Visiting your surgeon to discuss an upcoming operation can be quite stressful. Because of this, if you don't go prepared, you may forget to ask important questions. Also if you don't go with a piece of paper and pen, you might also forget the answers to important questions.
I was recently asked to come up with a list of questions that patients should keep with them when they make this important visit to their surgeon. In her blog about the importance of making lists for nearly everything in your daily life, The List Producer is managing to help simplify our lives by keeping us organized. Below is the list that I developed along with some extra information on each question. I hope you find this useful in your next trip to your surgeon.
1. What is my diagnosis?
Surprisingly, this very simple question is not asked very often. In order to truly understand your operation you absolutely need to know your diagnosis. This will help you to explain your problem to your family, friends and any other physicians that you might have.
2. What is the operation you are recommending?
Again, it is important to know the specific name of the operation. This will be on your consent form as well. Most hospitals will also ask you this question at least once during your interview process on the day of surgery to be sure that you are familiar with what is being planned.
3. How many of these operations have you done?
If your surgeon has not done a large number of the operation that he or she is planning, it is important to specifically ask if he or she is comfortable with performing the operation. It is also not inappropriate to ask if the operation could be done better by someone more experienced in this particular operation.
4. How long is the in-hospital recovery?
This is often difficult to predict, especially with bigger operations. Usually the answer will be a range of days to expect inpatient hospitalization. You're operation may also be outpatient which may be same-day surgery or an overnight stay that does not exceed 24 hours. Again, it is important to set your expectations for which of these options will be occurring.
5. How long is the out of hospital recovery?
Recovery means different things to different people. For some people it means how long until you are pain-free. For others it is how long until you can get back to normal activity. Be specific with your questions and ask these specific things when talking about recovery period
6. Will I need a transitional period with rehab or home nursing?
For bigger operations this is often necessary. Also for the elderly or for people who start the operation in a debilitated state, a rehabilitation hospital or skilled nursing facility may be an appropriate transitional facility.
7. How long do you expect me to need prescription pain medication?
Commonly, surgeons will prescribe narcotic pain medication for a limited period after which you may be required to see your primary care physician for further narcotic prescriptions. It is also common to try to transition from narcotic pain medication to anti-inflammatory medication or acetaminophen as quickly as possible after the operation. This will minimize the side effects of narcotic use.
8. How long should I take off of work?
Again, this can be difficult to predict and is largely dependent on your pain tolerance and your specific job. It is always better to try to anticipate this before the operation and your employer will thank you for an appropriate heads up rather than being surprised when you ask for 2 weeks of sick leave following your operation.
9. What are the risks?
This is an absolute must-ask question. Most consent forms will indicate that your surgeon has discussed the risks of the surgery with you. Be sure that this has happened. It is often scary to learn the worst case scenario, but it is always best to be well-informed.
10. Are there alternatives to this operation?
There are often alternatives to an operation. These can be medical alternatives, such as treatment with a specific medication, or there can be alternative operations to treat the same disease. Presumably, your surgeon is recommending a specific operation for a reason instead of the alternative therapies. Find out what they are and what their advantages or disadvantages are.
11. Is it worthwhile to seek a second opinion?
Any good surgeon will never discourage this. For simple operations or straightforward decision-making this may not be necessary. But for complicated issues, or if you just don’t feel comfortable with what you are hearing, a second opinion may be right for you. You can always come back and schedule surgery with your original surgeon after your second opinion.
12. Who will oversee my care while I’m in the hospital?
Will the surgeon see you, you will you be seen by the Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant? Or, will there be residents and interns seeing you? All of these are reasonable options, but it’s nice to know up front what to expect in the hospital.
13. Will there be residents operating on me?
This is fine, but it is good to know beforehand rather than be surprised at the group of 20-somethings at your bedside.
14. What do I need to look for after the operation in terms of infection and wound healing and will I need sutures or staples removed?
This may be covered at the time of your discharge, but ask just in case. If there will be a wound to take care of, it is good to buy supplies now. You won’t feel like shopping after the operation.
I hope this list helps with preparing for the stress of an upcoming operation. As Louis Pasteur once said, “chance favors the prepared mind.”
List Producer blogs at http://www.listproducer.com/ and is on Twitter @ListProducer