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Surgery: What to Expect


Topic Overview

Surgery is done for many reasons. Often it is done to repair an injury, such as a broken bone, or to relieve symptoms, such as numbness caused by a herniated disc. Sometimes it is done to diagnose a condition (biopsy) or to cure a condition, such as appendicitis.

Many minor surgeries can be done in your doctor's office or at a same-day surgery center. Preparing for minor surgery may take only a few hours. Major surgery is usually done in a hospital operating room. Except in an emergency, major surgery may require days or even weeks of testing and preparation.

Before surgery, your surgeon may ask you to see your regular doctor for an exam and possibly tests. A surgeon may ask this to make sure that surgery is not likely to be too hard on you.

You will also have an appointment with your surgeon before your surgery. For this appointment, take along a surgery question formClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand your treatment. Your surgeon will explain why your surgery is needed, what it will involve, what its risks and expected outcome are, and how long it will take you to recover. Talk to your surgeon about any concerns you have about the surgery. You may also want to ask about treatments you might try other than surgery.

Your surgeon or a nurse will give you a list of instructions to help you prepare for your surgery. Most surgery centers and hospitals have a before-surgery (preoperative) form and a surgery consent form for you to fill out. You may also need to sign a form that identifies the correct body area for surgery. This information helps the surgical team prepare for your surgery.

After surgery, you will be taken to a recovery (postoperative) area where nurses will care for and observe you for 1 to 4 hours. Then you will either be moved to a hospital room or go home. If you go home, the recovery nurse usually gives you written instructions to follow. Your surgeon may also give you special instructions.

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