Surgery can be a challenging experience for your mind and body, so there’s every reason to get prepared ahead of time. In fact, doing so can help improve your health outcome, reduce the risk of complications, speed recovery time, and make the whole experience less stressful.
Of course, the exact preparations you need to make will depend on the kind of procedure you’re having. In general, open surgeries and procedures involving general anesthesia take longer to recover from.
Your medical team will explain in detail
how to prepare for your surgery and what to expect. But here are some of our biggest high-level guidelines to streamline your surgery:
Stop eating and drinking before the procedure
Your medical team will give you instructions to stop eating and drinking usually 8-12 hours before the procedure. This usually includes coffee, tea, water, gum, mints, lozenges, etc.
Bathe and remove jewelry and makeup
The hospital may ask you to remove makeup, jewelry, nail polish, perfumes, lotions, and oils ahead of surgery—either from your whole body or around the area that will be treated. You may be asked to bathe with antibacterial soap.
Ask whether you should stop medications and supplements
If you regularly take medications or supplements, make sure you review them with your medical team. Some medications need to be stopped, sometimes weeks in advance, because of the risk of complications during surgery. This includes MAOIs (some antidepressant drugs and many medicines used to treat Parkinson’s disease). Blood thinners and anti-inflammatory pain medicines (like ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen) also need to be stopped ahead of time since they can interfere with blood clotting and increase your risk of bleeding during surgery. Some supplements can have similar effects and may also need to be stopped, like fish oil and other omega-3 capsules, Vitamin E, ginkgo biloba and St. John’s Wort, among others. If you’re diabetic, you’ll likely need to skip oral hypoglycemic medicine the day of your surgery and you might need to lower your dosage of insulin.
There are other drugs it might be important to keep taking, including on the day of the surgery, like anti-seizure and blood pressure medications. Be sure to bring up all the drugs and supplements you take with your doctors well ahead of surgery and understand the instructions for each one.
Tell your doctors about any medical devices you use
If you use a CPAP machine or any other medical device, tell your medical team. You’ll probably need to bring this equipment with you to the hospital. Likewise, if you have any internal medical devices, like a pacemaker, tell your doctor about these, too.
Take a break from some less-healthy habits
Smoking, vaping, chewing tobacco, and drinking alcohol can raise your risk of complications during surgery and lengthen your recovery period. Fortunately, stopping or even reducing these habits ahead of surgery can reduce risks and improve long-term outcomes
. Be open and honest with your medical team about your use of tobacco products, alcohol, and other recreational drugs and discuss how you can moderate or stop use ahead of your surgery.
Strengthen healthy habits
Taking good care of your mind and body ahead of any stressful event can help you get through it in better shape. Getting enough sleep, staying active, and doing things that you enjoy and help you relax
will all contribute to a better experience and a faster recovery from surgery. Eating a healthy diet is also important! Constipation is a common experience after surgery, so keeping your diet high in fiber might be helpful.
Plan for transportation and home care after surgery
The hospital may require you to have an adult available to drive you home after your procedure. You may also need to have someone keeping you company overnight or for 24 hours following discharge from the hospital.
Plan for dependent care and other practical needs during and after surgery
If you’re responsible for children, adult dependents, or pets, you’ll need to plan ahead for their care during your procedure and as you recover. Talk to your medical team about what physical limitations you will have during the recovery period and enlist the help of friends, family, neighbors and paid services before you have the procedure. You may need help with tasks like buying groceries, preparing meals, home maintenance, etc. It can also be a good idea to stock up on certain items before your surgery, like groceries, regular prescriptions, pet food, and more.
Have plenty of loose, comfortable clothing for your recovery period
Your movement may be limited or uncomfortable after surgery, so be sure to have clothing ready that will be comfortable to wear and easy to get on and off. Sometimes button-front clothing is easier than pullover options if you have limited movement. Talk to your medical team about what sort of clothing is best for your situation.
Create a packing list for your hospital stay
Consider what items you’ll need or want to bring with you to the hospital and check with your care team about any rules or limitations, which vary between hospitals. They may ask you to have someone else bring a bag for you after your procedure. You’ll probably want to bring medical equipment you use regularly like hearing aids, contact lenses, glasses, dentures, etc. and storage cases for these items. You may also want to bring your own comfortable clothing for recovery and some items to help you pass the time
, like puzzle books, magazines, etc. (Read more here about planning for a hospital stay.)
Understand what your recovery period will look like
Your medical team will give you detailed instructions about how to care for yourself during the recovery period. Try to get as clear and detailed a picture as you can ahead of time, so you don’t have to scramble or make last-minute arrangements for time off with your employer. Don’t be afraid to repeat a question (and repeat it again) if you’re not getting a clear answer. There are lots of details here, and it’ll take a while to learn them all!
Specifically, ask your care team about any physical limitations and pain you’re likely to experience and what techniques and resources are available to help you manage them. The more you know ahead of your procedure, the better you’ll be able to focus on taking good care of yourself during your recovery.