Going in for an operation
by Dr John Winsor - The Sunday Times of Malta

Every week I refer to patients to hospital for some sort of surgical operation.

Having seen the surgeon in the outpatient clinic, they join a waiting list knowing that the next step is a sudden summons to a hospital ward, a period of sleep and, in most cases, waking up with a scar somewhere on their body.

All this can be frightening experience but you can lessen your anxiety by preparing yourself for it and asking a few questions along the way.

So many times I have heard patients say: “They didn’t tell me a thing.” But what do you need to know?

If I were going to have an operation I would want to know how long I will be in hospital, how soon can I expect to get back to work, will I need to take it easy when I come out of hospital, and what will be the restrictions?

But the most important thing anyone should know is if the operation is really necessary.

Don’t be afraid to ask the surgeon why the operation should be done and what the risks are. Is there any alternative treatment?

Remember, you have to give your consent for an operation. It is your body that is being cut and you need to be sure in your own mind that it is going to be beneficial.

Once you are positive about the necessity of the operation and the risk, then your mind is ready for the ordeal and your recovery will be that much more assured.

Physical fitness is as important as the mental preparation for surgery. You should be able to climb a couple of flights of stairs — one or two at a time quickly — without getting out of breath.

Being overweight contributes to breathlessness and that leads to breathing problems during and after a general anaesthetic. Sluggish, overweight people also get more chest complications after surgery.

The same goes for smoking. Smokers are six times as likely to suffer from post-operative chest problems as non-smokers. So try to cut down on both cigarettes and calorie consumption.

Drinking alcohol on a regular basis makes you tolerant to other drugs, especially anaesthetics. It affects the liver and its ability to destroy drugs, so don’t drink every day and cut down on your overall consumption.

Some medicines may have to be changed or stopped prior to an operation, so discuss this with your doctor. Women taking the pill may be advised to stop it several weeks ahead or carry on if it’s a minor operation.

After the operation, follow the advice given and do any special exercises you are taught — they will be vital to your recovery. Do a bit more activity each day and you will soon recover your bounce.

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