October 17, 2018

How to Prepare for Surgery and Recover Faster

Patients facing surgery are often overwhelmed and frustrated when recovery doesn't go as they'd hoped. But Dr. Ahmed Al-Niaimi, a UW Health gynecologic oncology surgery specialist, says, “That doesn't have to be the case.”

When surgery is necessary, his advice is to approach it from three phases: before, during, and after surgery. By doing so, patient can be knowledgeable and prepared about what to expect and avoid things that may slow down or prevent recovery.

Dr. Al-Niaimi's 5 Rules for Faster Recovery

Dr. Ahmed Al-Niaimi was recently featured on the UW-Madison Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Women's Healthcast.

Listen to the podcast

"Knowledge is power,” Al-Niaimi says, adding, “The more you know about what will happen, the less likely you'll be surprised and the less likely you are to be frustrated And actually it's more likely you'll be able to deal with those complications and recover from them."

Rules for a Faster Recovery

According to Al-Niaimi, when you look at surgery as a process you realize there are no small surgeries. But there are steps that all patients can take before and after surgery to ensure a faster and more complete recovery.

Before surgery

1. Don't smoke. Smoking stops the immune system from being able to do its job. As a result, it is harder for the body to heal. Patients who smoke face a higher risk for pneumonia, infection, fever, breathing problems and even heart attacks after surgery. "Some of our patients, when we explain the complications from smoking after surgery, take the opportunity to quit altogether," Al-Niaimi says. "But if that isn't possible or harder to achieve, then stop smoking seven days before surgery."

2. Make sure your other medical problems are under control. Your body will be stressed by the surgery, so give it the best chance to recover by working with your provider ahead of surgery to address any medical issues such as high blood pressure or blood sugar in patients with diabetes.

3. Eat a healthy diet. A patient who isn’t getting enough nutrients through their diet may need supplements or protein shakes to boost their nutrition. “Pure sugar or candies are not nutrition. When [patients] go to surgery, they need healthy nutrition and protein to help them recover," Al-Niaimi says.

4. Prevent surgical site infections. Chlorhexidine, an antiseptic soap, is commonly given to patients by their health care provider ahead of surgery to kill any bacteria on the skin. Do not have surgery if you have an active infection, unless the surgery is an urgent matter.

5. Have a plan. "It's important for surgeons, to ask patients what they think will prevent them from having a good recovery. Some patients need help with transportation," Al-Niaimi notes. "When we help support them with this need, we are indirectly giving them more time and energy to focus on things that they can do and that matter with their physical body."

6. Involve your caregivers. If possible, bring a friend or loved one with you to meet with your surgeon so they can ask questions you may not have considered. They can also take notes and reminders during your appointment. And if they will be helping you after surgery, they can get instructions, ask questions, and be better prepared to recognize any problems or unexpected complications that may come up while you heal.

7. Stay positive. The most important thing you can do is head into the surgery with a positive mind and good attitude. Patients who are positive have a better chance at recovery.

After Surgery

1. Ask questions. Don't assume that just because your surgeon knows what she or he is doing, that you don't also need to know. Ask your sugeon as many questions as you can and want . “There is nothing called a trivial question,” Al-Niaimi added.

2. Try to be as healthy as you can. Ask your surgeon or your health care team about things you can do to help you recover faster. Continue to actively manage your other medical problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

3. Eat a healthy diet and don't smoke. Patients who smoke or who don't eat a healthy diet don't recover as well.

4. Expect complications. Every surgery will have complications or undesired side effects, Al-Niaimi says. "If you go in to surgery expecting that there will be zero complications, then you are setting yourself up for some level of frustration."

5. Look at the big picture. Surgery and healing is a process, sometimes a long one. It’s important to understand what the goal is and what is expected at the end. What does recovery look like? What are possible complications? Even, will more surgeries be needed? "If you are surprised two, three months later that there will be three or four more surgeries, then that will be really hard on you," says Al-Niaimi.

Al-Niaimi stresses that leaving the hospital doesn't have to mean that a patient can no longer ask questions. "Go home, write them down and call your surgeon," he advises. "The more you know the less you will be surprised and the faster you'll recover."

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