pounding on their computer keyboard for 24 hours straight than have surgery.

I would rather watch a Notre Dame sporting event with five Notre Dame alumni that have fighting Irish tattoos on their calves than have surgery.

I would rather watch Family Feud reruns with Jimmy while he plays online poker (volume high) and read my daughters' stupid twitter tweets for 24 hours straight than have surgery.

But, unfortunately, those things won't make this tumor disappear. So there are some things that I have been doing to prepare for surgery.

Even though I have never been blessed with the opportunity to work alongside the easy-going and historically very polite surgeons (lol) in the operating room, I have taken care of patients in the postoperative phase. So I would like to share with you some secrets that could help you prepare for a procedure or surgery in the future.

Pray for the best, prepare for the worst: I know, I know. You can't always concentrate on the what-ifs. But, in this case, I believe it is only the responsible thing to do. That's why they have you sign consent forms, right? Not to give you a reason to sue the surgeon or the hospital for a hangnail you don't recall having until after surgery, but because any surgery has risks and the people performing the surgeries and caring for you are human. Processes fail and sometimes interventions don't work the way they are planned. Being in denial of this fact doesn't make it any less of a fact.

  1. Have strategic conversations: I'm talking about the difficult conversations here. If these conversations don't take place before issues arise, an unanticipated turn of events in the hospital can end up causing a lot of guilt, anger, fear, and chaos for your family and friends. And sometimes, it's not you that doesn't want to have the conversations but your loved ones. So find someone that will have them. No excuses.
    1. Do you have a will?
    2. Do you have an advanced directive or power of attorney?
    3. If you have a power of attorney, do ALL of your loved ones know who it is? This can save a lot of hurt feelings and arguments later.
    4. What life-saving measures would you want to be done if needed? Breathing tube and ventilator? Feeding tube?
    5. Will you accept a blood transfusion if your life depended on it regardless of your religion? Some religions don't support blood transfusions, and that is a personal decision of the patient. But, all of the family members need to know your wishes if it came down to it and you weren't able to make the decision for yourself.
    6. Do you want to be an organ donor?
    7. Do you have a plan B? If you have kids, pets, or large commitments on your calendar then you have to proactively think through how those things would be dealt with if you weren't home in the anticipated time. If you are a single parent, make sure you complete any paperwork that will give someone you love and trust the ability to make decisions on your behalf for your kids in case you are not available.
    8. Honestly discuss your condition with your loved ones including your children. Kids are smart and they are also pretty resilient. Of course, you may have to filter some details, but respect them enough to discuss what's going on with you. This is a chance to have open and honest dialogue with your kids which will ultimately reduce their anxiety and give them the chance to support you. As nurses, we would never tell a child that a shot won't hurt because it will. The best facts are the true facts.
  2. Communicate your coordinates with your primary doctor or any specialty doctors you see: It is helpful for any doctors that you see on a regular basis to know that you will be in the hospital and having surgery. You can do this by calling their office and just speaking with the receptionist. That way, they can make a note in your chart for future reference, and if needed, they won't be surprised if they are consulted by a physician in the hospital to see you for a complication, continued care, etc. Patients tend to think that there is a magical communication tool that contacts their doctor whenever they have an issue or is seen by another doctor, but that doesn't exist. It is your responsibility to communicate with all of the doctors that care for you.
  3. Follow the plan of attack that you are given before surgery: These instructions aren't to be taken lightly, and they aren't there to simply inconvenience you. There is hard evidence in medical research why they have you do or not do certain things before surgery such as not taking certain medications for a specified period leading up to the surgery, refraining from eating or drinking, or starting a medication or treatment on a specified day before surgery. Ultimately, you are only putting yourself at risk if you don't follow the instructions.
  4. Consider all possible counterattacks: If you have ANY questions about the time leading up to the surgery, the day of surgery, or post-surgery, you HAVE to call and ask. I would suggest you don't turn to Google for answers either. Do not feel like you are bothering them to call and ask. If you don't, these questions will just lead to anxiety that will make the situation worse for you. In reality, who cares if the person on the end of the line thinks your question is silly, they are not the ones going under the knife!
  5. Hydrate for the fight: This simply means drink water. We have to prepare our bodies to go to war. When we undergo surgery, all our body knows is that it is being introduced to surgical equipment, temperature changes, possible bacteria, wounds, changes in vital signs, etc. The better hydrated we are, the more efficiently our body can use its God-given ammunition to take care of us. Our bodies are made up of 60% water so making sure we are fueled up will only help us heal faster and easier.
  6. Proactively pay bills to avoid financial ambush: This should be done even if the hope is for you to do well in surgery and be home in 7 days. It's amazing how even one blood test result can change your treatment plan and buy you another 24 hours in the hospital. If you do this, you don't have to be laying in a hospital bed on day 8 worried about giving someone your passwords to pay your bills. The last thing you need is to go home to a dark and cold house because your bill wasn't paid on time.
  7. Know when to surrender in order to heal: Patients sometimes think that after surgery, they should feel better and within a few days be back to normal. Remember, your body has gone to war. Even though your specific surgery is being done to improve your health, your body doesn't have the ability to rationalize the situation and will begin a chain reaction of protection. It will have to fight hard and continue to fight as you recover and heal. Don't set unrealistic expectations for yourself, your employer, or your family regarding your post-op abilities to function like normal. Anesthesia medications alone can take a toll on your body and hospitalization can mess with your sleep habits altogether. Don't push yourself.
  8. Envision winning the war even before you have surgery: Picture yourself after surgery. Imagine yourself in your bed pushing through your pain to get out of bed with the therapists, sitting up to brush your teeth, and eating the meal in front of you even when you don't feel like it. Just as I have warned you against pushing yourself too much after surgery, I also have to tell you not to become complaisant. Make a plan before surgery involving your mental and physical health. This means you make sure you have healthy foods available to eat and a supply of your daily medication on hand. Decide ahead of time that after surgery you will do whatever you are asked to do in order to progress. Instructions by your nurse, physical and occupational therapists, and doctors to get up and moving need to be followed and taken seriously. Your in charge of your health.

There are several other steps that you should take prior to any surgery. But, if you follow these steps listed above, you will be able to confidently undergo your surgery knowing that you have prepared for the unknown the best that you can and equipped your body to fight the war ahead!

Coming soon to my resource page will be information on specific topics discussed in this post: Living Will, Power of Attorney, Organ Donation, etc.  Simply enter your email address to receive updates on these topics and to be notified immediately when valuable resources are available to download.

2 Responses

  1. Stephanie, this was an excellent piece and even harder to read as I know you are in surgery! May God wrap his arms around you with complete healing! You are such a talented, loving mother and wife and you will be celebrating your victory in no time! Godspeed!!!
    • Stephanie Lefler
      Tammy, He indeed wrapped His around me and continues to do so. I felt him as I slowly crawled over to the cold surgery table! Interestingly enough, the whole thing was a peculiarly positive experience....thanks to the Holy Spirit! I could never thank you enough for the prayers. All I can do is offer to pray for you and your family in return! God Bless!

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