If you are one of the estimated 15 million Americans who will have a surgical procedure this year, pay attention, please! You and your loved ones may thank me later.
Every single time anyone has a surgical procedure performed, whether the surgery is life-saving or elective, there are risks involved. That “simple” and “routine” tonsillectomy for your five year old can actually result in death. The liposuction that your Aunt Sally has always wanted to remove those saddle bags could leave her with a pulmonary embolism. Nothing is without risk, even though most surgical procedures are much safer than they used to be – picture that bullet removal from Marshall Dillon’s chest from an old episode of “Gunsmoke” and you know what I mean.
CNN’s Medical News’ correspondent, Judy Fortin, wrote a great article about what research you can do and what questions you can ask to protect yourself or a family member before having surgery.
Step One in reducing the risk of complications during surgery is determining whether the surgery is necessary at all. Elective surgery should be weighed against the risks which could arise during the procedure. Get a second, or third, opinion about whether the surgery is necessary and whether there are options about how the surgery will be performed (i.e. general anesthesia versus local, open or laprascopic procedure) and how extensive the surgery needs to be.
Step Two is to ask friends, colleagues and neighbors for recommendations. You need to feel comfortable with, and have confidence in, your surgeon. Whenever possible, choose a board certified surgeon. Check the qualifications by asking the doctor questions about how many times s/he has performed the procedure. Go on the internet and confirm the education and training (each state has a Board of Medicine, or its equivalent) of your doctor. In Florida, the Department of Health maintains the site.
Step Three is to go through the risks of the procedure slowly and carefully with the doctor. Have him/her explain the likelihood of the risk occurring and what will happen if each event happens. Know what you are signing; really read those forms.
Step Four is to be completely honest with your physician about your complete medical history, current medications you are taking, any surgical procedures (and complications) you have had in the past and give an accurate family medical history.
Step Five is to ask more questions – how long should the surgery last, what are the expected complications, how long should the recovery take, what type of problems should be expected after the procedure, what limitations will there be following the procedure, etc. No good surgeon should shy away from, or be insulted by, such questions.
Step Six is to follow the directions of your surgeon during the recovery period. Failing to do so can lead to a longer recovery time and unnecessary complications.
Nothing can eliminate all of the risks associated with having surgery, but following these simple steps will go a long way toward providing you with the information you need to make an informed decision about the surgery, the surgeon and the potential risks of the procedure.