Do you (or a loved one) need to have surgery? Going through surgery can be scary and overwhelming. While you may not be able to control the surgery itself, there are several things you can do ahead of time to feel more prepared.
The tips below are based on my own surgery experience. Following these tips helped me to feel prepared and slightly more in control of a situation that had seemed completely out of my control.
I hope these tips help you to feel more prepared for your own surgery experience.
My Surgery Experience
In October 2016, I received a total hip replacement of my left hip.
Since I was 8 years old, I had been experiencing extreme pain in my left hip because of an injury that caused the bone in my femur head to die.
By the time I was in my 30s, the pain seemed overwhelming. That’s when I decided it was time for hip replacement surgery, which was designed to reduce or even eliminate the pain.
Going through surgery terrified me. I needed something to focus my attention on, so I created a checklist of items to help me prepare for surgery.
That checklist became the list of items below, which I hope helps make your own surgery experience less stressful.
1. Get a second, third, and fourth opinion
“Get a second opinion” is common advice. But how often do people follow it? Finding new doctors can be tough and scheduling multiple appointments takes a lot of time.
But when it comes to your health, you need to make the time! Doctors are human – they might not get it right or they might not see the whole picture. Getting multiple opinions gives you a better idea of your options. Plus, it can give you more confidence that you’re making the right choices with your health.
Over several years, I saw six different doctors for my hip. Five of them recommended a hip replacement. One of them recommended fusing the joint together, which would mean I’d have to walk by swinging my body around and could have led to serious back problems. It was a bad idea for my personal situation and the other doctors I saw didn’t recommend it.
What if the doctor who recommended fusing the joint together was the only doctor I saw? What if I had proceeded with his recommendation without getting any other opinions? By seeing other doctors, I learned the best option for me and felt more comfortable choosing my path forward.
2. Find the best surgeon
After you decide that surgery is the best option for you, find the best surgeon for that type of surgery. Here are some ways to find great surgeons:
- Ask friends and family members. Either they or someone they know might have a great recommendation.
- Ask your other doctors. They often have colleagues in different fields of medicine.
- Search sites that have ratings for doctors, like Health Grades, WebMD, and Yelp. But don’t automatically assume a low rating means the surgeon is bad. Take time to read the reviews. The surgeon I selected for my hip replacement surgery had some low ratings. But the reviews were based on complaints about the surgeon’s receptionists. I wasn’t concerned about the receptionists. I was concerned about finding a surgeon who would do the best job with my surgery.
- Look for doctors on your insurance company’s website. Ideally, your top surgeon is also in your insurance network. Surgery can be very expensive and you don’t want to be stuck with a huge bill if it can be avoided.
You want a surgeon who is an expert in your particular type of surgery. When I asked for recommendations for my hip replacement surgery, many people recommended surgeons who specialized in knee replacements. Those surgeons might be at the top of their field in knee replacements, but I needed someone in the top of his/her field in hip replacements.
3. Ask lots and lots of questions
After you’ve selected your surgeon, make an appointment with him/her to discuss the surgery and post-surgery recovery. Before the appointment, prepare a list of questions that you’d like answered. Some questions to ask include:
- Find out exactly what the surgery involves – is any pre-surgery preparation required? Will you be able to eat beforehand? Will you have general or local anesthesia? How long will the surgery last? What are possible complications? Is there anything you can do to reduce the likelihood of those complications?
- Ask about the post-surgery recovery – will you need to stay overnight in the hospital? How soon can you go home? Will you need someone to take care of you afterwards? What are your mobility restrictions? What are your travel restrictions? Are you permitted to drive? What kind of physical therapy is required?
Ask your friends and family what questions they have, too. They might think of an important question that you’ll want to ask. And don’t worry if you think of a question later – you can call your surgeon’s office to ask any follow-up questions.
4. Confirm your post-surgery limitations
Make sure you’re aware of your post-surgery limitations. Some limitations might be:
- Physical limitations – movement restrictions, no heavy lifting, no exercise, etc.
- Travel – major surgery can increase your chances of getting blood clots. Sitting for a long time in a car or plane may further increase your chances of getting blood clots, so check with your doctor whether you should limit your post-surgery travel.
- Driving – You doctor might advise against you driving – because of physical limitations or because of post-surgery medication that can affect your ability to drive. Check with your surgeon before getting behind the wheel.
- Working – Physical limitations and the affect of post-surgery medication may keep you out of work for awhile. Find out from your surgeon how long you’ll be out of commission.
5. Schedule pre-surgery tests
You may be required to schedule blood work and other tests prior to your surgery. These tests will confirm that you’re healthy enough for the surgery. They’ll also determine whether your surgeon needs to take special precautions during surgery because of any existing medical conditions you might have.
Schedule these tests as soon as you know your surgery date. Some tests need to be performed a certain amount of time before the surgery. You don’t want to be forced to postpone your surgery because you didn’t have a test done in time.
6. Arrange for time off work
If you need to take off more than a week from work, discuss the situation with your company’s HR department. They’ll walk you through your company’s policies for taking extended time off.
7. Arrange for short-term disability
Discuss your company’s short-term disability policy with your HR department.
With short-term disability, a portion of your salary will be covered by short-term disability insurance and the rest will be covered by your company.
It’s possible your short-term disability check won’t have taxes taken out of it. That means you’ll get a bigger check than normal up front. But don’t get carried away spending that extra cash. You’ll still have to pay taxes on it. When you file your annual tax return, that short-term disability is going to show as income. If you haven’t paid taxes on it yet, you’ll have to pay those taxes when you file.
TIP: Arranging for short-term disability was one of the most confusing and time-consuming parts of my entire surgery experience. As soon as you know you’re having surgery, start arranging for short-term disability. Both your workplace and your surgeon will have to confirm the request for short-term disability.
8. Ask someone to take care of you
Ask your surgeon whether you’ll need someone to take care of you after the surgery. You might only need someone to pick you up after surgery. Or you might need someone to stay with you for several days or even weeks after the surgery.
In my case, my surgeon recommended that someone stay with me for two weeks after my surgery, which surprised me. But surgery can really incapacitate you. Simple things like cooking, taking a bath, or even getting out of bed can be very difficult without someone to help you.
The hospital might not release you if you haven’t made arrangements for someone to help you. That was the case for me. If no one could stay with me, the hospital would have required me to stay at a rehab facility during my recovery.
If you have to stay at a rehab facility post-surgery, work with your surgeon and insurance company to make those arrangements before the surgery. Your insurance company may require you to go to a specific facility. You don’t want to have to figure this out when you’re in recovery.
9. Schedule physical therapy
Find out from your surgeon what type of physical therapy will be required post-surgery and where you’ll receive it.
In my case, I had physical therapy at three different locations – at the hospital right after surgery, at-home with a physical therapist, and at an outpatient clinic once I was well enough to travel.
The hospital and at-home physical therapists were arranged by the hospital and insurance company for me. Check with your surgeon and insurance company to confirm this is the case for you.
I had to arrange for the out-patient clinic. My surgeon gave me a list of recommended physical therapists. Your surgeon likely has recommendations to give you, too. Cross-check this list against your insurance company to find in-network physical therapist and against Yelp to confirm the physical therapist has good reviews.
10. Get tools to assist with your recovery
If you have any physical limitations, you might need some tools to help you during post-surgery recovery. These are the items that I used (and needed) during my recovery:
- Shower Grab Bars – Your balance and strength might be affected post-surgery. That makes it easier to accidentally fall and seriously hurt yourself in the shower. Install these removable grab bars in places you can easily reach for extra stability.
- Shower Bench – A shower bench is a good idea if you can’t stay on your feet for very long or if you have a hard time maintaining your balance post-surgery.
- Long Shower Brush – You might have a hard time reaching your extremities post-surgery. A long shower brush can help you with those hard to reach spots.
- Elevated Toilet Seat – You may find it difficult to sit in a low chair or seat after surgery, including a toilet seat. An elevated toilet seat will put less strain on your body when you’re trying to sit down.
- Sock Aid – You may not be able to reach your toes during your recovery. A sock aid comes in handy to help you put on your socks.
- Reacher Grabber – It may be difficult (or unsafe) to reach down or up post-surgery. Use a grabber to help you reach things.
- Compression Socks – If you’re going to be stationary for an extended period of time, your surgeon may recommend that you wear compression socks. Check with your surgeon whether these are a good idea for you.
- Entertainment – This is key to your post-surgery happiness! If you don’t have a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu, see if you can sign-up for a free trial right before your surgery. Stock up some books and magazines to read during your recovery, too! TIP: Some medication can make you feel dizzy post-surgery, so you might find it difficult to read.
For more tips to prepare your home for post-surgery recovery, check out Life After Surgery: 6 Ways to Improve Your Post-Surgery Experience.
11. Find delivery services to help during your recovery
While you’re recovery from surgery, you might have a hard time running errands, like picking up groceries or getting basic home supplies.
When I was recovering for surgery, I had a hard time with the grocery store. Grocery floors can be slippery and my balance wasn’t great post-surgery. Plus I couldn’t stand for very long, so waiting in the long checkout lines wasn’t ideal. That’s when I started using online grocery shopping to have my groceries delivered directly to me at home. You can read more about it at Online Grocery Shopping: Never Go to the Grocery Store Again.
If you don’t have Amazon Prime, you can sign-up for a free trial right before your surgery. That will give you access to free shipping and fast delivery to just about anything you’ll need while recovering.
12. Find out what to do if complications arise
Before your surgery, find out what kind of post-surgery complications might arise. Then you can be prepared to look for them.
Find out your surgeon’s emergency number so that you can contact him/her if you do have a complication. Hopefully it’ll be smooth sailing for you, but it’s comforting to know who to call in case you do have a concern.
Going through surgery can be a stressful experience, but I hope the tips above will help you feel more prepared and in control of the situation.
I hope your surgery is as successful as mine was – I’m pain-free and feel like I’m living a full life again.