Boston Women’s Journal - December 2003/January 2004

Preparing for a Successful Surgery

We don’t like to think about it , but in the course of our lives we, or someone we love, will have surgery. As an alternative health care practitioner and one who believes in Integrative Medicine, surgery may be the last resort but it is sometimes unavoidable. There are four different categories of reasons that a person may have a surgical procedure. For each instance there are things we can do to prepare and assure the best possible outcome.

First, there is the situation we all dread, an Emergency such as an auto accident occurs and you must get immediate care. You can be more prepared by having an information card detailing any allergies or preexisting medical conditions on your person at all times. Be sure to include things like contact lenses or a pacemaker. This card should also have the name of an emergency contact to be called to help out if you are unable to speak for yourself. Alert this emergency contact about your wishes for care. Be specific and perhaps offer to be their emergency contact. Most people do not carry cards like this anymore and this leaves you vulnerable. Without information and someone to call, your wishes, current health status, and even the name of your Primary Care Practitioner might not be available. This precaution might literally save your life. Learn which hospitals are covered by your insurance and learn which hospitals in the area are good at providing emergency care. For example, in the Boston area Mass General has a great trauma team. Smaller hospitals may not have the equipment, don’t hesitate to be transferred to a different facility.

The second category is Urgent, Non-Emergency Surgery. An example of this might be breast cancer. In almost all cases you have a few weeks to research and determine what is best for you. Get a second and maybe even a third opinion from appropriate specialists. Find out if there are different techniques used and what the variable risks are. Be absolutely sure surgery is the best route, and that the type of surgery being performed is the least harmful (less is often better). You may want to speak with an alternative care practitioner such as a Medical Intuitive, Nutritionist, or Acupuncturist to provide supportive help. Interview surgeons. Choose a surgeon who has performed numerous similar operations. Experience counts! Speak with your Primary Care Physician (PCP) and ask him/her for all the information they think you should take into account in deciding about your surgery. Have your PCP call the surgeon you select, and transfer appropriate records regarding the state of your health. Read/listen to tape of Peggy Huddleston’s book Preparing for Surgery, Heal Faster. She is a well known and well respected healer helping people to face and recover from surgery with the best possible results.

The third category, Necessary but not urgent surgery, would be something like knee surgery. In this category you should first do all the things listed from the category above. The next step is to check out all available alternative therapies, including Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Massage, consulting a Medical Intuitive, or seeing an Osteopath. You may be able to avoid the surgery altogether. Schedule it when you will have sufficient recovery time available from work, and people available to help you.

The final category is Elective Surgery, such as a face lift. Be extra careful about selecting a surgeon, there are fewer controls in this area and the measure of success is very difficult. Ask for references of past patients that have had the procedure. Make sure this surgery is the best choice for you, and that there aren’t alternatives could be done less drastically, for example acupuncture or exercise.

Be aware that there are serious risks inherent in any surgery. Anesthesia mistakes are among the most common reasons for death during surgery. Anesthesiology is an art as well as a science and a small mistake in dosage or type of medication could be dangerous. Caregivers in hospitals are very busy and changes occur rapidly, so the possibility of incorrect administration of medications is often present even in the best facilities. Strokes can be a side effect of surgeries, a blood clot formed by the procedure could travel. Because it is a place with a lot of sick people, germs are endemic to the hospital environment. This means it is easy to pick up something while you’re there.

Finally, remember that surgery may not solve the problem. Please understand that this is not meant to condemn a practice that has saved many lives, but rather to help you to be a well-educated health care consumer.