Preparing Yourself for Successful Surgery

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the total number of medical procedures performed in the U.S. is 51.4 million. And that doesn’t even include outpatient surgery.

Chances are you’ll be contributing to this number at least once. When you do, it’s important to recognize the role you’ll play in your recovery. Preparing for any medical procedure shouldn’t be taken lightly, because it affects your recovery and results.


Undergoing the proper preparation prior to surgery is important. “Surgery is a stress to the body, just like running a marathon,” says Dr. Rolando Rolandelli, Chairman of the Department of Surgery at Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, NJ. “Patients need to be prepared physically and emotionally.”

Dr. Rolandelli says that being informed of every step of the process reduces anxiety and allows the body to focus on healing.

When it comes to surgery, there are general guidelines and then guidelines specific to the area of the body undergoing surgery, says Dr. Rolandelli. Some general guidelines may include not eating or drinking anything after midnight before your surgery and to make arrangements for a responsible adult to take you home.

Exercise – either weight loss or gain depending on circumstances – and good nutrition are essential, says Dr. Rolandelli.

The biggest challenge is smoking cessation. Anesthesiologists actually recommend that you take immediate steps to quit and remain smoke-free until at least one week following your procedure – or indefinitely. “People who smoke have an increased chance of complications during and after surgery,” warns the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

Questions to ask

The American College of Surgeons has a list of questions to ask prior to having an operation:

  • Why do I need this operation?
  • How will the operation be performed?
  • Are there other treatment options, and is this the best one for me?
  • What are the risks, benefits, and possible complications? Will my health history and medications I’m taking mean those will be different for me?
  • What are my anesthesia options? What kind is best, and how will I be monitored?
  • What can I expect beforehand? Will I need any special preparation or diet? When do I have to stop eating and drinking, and should I take my home medication the day of the operation?
  • What can I expect for my recovery? What kind of home care will I need? When can I return to regular activities? Will I need any medication, and what can I do to help with my recovery?
  • What is your experience with this operation? How many of these surgeries have you done? What is your success rate? How often do your patients experience problems and what are those problems? Are you board certified? Are you a member of the American College of Surgeons? How can I contact you if I have more questions?
  • Is the surgical facility accredited and properly staffed? Is it at a hospital or outpatient setting?
  • How much will the operation cost, and what insurance do you take?

Long-term planning

If your recovery will be long and/or your activities will be limited, it’s wise to think ahead. Janet Curry, for example, made sure her house was ready before she had back and neck surgery. She did extra house cleaning and cooked meals and froze them for later. She also bought some comfortable outfits to wear – things that were loose and easy to put on over her neck.

Other people have to set up babysitting or arrange for time off work for themselves and/or spouses or caregivers. If you have supportive family and friends, enlist them for help with meals and errands; there are many web sites that help with this.

Love, encouragement, and support go a long way toward healing. You can keep loved ones informed through a web site like CaringBridge, or have someone update others for you. This also keeps you from repeating the same information for different people.

Eating well

In addition to eating healthy before surgery, there are certain foods to eat or avoid that will aid in recovery. Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute, recommends avoiding foods that are pro-inflammatory (think sugar, processed, refined) before surgery. Maintaining a healthy diet aids in recovery, a 2014 study found. And the type of surgery may matter as well.

Kirkpatrick says that some surgical procedures impacting the GI system, for example, may not tolerate high fiber foods and probiotics directly after surgery.

Herewith, some foods Kirkpatrick thinks are worth adding to your diet and why:

  • Dark leafy greens are filled with vitamins and minerals that help boost the immune system and protect cells. Some blood thinning medications after surgery may interact with foods that are high in vitamin K (green leafy vegetables).
  • Whole grains such as brown rice and whole grain bread can help move bowels along and prevent constipation after surgery
  • Ginger can help mitigate post-surgery nausea
  • Lean proteins such as low-fat cottage cheese and turkey breast have amino acids that were found in one animal study to help with wound healing
  • Citrus fruits and red pepper are high in vitamin C, which may help aid recovery time
  • Kefir or yogurt with live active cultures are high in probiotics and have live microorganisms that may shorten the duration of diarrhea due to antibiotic use. Probiotics may also help to fight against certain infections. Indeed, one study found that probiotic use decreased the risk of infection after abdominal surgery. Always check with your doctor about probiotic use.
  • Fatty fish (salmon) or eggs contain vitamin D, which helps the immune system. Fish, fish oil, and walnuts are high in omega 3 fatty acids, which may help keep inflammation down post-surgery.


Perhaps the most important tip of all is to relax. The American Psychological Association says that stress weakens the immune system. Find a stress-buster that works for you, whether it’s watching TV, hanging out with friends, meditating, listening to music, doing yoga, or reading.

And above all, remember there are no risks to doing the proper prep before surgery. Just benefits.

For more tips on increasing your chances for a successful surgery and recovery visit Strong for Surgery:

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