Your surgery date has finally arrived. You’ve likely undergone multiple tests and met with specialists. You’ve probably also endured a fair amount of anxiety, even frustration. On the day of your surgery, your safety and well-being will be in the hands of highly-trained medical professionals. Yet you have obligations as well. On the day of your surgery, what should your anesthesia expectations be? What steps will help you be better prepared?
Do you have allergies? Sleep apnea? A history of anesthesia-induced nausea? These are all things your anesthesiologist should know. Obstructive sleep apnea can slow down your breathing which heightens the effects of general anesthesia. It can also make it harder to regain consciousness following surgery. So, if you require a medical device for your sleep apnea, bring it with you to the hospital. If you require an inhaler to treat asthma, you should bring it with you as well. You will likely have a wristband that clearly states this.
Much of your responsibility is what you should not do. Don’t eat anything at least eight hours before surgery. Doing so can result in aspiration––which is what happens when your stomach contents are expelled and end up getting into the lungs. This means avoiding lozenges, gum, and candy along with larger meals. You can brush your teeth but make sure to spit it all out. Your anesthesiologist should address this and let you know when to start abstaining from food or drink prior to surgery. Shower or bathe, using special soap if it was provided for you. Don’t wear perfume or deodorant. Leave the jewelry, watches, and other valuables at home. Entrust your personal items to a friend or family member.
If you have tests scheduled right before surgery, you may be asked to arrive a few hours early. Upon arrival at the hospital or medical center, you’ll be taken to the Preoperative Holding Area, where you’ll need to remove all clothing and don a gown. At this point, you may be asked to sign any necessary paperwork. An operating room nurse may also verify your identity and double-check information on allergies and other potentially risky medical issues. An intravenous line will be placed in a vein in your hand or arm to provide fluid and medications. Finally, unless you are told otherwise, make sure there are no hair pins or clips in your hair and that you’ve removed your glasses or contact lenses. Dentures and bridgework should also be removed.
Before you enter the operating room, the anesthesiologist will meet with you. They may discuss the anesthesia that will be used along with any concerns you may have. Then you’ll be sedated. During the procedure, the anesthesiologist will monitor the devices that will report your vital signs during the operation. A pulse oximeter attached to your finger, toe, or earlobe will measure oxygen levels in your blood while an inflatable cuff strapped to your upper arm will track your blood pressure.
Your anesthesiologist is responsible for keeping track of the anesthesia and your bodily functions. After surgery, if you were under general anesthesia, they will reverse the medication allowing you to slowly regain consciousness. It will take time—you won’t be wide awake right away. You may also experience a host of side effects including fatigue, chills, or itching. The anesthesiologist can address these and determine when you are ready to be released (if you aren’t scheduled to remain overnight). A trusted friend or family member will need to pick you up as you won’t be able to drive and shouldn’t rely on a rideshare or public transportation. Your surgery is likely to go off without a hitch, thanks both to the medical professionals and your own careful preparation.
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.