Heal Faster After Surgery

An excellent surgeon may be the most important ingredient for successful surgery, but the surgeon’s skill is just one of many factors that affect the speed and ease with which a patient recovers after an operation.

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Here are some others you might like to know about.

To Speed Healing…

Go into surgery with your questions answered – Make sure the surgeon is a member of the American College of Surgeons (www.facs.org). Also, make sure that he/she answers “yes” to the following questions: 1) Do you encourage guest visits after surgery? 2) Is it okay to wear headphones during surgery? 3) Can my family bring in home-cooked meals? 4) Would you mind if a massage therapist came in after the operation?

Heed the surgeon’s instructions about diet and medication – Ask him/her about taking a daily vitamin supplement for 7 to 14 days before an operation. This supplement should contain beta-carotene (up to 25,000 international units) and vitamin C (2 to 3 grams). For heart patients, 1 gram of magnesium is recommended. You should stop taking vitamin E at least one week before surgery, since it can cause the blood to thin.

Exercise regularly in the weeks prior to surgery – Someone about to undergo heart surgery should not engage in vigorous exercise, but gentle exercises like yoga or walking bring benefits without dangerously elevating the heart rate.

Lean on your loved ones – Even before surgery, you may find it comforting to have family members present when treatment options are discussed. Some family members prefer not to wait at the hospital during surgery, but they can find out ahead of time when you are expected to wake up and plan to be there at that time.

Avoid hospital food, if possible – Patients tend to feel better when they get a home-cooked meal that they are used to eating. So as long as it doesn’t violate any of your dietary restrictions and with the doctor’s permission, try a home-cooked meal from your spouse or parents instead.

Listen to soothing music during surgery – Many surgical patients have at least some awareness even when under general anesthesia. The sound of surgical instruments at work or chitchat among the surgical team might be distressing – even though patients may not recall this distress afterward.

If you smoke, quit – At the very least, stop smoking two weeks prior to surgery.

Practice stress management – Several tried-and-true stress reducers can be adapted for use in the hospital, including the following:

  • Yoga - Most patients can practice gentle yoga exercises within a few days after surgery. Yoga boosts strength, improves range of motion, and gives you a break from your worries for a while.
  • Massage - Some hospitals have massage therapists on staff. Others allow patients to make their own arrangements for in-room massage.
  • Hypnosis - Self-hypnosis reduces not only pre-surgery anxiety, but also post-surgical pain. Ask your doctor or a hospital social worker to recommend a psychologist who is trained in hypnosis or other relaxation techniques.

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