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Preparing for Outpatient or "Day" Surgery


Preparing for surgery can feel 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. Knowing what to expect will help you feel less nervous and more in control. Be sure to get specific questions about your surgery answered by your health care provider.


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 isomeone stays in the hospital overnight after his/her surgery. Sometimes people 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 depend on the type of surgical procedure you'll be having, but your doctor/nurse will usually 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. Having an empty stomach before surgery decreases the risks of anesthesia, so it's very important to follow this rule. You can brush your teeth in the morning, but you can't swallow water after rinsing your mouth. If you forget and eat or drink before your surgery, be sure to let the nurse or doctor know right away. Mostly likely, your surgery will need to be rescheduled.


If you take prescription medicine, ask your doctor or nurse 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.


I'm having day surgery—what will happen on the day of my procedure?

Depending on the hospital where you are having your surgery, the order of events may be different, and some advice that we list may not apply.

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

You 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 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. This is where an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will likely start an IV. This is a plastic tube that delivers certain medicine to your body throughout your surgery. It's inserted with a needle, but then the needle is removed 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 if I'm afraid of needles?

If you're nervous about getting an IV, let your nurse know as soon as possible. You may be able to have a numbing cream placed on your hand which will numb your skin and lower the feeling of pain when the IV is inserted. The numbing cream takes time to work, so it's important to ask for it as soon as possible. When your anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist comes to start your IV, try to stay as relaxed as possible. You can do this by taking slow, deep breaths, concentrating on something pleasant, or having your parent(s) or guardian(s) distract you with conversation.


When your surgeon feels you are taking fluids well after your surgery (and you are ready to go home), the IV will be removed.


What happens in the operating room?

You will be attached to a heart monitor. It's attached by 4-6 small, white circular patches that stick to a few areas on your chest. These white sticky patches are usually removed before you wake up. You will be given more medicine through your IV that will make you very sleepy. You will drift off to sleep and you will stay asleep during your surgery. After what seems like a few minutes, 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 makes you feel no pain during your surgery. There are two different types of anesthesia; "local" and "general".


Local anesthesia is special numbing medicine that is applied only to the area of your body where you are having a procedure. If you have local anesthesia, you stay awake during the procedure.


General anesthesia puts you to sleep 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. It will take a while to wear off, and 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 having, talk to your nurse or surgeon. Also, it is very important to let your surgeon/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 surgery?

After your surgery you will be taken to the recovery room. There, your nurse will check you often, and take your blood pressure, temperature, and pulse, and give you any medicine that your doctor orders. It's common to feel cold or chilly after surgery. Don't be shy—ask your nurse for a warm blanket. If you're thirsty and your HCP has said that it's okay to have something to drink, your nurse will offer you a clear liquid such as ginger ale. Before you can go home, you will need to pass urine (pee). Your nurse will offer you a bedpan or take you to the bathroom. After a little while, when you are fully awake and comfortable, your nurse will help you get ready to go home. You will probably have your IV removed at this time.


Will I have a scar?

Whether you will have a small, medium, long, or no scar at all depends on whether your doctor 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 small size cut on your belly to remove your appendix. Sometimes, the cuts and stitches are made inside. One example of this is 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. Dissolving 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, because the skin is tender and sunlight may burn 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 though, 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've had.


In general, you should call your doctor if you have:

You will most likely be scheduled for a follow-up or post-op appointment with your surgeon 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.


What should I bring to the hospital?

Since you are having day surgery, you really don't need to bring very much with you. Most people wear the same clothes home that they wore to the hospital.


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

You probably will be on your way home before you know it—in less than 4 hours, but if you think you might get bored while you are waiting, you can bring music to listen to just in case.


What should I do about the school work I'll miss?


Helpful Tips:

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

Don't worry - 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.


Most likely you won't be allowed to wear a tampon while in surgery. Instead, you will be given pads to wear. The nurse in the operating room will change your pad while you are sleeping if necessary.


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

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


Once you are home recovering from your surgery, it's important to rest, eat healthy foods, and take care of your incision (if you have one). Our bodies are amazing, but everyone needs time to recover from surgery. Ask your doctor/nurse exactly what you can or can't do so that your recovery is fast and without complications. Remember to talk with your medical team to learn more about specific instructions for your surgery.

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

Updated: 4/28/2014

Related Guides:

Preparing for Inpatient Surgery

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...

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