A Surgeon’s Tips to be a Prepared Patient

surgeons, operating roomWhen preparing for a surgery, a patient can feel like their outcome is all in the surgeon’s hands. But there are many things a patient can do both before and after surgery to hasten their healing process and improve their outcome.

Rebecca McClaine, MD, is a UC Health general surgeon and a surgical instructor at the UC College of Medicine. She says there’s one thing she always emphasizes when discussing an upcoming surgery with patients.

“I always tell my patients: ‘It takes longer to get back to 100 percent than you think it will,’ ” she says. “I think there are things that people don’t ask about that will really improve their healing, from any kind of surgery.”

The top things, she says, are reducing smoking and improving nutrition.

“If you smoke, and you can’t quit before surgery, then it helps to try and cut back. Even if it’s just the 3 to 7 days before surgery and during recovery, it will help your healing,” says McClaine. “Along with smoking, if overweight patients can lose 5 or 10 pounds in the weeks leading up to their surgery, that can make a difference as well. You don’t want to starve yourself or go into a surgery malnourished, but the proper nutrition and diet will help you heal.”

For patients not eating a well-rounded diet, McClaine recommends taking a multivitamin or using nutritional meal replacement drinks to supplement their meals.

She also says alcohol can make a difference in her patient’s recovery: “If you’re somebody who drinks every day, let your physician know. You may be unexpectedly more dependent than you realize, and you can go into withdrawal after surgery. That can complicate things, so it’s very important for your surgeon to know beforehand.”

Immediately after surgery, the emphasis turns to the caregivers. For more involved procedures with longer inpatient recovery, McClaine says family and friends should spend the first few post-surgery days at home.

“It’s important that the caregivers get some rest,” she says. “Their loved one will need them more 3-4 days after surgery and especially once they go home.”

At home, patients need a calm, clean environment in which to rest and recuperate. Stocking the pantry with healthy snacks and the fridge with pre-made foods can be a big help to patients and caregivers.

Finally, patients should follow their provided care instructions and shouldn’t avoid using their prescribed pain medication during recovery.

“Pain medication is known to be safe as long as you’re taking it for pain,” says McClaine. “Though some patients may be afraid to become addicted, it’s more important to have your pain under control—that enables you to take deep breaths, which prevents pneumonia, and enables you to walk around, preventing blot clots. If you’re in pain, your body has an increased stress response and that prolongs the recovery process.”

If a patient or their family has any questions during recovery, even on nights and weekends, McClaine recommends patients call their surgeon’s office directly. Their surgeon, or their partners in the practice, can best answer questions and direct the patient to the best practitioner.

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