Hopefully, there are no surgeries or procedures in your future. But if you find out that you need a procedure requiring anesthesia, here’s what you can do to make the experience as smooth and pleasant as possible.
We’re both practicing anesthesiologists. Believe us, your anesthesiologist will love you for following this advice!
- Stay active. Compared with people who are less active prior to surgery, people who are more active prior to surgery do better after surgery. Just like you would train for a marathon or sporting event, you should prepare for surgery and anesthesia. We call this pre-habilitation, since it’s before surgery — rather than rehabilitation, which happens afterward. If you aren’t very active, you don’t need to get a personal trainer or join a gym. But do consider increasing your activity. Go for walks. Try to get 10,000 steps a day. Since the stress of anesthesia on the heart is comparable to walking up a flight of stairs without stopping, why not try to climb two flights of stairs?
- Keep drinking water! Check your pre-surgery instructions, but you may be able to keep drinking water until two hours before the surgery. As you drink more water, your veins fill up, making it easier for the care team to place an IV — which means less stress and fewer pokes for you! Drinking more water also may help you avoid the dreaded dry mouth, also known as “cottonmouth.” A win-win for everyone involved!
- See your primary care provider beforehand. This is especially important if you haven’t had a checkup in a while. If you don’t have a primary care provider, a preoperative clinic may be an option. Make sure all your medical conditions are reviewed and medications are adjusted if needed. Patients with better blood pressure and blood sugar control do better under anesthesia and have fewer complications after surgery, such as fewer wound infections.
- Talk about any prior issues with anesthesia. Nausea and vomiting after anesthesia are unfortunately very common, especially in women. There are medications that may prevent these effects.
- Let your anesthesiologist know if you are breastfeeding, are pregnant or might be pregnant. Your anesthesiologist may need to avoid certain anesthetics in these scenarios. Often medications can be used that are compatible with breastfeeding, so you won’t have to waste any of that liquid gold! The general rule is that as long as you are awake enough after anesthesia to safely hold your baby, you are safe to breastfeed unless you’ve been told otherwise.
- Consider your birth control. If you take hormonal contraceptives such as the birth control pill, some medications can interfere with that birth control. An anesthesiologist can let you know if you’ll need another form of birth control for a while after surgery.
- Eat anything for eight hours before surgery. It takes the stomach eight hours to empty. The combination of food in your stomach and going to sleep under anesthesia could cause you to aspirate. That means your stomach contents come up, then go back down into your lungs. This can be dangerous and make you very sick. Chances are, if you haven’t fasted for eight hours prior to surgery, your surgery will be postponed.
- Drink alcohol. Avoid drinking for several days before surgery. Similarly, stay away from street drugs, including cannabis.
- Smoke. You know smoking is bad for your health, so you won’t be surprised that it’s also bad for you when you need anesthesia. Smokers have more reactive airways, meaning that when under anesthesia, their lungs act like they have asthma. Smokers also have more mucus and more respiratory complications, and they don’t heal as quickly. Having surgery is an opportunity to quit smoking. Your health care team will be more than happy to help support you in quitting.
- Do anything important after your procedure. Use your procedure as an excuse to relax! Don’t try to work or make any important decisions, such as signing contracts or buying cars. Similarly, don’t post anything on the internet — this includes those selfies while in your hospital gown. Save it and wait a day once the anesthesia has fully worn off to decide if you want to post or sign.
Ask your anesthesiologist about any other questions or concerns you may have. By becoming a partner with your anesthesiology team, you’re setting yourself up for success — and hopefully, a smooth surgery and recovery.
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