Tips On Surgery Preparation for the Patient

Tips for You I've Found Along my 40-Plus Surgery Experience

Preparing for Surgery & What You Should Know About Getting Ready: a patient-to-patient guide

I'm sure there's no shortage of info around the Internet about preparation before surgery, but a patient like me really may be a really good thing for many 'insider' tips you might not have thought about.

I've included some tips on how to get mentally prepared for surgery, along with how long before surgery should you stop drinking alcohol and your diet prior to surgery.

What makes me the 'patient pro?' Well, I've had over forty surgeries, and along the way I've had lots of questions and many experiences. I'm pretty savvy about what you should pack and what you should have at home for post-surgery care.

PLEASE NOTE: I'm not a healthcare professional. My article here is a personal account of my hospital experiences and what worked best to make my surgeries and after-care a more productive one. Be sure to run your questions by your doctor before any medical procedure.


Prepare Your Body for Surgery

If you're wondering how to prepare your body for surgery, you're on the right track to a successful post-surgery experience. Preparation is paramount, but be sure you aren't incorporating too much change too soon. Obviously, if you're having heart surgery, you shouldn't try cardio training unless your doctor expressly orders it. I don't want to say too much about exercising, as our needs and capabilities are so different. The best tip I have is to ask both your surgeon and primary care doctor which exercises you should be doing. Surgery is a stress on the body, and healing will depend upon your body's overall condition. Make sure you read the tips further down, too.
Before Surgery Invest In a Good Exercise Shoe Like This One

Walking is one of the best exercises for most everyone. If you find it boring, walk with a friend or go window shopping at a mall. If you need support while walking, go to stores with large carts you can lean on them for support. Since anything on wheels can be dangerous, bring a companion along to help you get used to using a cart while leaning on it. I often went to department stores so I could park somewhat close to the basket return. I'd grab a basket from the outdoor corral for support from my car to store and back. 
Bring disinfectant wipes and don't touch the basket until you wipe at least the handle and seat down. Carts are woefully full of germs, so don't skip this practice--especially since you want to prevent any illness before surgery.

Find an exercise you can do with your doctors' support and do it! Hold off on any gym memberships until you prove yourself faithful and disciplined to an exercise routine. The stronger your heart, the better it holds up to any kind of stress. 

DO invest in a good walking or trainer shoe! I recommend New Balance for Women and Men like the above shoe: they tend to be wider than many other top competitors' exercise shoe and they're totally comfortable. Obviously, these are women's sneakers, but the men's styles can be found by clicking the same link.


True Story: Surgery That Took Forty-Two Days!

I'll elaborate further down right before my surgery tips. You'll see--very clearly-- why my recommendation for meditation (below, here) makes sense. I bet you'll identify with my little story. Don't worry; it's a light-hearted tale.

How-To Meditation for Surgery Preparation

Preparing Yourself Mentally for Surgery

Since having so many surgeries, I've come a long way and they no longer frighten me, but I do know how you may be feeling with anxiety. I found many of my pre-surgery fears simply stemmed from the unknown.

First, I recommend you write your fears down; use list form and skip several lines. It's best to use free hand instead of typing on your computer; be as hands-on as possible. Read your list several times a day and add to it. This exercise helps you become familiar with your fears. Once accomplished, fill in the empty lines with specifics, then stop and revisit your revised 'list' several times a day. For example, #1 might read 'afraid of the I.V. needle' (I have a great tip for this further down in the tips section). Skip several lines, then #2. might say, 'afraid I might be embarrassed when. . . .' Make yourself insensitive to these fears by reading them repeatedly.

Look up any questions you have and be sure you use competent sources as well as your doctors for answers. Keep visiting your list during the day and refrain from nighttime reading, as you don't want to interrupt your sleep with worry and new questions. It's good to be informed, but don't make yourself sick over-thinking! If you can't seem to calm yourself, talk to your doctor about your feelings. I prefer not to add medications to my repertoire, so anti-anxiety drugs were not for me--especially before surgery. 

I know it doesn't sound fun, but exercise helps relieve stress and depression, as does meditation. Meditation is no joke: it's a proven mind/body healer and will certainly help you prepare for surgery mentally and physically. You need to follow proper techniques, but you don't have to spend lots of money learning, either. Here's a great, well-rated guide to meditation that includes a CD for under $20. Meditation is certainly worth adding to your list of things to do before surgery; it can change your life by helping you change your perspective on everything!

I don't want this post to be about buying your way to successful surgery, and of course there is no guarantee with anything. But if you find that one or more of my tips sounds practical for your needs, there's no reason to refrain from acquiring it.


Prepare for Surgery with Proper Diet

Your Diet: What You Should Eat Before Surgery

I'm sure if you're wondering how to prepare your body for surgery, that you want to know about your diet. It's a two-part question: what should you eat in preparation of your surgery and what you should be eating the day of surgery.

While your doctor should be your primary source of telling you about the best foods to eat before surgery, often times anti-inflammatory foods are overlooked. Trust me, inflammation is a major source of pain and chronic illnesses, and can interrupt healing. So, you really should start learning about the foods that keep so many of us sick, in pain, depressed, obese . . . and the list goes on. Seriously. 

I'll talk about eating the day of surgery further down in my tips section.


Diet: Prepare for Your Surgery's Success

The Best Foods Keep Inflammation at Bay So Your Body Can Heal

As I mentioned, my tips include products, but you can most likely search for recipes like those in this book. Preparing for hip surgery, I cooked a whole month's worth of healthy food for my family and me beforehand. I packaged everything in meal-sized containers that I could simply heat in my oven of microwave.

If you skip this preparedness tip, your diet may suffer--a lot. There will be plenty of times post-surgery you can't, or don't feel like cooking, and you might resort to fast food: think too much salt, additives, trans fat, expense, sugar, weight gain, etc. Unless you know what's in your food, you're probably eating the wrong thing! I wouldn't eat the frozen dinners from the grocery store--the kind with all those additives (words we usually don't know) and sky-high sodium. Go ahead, now, and become familiar with what diet your body needs to heal. Prepare your food before surgery; you'll feel better and you'll be so glad you did. 

Better health--be it mentally or physically--is an investment. 

Popular Questions for Surgery Preparation

Why Can you have surgery if you have a cold?

Obviously, the nature of your surgery (is it lifesaving?) will be the biggest factor whether or not a cold will prevent surgery, but your surgeon will have the final say. I've had surgery while suffering a cold (but without fever nor chest congestion). I was healthy in most regards, a non-smoker, non-drinker and a healthy weight. Everyone is different, though and you could have my exact profile but fare much different having surgery with a cold. Healing is work on the body in itself, and adding a cold might be a game-changer for you.

Why can't you eat or drink before surgery?

Eating or drinking the day of surgery is a no-no and one of my least favorite parts of having surgery. You simply can't eat before surgery as you might get queasy from medication. We all can relate to medications that made someone sick, like an antibiotic where you or a family member threw up (vomited) after taking it. Not eating or drinking before surgery is a necessary precaution. I'm not saying you will throw up on the operating table, but if you sneak, and eat or drink before surgery you are increasing your chances of vomiting while you're asleep! Not good when you have a breathing tube. Just don't do it. Hospitals have to take a lot of seemingly over-the-top precautions, but it's for your own good.

NOTE: I'm not trying to scare you. Be sure you read my tips on down for mental comfort on this one.

How long before surgery should I stop drinking alcohol?      

Drinking alcohol before surgery should be discussed with your doctor, as alcohol can tax--and even ruin your liver. I won't give you a lecture; just remember that healing will take all of your organs working overtime to heal post surgery. Alcohol is not a good idea. Anyway, if you drink alcohol prior to surgery, it's usually metabolized (gone from your body) with a healthy liver after 24 hours, BUT you can be dehydrated, have fluid retention, and even more issues well after that period. The drink tablets here are a great thing to have before and after surgery. I'll talk more about hydration in the tips section further down.
Keep Hydrated Before & Post Surgery: Nuun Drink Tablets

REALLY IMPORTANT: If you drink everyday, your body might go into shock upon attempting to stop drinking completely and all at once: it's a syndrome called delirium tremens, and is very serious, killing 35% of alcoholics who attempt cold turkey cessation. You can't have all this going on while you;re having surgery. You're really going to have to come clean with your doctor about your consumption. Please don't be too proud. Be truthful. YOU control what your doctor is allowed to discuss with your family if you don't want them to know.


Tips On Having Surgery

The Forty-Two Day Surgery!

I've sectioned off my tips hopefully to make better sense. If you don't see a surgery tip you're interested in, leave me a comment and I'll do my best--at least let you know my experiences. But first, and as promised, I want to talk about the surgery that lasted forty-two days.

Often when we hear the words, "surgery," our minds go into a fast-forward spiral, and we have no control to stop the manic anxiety we feel. And because surgery is often scheduled for sometime in the (hopefully) near future--usually about six weeks--our minds have free rein and we're stuck in a vortex of sorts.

Fear can add so much unnecessary stress to even the simplest of surgeries, so a one-day surgery (often called 'same-day surgery') becomes a 21-day, a 30-day, or scarier yet, a 42-day surgery. I'm referring to the amount of time since you are first told about said surgery, added to actual surgery date:

Surgery scheduled 6 weeks in advance = 42 days of worry

If you allow worry to get the  best of you where you're: talking about it to everyone you know, thinking about your surgery 24/7, dreaming about surgery, etc., you've allowed that one surgery to live your life for however many days! Don't let stress, unfettered fear, and nail-biting anxiety 'add time' to a 4-hour surgery. Get a GRIP now. Every time you start thinking about your surgery, catch yourself and push the thought out of your mind the very instant it comes. Having knowledge and control over your mind via meditation is a centuries'old, tried-and-true method of quelling what ails us physically and mentally. Us Westerners fight meditation tooth and nail; we'd rather pump ourselves and our children full of drugs (and fill our ADHD kids with ritalin and adderal! Me included--at first). Well, that's another post's topic I need to address later.

Do you see what I'm trying to tell you?

If you identify with the worry I talked about, go back and revisit the meditation materials I featured. You can find other materials at the link. You owe it to yourself and your family to find relief in a practice that will last you a lifetime. Once you learn meditation, teach your family--kids included.

I'm not saying don't plan for your surgery; I'm saying don't worry!

Here's some things you might want to have on hand and at home before you get home.

more tips on having surgery after these gotta-haves

Things to get before having surgery (small things, first)

Pill organizer. These gadgets are a must-have, especially if you're forgetful or don't usually take medications. I've included a cheaper version here, but you can see more pill organizers at the link below the image. Your answers to these questions will give you an idea of the model and features you'll need. Medication works best when taken at the same or prescribed times; so if you tend to forget, you may need a timer and alarm.

Buy a Pill/medication Organizer Before Surgery

  • Will you need a locked compartment?
  • Do you need a timer?
  • Do you need easy-open (think had surgery)
  • Pill splitter/magnifier
  • Will you need a large pill compartment?
Tips on Medication:
  • Save money by asking your doctor for generics, if available
  • Some tablets can be split in half. Buying larger-dose tablets saves money
  • Make sure you know any medication that is time or extended release; NEVER break these tablets!
  • Take a picture or video with your cell phone of each pill next to the bottle's label in case you get confused

Thermometer. A thermometer--one that works well--is a must. Period. You don't want to have to go out at midnight for a thermometer. I can guarantee when you call your doctor for any problems, she'll ask if you're running a fever. Fever is your body's indicator of infection. If you're having surgery you need a thermometer. No questions asked: it could save your life.

Prepare for Surgery with a Thermometer

  • Will you need easy-to-read?
  • Does your present thermometer have a case?
  • Do you need a light-up?
  • This one is cheap, has a case; is fast & easy to read


  • Be sure to open the package and use the thermometer before your surgery
  • Make sure you can see the numbers easily
  • Become familiar with the read time
  • Have your OWN thermometer

How to Know What Monitors You'll Need After Surgery

I included this budget-friendly wrist monitor that measures your blood pressure and heart rate. It's great to include with your post-surgery/health kit. But how do you know what's necessary? Well, you could go on and on just to be on the 'safe side' but my way of thinking is this: can I use it regularly after surgery, or will it collect dust in a junk drawer? If I don't have one, will I mind going out to the store or pharmacy to have my blood pressure checked? What about my sugar levels? Surgery can affect your blood sugar when you're not otherwise a diabetic. If the vision of you running out to the store in lounge pants is off-putting, talk to your 

Post/After Surgery Blood Pressure Monitor

Blood Pressure Monitor

  • Wrist or Upper Arm?
  • Large Read-Out?
  • Can You See the Pulse Rate?


put everything into a box like this cheap tackle box.

Prepare & Organize for Surgery $12.99

It's good to have a box away from kids' and your significant others' fingers. Trust me, you'r not gonna want to course the entire house looking for a thermometer.

Not fun after surgery.


Things To Do Before Surgery Tips 

  • Make a list; add to it as you find things you need
  • Get your small items first; large items that take up room can really clutter up your home too early
  • Prepare your meals using inexpensive BPA-free lunch trays (dishwasher safe) with covers
  • Cook larger lasagnas, double-size chili, vegetable soups (use frozen organic vegetables--especially corn), any dish that you can prepare in double or triple batches if great. It only takes a little extra effort to cook food like this, and if your surgery is scheduled a few weeks in advance that's time you can use when cooking for your family's dinner.
  • Ask a friend or family to help out with shopping and cooking until you have a month's worth of prepared food in your freezer. Canned foods tend to have way too much salt! Don't forget the anti-inflammatory cookbooks.
  • Rice and pasta dishes are great post-surgery diets but ask your doctor first
  • If you don't have a rolling office chair, get one! These office chairs are a godsend. You can wheel yourself from kitchen to toilet without stress on your hips, back, knees, etc. Anytime I had surgery where I was told to stay off the affected area, I broke out my office chair. Don't get one with arms; keep to the 'task chair,' where you can transfer and move your arms.

Your Surgery Preparation:

  • Keep hydrated--especially before surgery. If you've had enough fluids going into the hospital, your I.V. will go in a lot easier! I added the tablets earlier in his post to make hydration easier. 
  • Tell the nurse you want lidocain added to keep the I.V. insertion less painful. 
  • You will have an appointment with your anesthesiologist before any surgery when you have general anesthesia (putting you to sleep). Tell the doctor what you want. Do you want to be full-out asleep? Maybe a 'twilight' (my fave) sleep? I often prefer to be on my own oxygen but put out enough not to know what's going on. Also, I ALWAYS insist that I don't wake up in the O.R. (operating room). Too, if I'm having say, a foot surgery, I tell the doctor I want a block plus the sleep anesthesia, so I wake up pain free (due to the block) and with light sleep gas, I'm pretty alert and recover faster.

I'll be adding to this list as things pop into my mind, so check back.

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