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Preparing for Inpatient or "Overnight" Surgery


Preparing for surgery (a procedure or operation) can seem overwhelming or scary if you don't know what to expect. You may have some unanswered questions and worries that make you feel this way. Sometimes surgery can be unexpected and you don't have time to prepare for it. Other times surgery can be planned in advance so you have some time to get your questions answered and find out what will happen before, during and after your surgery. Knowing what to expect will help you feel less nervous and more in control. The following information addresses the most commonly asked questions about surgery. You should ask your healthcare provider or surgeon for more specific information about the surgery you will be having.


What is the difference between day surgery and inpatient surgery?

Day surgery is when someone comes to the hospital (usually in the morning) for a minor surgical procedure, and leaves the same day. Inpatient surgery is when you stay in the hospital overnight after your surgery. Sometimes patients who are staying overnight will be admitted to the hospital the day before their surgery. In most cases people who are staying overnight will be admitted the morning of their surgery.


What should I do before my surgery?

This will be different depending on the type of surgical procedure, but usually your healthcare provider will ask that you not have anything to eat or drink after midnight, the night before your procedure. This means that you can't have anything to eat or drink by mouth—no food or liquids of any kind, not even mints, candy, or chewing gum. An empty stomach decreases the risks of anesthesia. It is very important to follow this rule. You can brush your teeth in the morning, but you can't swallow the water. If you forget and eat or drink before your surgery, be sure to let your nurse or healthcare provider know right away. Your surgery will probably need to be rescheduled.


If you take prescription medicine, ask your healthcare provider if you should take your medicine with a tiny sip of water. Most of the time you should wait to take your medicine until after your surgery.


What will happen on the day of my procedure?

Depending on the hospital where you are having your surgery, the order of these events may be different and some advice may not apply. The following information is general and may help you to get an idea of what might happen on the day of your surgery.

Why does everyone keep on checking my name and ID bracelet? Don't they know who I am?

Your name, date of birth, and the planned procedure will be reviewed with you and your parent(s)/guardian(s) many times while you are in the day surgery area. The medical staff knows who you are, but these are important safety checks to make sure that your surgeon always performs the right operation on the right person.


What's the "pre-op holding area" and what happens there?

The "pre-op" holding area is where you stay before you go to the operating room. While you are waiting to go into the operating room, an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will probably start an IV. This is a plastic tube that delivers certain solutions to your body throughout your surgery. It's inserted with a needle but the needle is removed after insertion so that only the plastic tube remains. The IV is usually placed in your hand. You will receive medicine through your IV to make you feel relaxed. If the anesthesiologist gives you a choice of which hand to put the IV in, choose the hand you don't write with.


What happens in the operating room?

You will be taken to the operating room and your name and your procedure will be reviewed again. A heart monitor will be attached to about 4-6 small white circular patches that stick to a few areas on your chest, so your heartbeat can be seen on a small screen. These white sticky patches are usually removed before you wake up. You will be given more medicine through your IV that will make you feel very sleepy. You will drift off to sleep, and you will stay asleep during your surgery. In what seems like a few minutes later, you will wake up in the recovery room, and the surgery will be over.


What exactly is anesthesia?

Anesthesia is the medicine that puts you to sleep and stops you from feeling pain during your surgery. There are two different types of anesthesia, "local" and "general".


Local anesthesia is numbing medicine applied to the area of your body where you are having the procedure. You are awake during the procedure.


General anesthesia is when you are completely asleep during your procedure. Most people wake up feeling sleepy when the surgery is over.


With both types of anesthesia, you won't feel any pain. The anesthesia will take a while to wear off. In the meantime, you will stay in the recovery room where you will be cared for until you are completely awake and alert.


If you have any worries or concerns about the type of anesthesia that you will be receiving, ask your healthcare provider or nurse to answer your questions. Also, it is very important to let your healthcare provider/anesthesiologist know if you or any family members have ever had problems with anesthesia in the past, such as a severe headache, nausea, or a very sleepy feeling that took a long time to wear off. Unless you require emergency surgery, you should know which type of anesthesia you're going to have in advance.


What happens after the surgery?

After your surgery you will be taken to the recovery room. There, the nurse who is assigned to you will check on you often and take your blood pressure, temperature, and pulse and give you any medicine that your healthcare provider orders. It's common to feel cold or chilly after surgery, so don't be shy—ask your nurse for a warm blanket! If you're thirsty, and your healthcare provider has said that it's okay to have something to drink, your nurse will offer you clear liquids (such as ginger ale). In special cases, it's possible that you will have a temporary "catheter" in place. This is a tube that drains your bladder of urine. Your healthcare provider will tell you in advance if he/she expects that you will have a catheter after surgery. After a little while, when you are fully awake and comfortable, your nurse will help you get ready to go to a regular hospital room.


Will I have a scar?

Whether you will have a small, medium, long or no scar at all depends on whether your surgeon needs to make an incision (a cut in your skin). Some surgical procedures can be done without any cuts. Other types of surgeries require your surgeon to cut the skin to remove something. For example, an appendectomy requires a surgeon to make a small size cut on your belly to remove your appendix. Sometimes the cuts and stitches are made inside your body, like during a tonsillectomy (removal of tonsils).


If I have an incision, how long will it take to heal?

Most incisions (where the skin was cut) appear red after the stitches are removed or dissolve (these kind of stitches get absorbed by your body and do not need to be removed) but fade over time. About 4-6 weeks after the surgery the scar from your incision should be much lighter than it was after the operation, but it takes up to a year for it to heal completely. It's very important to keep the area where you had the surgery out of the sun, as direct sunlight may burn the area and cause a more noticeable scar over time. If you can't help being out in the sun, be sure to use a sunscreen with a high (30+) SPF (sun protection factor) on the healed incision area to prevent burning. Most incisions heal well, and the scar will hardly be noticeable. Sometimes, people develop a thicker type of scar that has extra fibrous tissue - this is called a keloid scar.


What can I do to make sure my incision heals well?

The most important thing to remember if you have an incision is to keep it clean. If you have an incision with stitches, you will receive instructions when you are discharged. The instructions will be specific to the type of surgery that you had.


In general, you should call your healthcare provider if you have:

It is most likely that you will be given a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider so that he/she can check to see if you are healing well. It is important to keep this appointment even if you feel terrific! Your healthcare provider will want to make sure you're okay and healing well.


What can (or should) I bring to the hospital with me?

If you are an overnight patient, it's a good idea to bring your own pillow, a book/magazine to read, and something to write in, such as a diary or journal. Having a personal item from home (such as your pillow or a stuffed animal) can be a huge comfort while you're in the hospital. If you want to bring electrical appliances, such as a blow-dryer or laptop computer, it is important to ask your healthcare provider or nurse if this is okay. Hospitals have very confusing electrical systems, and you may need a special adapter to have your items work. Also, most hospitals require their safety department to check all small appliances before you can use them. Cell phones and pagers may not be allowed in hospital rooms, as they can cause problems with the communication system in the hospital.


What if I get bored while I'm in the hospital?

Since you will be staying overnight, there may be times that you might be bored. The good news is that most pediatric and adolescent hospitals have activity rooms with computers, board games, crafts to make, and other things that will make the time go by.


What should I do about the schoolwork I will be missing?


Helpful Tips:

What if I have my period while I'm in the hospital?

It's okay if you have your period the day of your surgery or while you are in the hospital. This will not cause your surgery to be moved to another date.


You probably won't be allowed to wear a tampon during your surgery, especially if you are having any type of procedure that requires your surgeon to do a pelvic exam (checking your vagina, cervix and ovaries). You will be given pads to wear instead. If necessary, the nurse in the operating room will change your pad while you are sleeping. If you will be staying in the hospital overnight, it may be possible for you to wear tampons instead of pads after your surgery.


How will I be able to stay clean?

Depending on whether you have an IV, cast, or you are connected to any other equipment, you may need to take sponge baths (washing up with a bowl of water and soap while you are in bed) until your healthcare provider says it's okay to take a shower. Taking a shower in the hospital is a bit harder than at home, especially because you may not be feeling well. When your healthcare provider gives you permission to shower, your nurse will help you until you can manage on your own. Hospital bathrooms and showers have special lights (similar to the kind by your hospital bed) that you can "turn on" if you need a nurse or help right away.


What if I don't like the hospital food?

You will usually be given a menu that has different food choices for the day. You may be asked to circle the foods you would like for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This menu will be returned to the dietary department (where they prepare food for patients) and your meal choices will be brought to your room. The dietary department can prepare special meals, for example, if you are a vegetarian, or eat only kosher food. If you are not on a special diet for health reasons and your healthcare provider says that you can eat anything, it may be possible for you to receive food packages from your parents or friends, but be sure to ask your nurse first! The hospital may have certain rules regarding outside food, and you may have certain food restrictions.


What if I'm still nervous on the day of my surgery?

It is completely normal to feel a bit nervous, especially if it is your first operation, but knowing what to expect will make you feel less afraid. Try not to worry too much. Your healthcare providers and nurses are there to answer any questions you have, and they will take good care of you and keep you comfortable while you are in the hospital. If possible, try to talk with another teen who has had the same procedure that you're going to have. This may be a friend, relative, or someone your healthcare provider or nurse arranges for you to talk to.


Once you are home recovering from your surgery, it is important to rest, eat healthy foods, and of course take care of your incision if you have one. Your body is amazing, but everyone needs time to recover from surgery. Ask your healthcare provider exactly what you can or can't do so that your recovery is fast and without complications! Remember to talk with your surgeon to learn more about specific instructions for your surgery.


Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 4/8/2010


Related Guides:

Preparing for Outpatient Surgery

Day surgery is when someone comes to the hospital (usually in the morning) for a minor surgical procedure, and leaves the same day...

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