You may be a fan of TV emergency room shows and hospital dramas,
but these shows probably just make you more nervous about what
happens in the operating room. Want to stress less about surgery?
Find out what to expect before you get to the hospital by reading
If you're facing surgery, you definitely aren't alone.
Millions of teens are wheeled into operating rooms (ORs) each
Depending on your medical problem, you may have
surgery (also called ambulatory surgery). Inpatient surgery usually
requires that you stay in the hospital for a day or more so the
doctors and nurses can monitor your recovery carefully. If you have
outpatient surgery, you may not even have to go to hospital - this
type of surgery is often performed in a doctor's office or an
outpatient surgery clinic and you can go home afterward.
What to Expect
When you arrive at the hospital, a nurse or other hospital
employee will begin the admissions process by asking questions
about your medical history, including any
you might have and any symptoms or pain you may be having. Girls
may be asked if there is any chance of being pregnant. Nurses may
also take your
like your heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure.
During the admissions process, you'll be given an
identification bracelet - a paper tape to wear around your wrist.
You'll also be asked about the time you last ate or drank
anything. This question may seem strange, but it's actually
very important to your safety. Having food or liquids in your
system can interfere with some medical procedures and may make you
feel sick or even lead to harmful complications.
You may need to have other tests, like x-rays and blood tests,
before your surgery begins.
Before your operation takes place, you and your family will have
a chance to meet with the
- the doctor who specializes in giving anesthetics, the medications
that will help you fall asleep or numb an area of your body so you
don't feel the surgery. The anesthesiologist will have your
medical information so he or she can give you the amount of
anesthetic you need for your age, height, and weight.
There are several types of anesthesia. General anesthesia causes
you to become completely unconscious during the operation. If
you're having general anesthesia, the anesthesiologist will be
present during the entire operation to monitor your anesthetic and
ensure you constantly receive the right dose. If surgery is done
under local anesthesia, you'll be given an anesthetic that
numbs only the area of your body to be operated on. You may be
given a medication that makes you drowsy during the procedure. (If
you're having outpatient surgery in a clinic or doctor's
office, this is probably the type of anesthetic you'll
Before your operation, the medical staff will clean (and shave,
if necessary) the area of your body that will be operated on.
You'll be asked to take off any jewelry, including barrettes
and hair ties, and you'll need to take out contact lenses if
you wear them. You'll be given a surgical gown to wear during
A nurse or doctor may put a small, plastic tube in your arm and
attach it to an IV line. This line will probably be used to give
you anesthetic (if you're having general anesthesia) or provide
you with fluids or medicine that may be needed during the
As you're wheeled into a hospital operating room, you may
notice that the nurses and doctors are wearing face masks and
plastic eyeglasses, as well as paper caps, gowns, and booties
over their shoes. Patients are vulnerable to infection during an
operation, so this protective gear prevents germs and dirt from
entering the operating room. The hospital staff wears all that
protective gear to protect you against
You might also wear some monitoring equipment - sticker-like
patches that attach to your skin - in the operating room to help
doctors and nurses keep an eye on your heart rate and blood
Sometimes medical and nursing students observe surgeries, so
don't be surprised if doctors and nurses aren't the only
people in the room.
After your surgery is over, you'll be taken to the recovery
room, where nurses will monitor your condition very closely for a
few hours. Sometimes this room is also called the post-op
(postoperative) room or PACU (postanesthesia care unit). Your
parent should be able to visit you here. Every person has a
different surgical experience, but if you've had general
anesthesia, it's common to feel groggy, confused, chilly,
nauseated, or even sad when you wake up.
Once your anesthesia has worn off and you're fully awake,
you'll be taken to a regular hospital room if you're
staying overnight. If you're having an outpatient procedure,
you'll be monitored by nurses and doctors in another room until
you're able to go home. If you feel pain after the
surgery, the doctors and nurses will make sure you have pain
relievers to keep you more comfortable. You may also need to take
other medications, such as antibiotics to prevent
Making Surgery Less Stressful
The thought of having surgery can be scary. If you're
worried, try these tips to help feel more at ease:
Your surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nurses will be able to answer
your questions about the surgery, how you'll feel afterward,
how long it will take to return to your normal activities, and
whether you'll have any scarring. Don't feel embarrassed
about asking lots of questions - the more informed you are, the
more comfortable you'll feel about having surgery.
Be sure you're clear on instructions - and ask if
Your doctor or a nurse will give you instructions on what to do
before the surgery (called preoperative instructions) and what
you can and can't do afterward (postoperative instructions).
For example, your doctor may tell you to stop taking certain
medications for a set period of time before surgery. (You should
let your doctor know weeks in advance if you are taking any
herbal or other non-prescription medications as your medical team
may instruct you to stop taking them.) And follow your
doctor's orders regarding eating before surgery. After
surgery, your exercise and activities may be restricted for a
Practice healthy habits.
is never a good idea, but it's especially bad news after
surgery when your body is trying to recover. Ditch the
cigarettes, get plenty of rest, and eat nutritious foods.
Try relaxation techniques.
If you're nervous or anxious, taking a few slow, deep
breaths or focusing on an object in the room can help you to
tune out stressful thoughts and cope with your anxiety. Think of
your favorite place and what you like to do there.
If you have to miss school because of surgery, talk to your
teachers ahead of time and arrange to make up any tests or
assignments. Get a friend you trust to take notes for you and
drop off homework assignments. By planning ahead, you won't
have to spend your recovery time stressing about your
Tell a few people.
If you don't feel like sharing the details of your operation,
you don't have to - but telling some friends that you'll
be out of school for a few days might ensure you'll have some
visitors! Your friends might even have some surgery stories of
their own to share.
Pack a few favorites.
After you're out of the recovery room, you might want the
comfort that some favorite CDs, iTunes, books, magazines, or a
journal can bring, so make sure that when you're packing your
hospital bag you throw in a few goodies.
Kate Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: April 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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