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What to Expect When You Have Surgery

This guide provides you and your family with information about your hospitalization and our facility. It will give you an idea of what to expect before, during, and after surgery.

Before Your Surgery

When you are scheduled for surgery, you will probably have routine tests, such as an EKG, chest X-ray, urine test, and/or blood test. These tests give the doctors a "baseline" before you come to our medical campus for surgery. As you are recovering, these tests may be repeated and the results compared to your preoperative tests.

During an initial consultation, your physician asks you several questions about your past medical history. Have a list of your current medications and dosages handy--or bring the bottles with you. The more we know about you, the better we can take care of you.

The University of Chicago Medicine is a teaching hospital, so you will meet with residents (licensed medical doctors in training) who will be working directly with your doctor on your case. The residents communicate with him or her on a regular basis throughout your treatment.

Before your surgery, your doctor will explain the surgical procedure--its risks and its benefits. Please bring a list of any questions that you have. We encourage family members to sit in on the surgeon's visits. They can bring paper and jot down notes, if needed. After your questions are answered, you will be asked to sign a legal consent form.

You will also meet an anesthesiologist at your pre-surgery testing appointment. If you are already in the hospital, the anesthesiologist will visit you the night before your surgery. The anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in making you comfortable during the surgical procedure. Please discuss your allergies and any past surgeries with him or her. There are many different types of anesthesia, which the anesthesiologist will discuss with you. The doctor may suggest a certain type of anesthesia based on your general health, medications, preferences, and procedure.

Someone on the nursing staff will discuss other aspects of your surgery with you. This person can be used as a resource for other questions you might have.

The Morning of Surgery

Your doctor or a member of the office staff will tell you when to arrive and where to go the morning of your surgery. Unless your doctor tells them otherwise, your family may wait in the surgery waiting area (P211) in the hospital. In the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine (DCAM), the ambulatory surgery waiting area is in 2C. Please review our visitor's policy and other things to consider before you come for surgery.

You should remove jewelry, dentures, glasses, contact lenses, wigs, hairpieces, hearing aids, and hairpins prior to surgery. Please do not bring any valuables with you to the University of Chicago (rings, watches, wallets, etc.). The University of Chicago Medicine cannot be responsible for lost or damaged personal belongings.

Do not eat or drink anything starting at midnight on the night before your surgery. You may hear the term "NPO" which means "nothing by mouth." Follow any other special instructions your doctor or nurse gives you regarding your medications or procedure.

About one hour before your scheduled surgery, you are transported to the preoperative holding room where an IV is inserted. Once you are in the operating room, you will breathe oxygen through a mask. The anesthesiologist gives you medication through your IV that will quickly put you to sleep. When you are fully asleep, surgery begins.

After your operation is over, the surgeon lets your family know how you are doing, where you are, and when they can visit you. You may wake up in the post anesthesia care unit (recovery room). Here, nurses monitor your blood pressure and heart rate as well as check your bandage and incision. You may still breathe oxygen through a mask until you fully awaken. The nurses may ask you questions, and instruct you to take deep breaths and cough. This is to help remove congestion from your lungs and prevent pneumonia.

After Surgery

Your activity and diet after surgery will depend on your procedure. Usually, the doctors want you to get up as soon as possible. Your nurses or physical therapist will help you do this. DO NOT try to get up alone. For the first few days, your activity should slowly increase.

Your IV remains in place until you are able to drink liquids without any nausea or other problems. If the IV becomes painful, red, or swollen, please tell your nurse.

You will probably be asked to wear surgical stockings (with or without a compression pump) to decrease the risk of blood clots when you are less active.

Immediately after your procedure, you may have a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump that enables you to get a safe dose of pain medication through your IV with the push of a button. Later, pain medication is available to you about every four hours. Ask your nurse to give it to you, because it will not be given automatically. Keep your nurses and doctor informed about your pain status. We want you to be as comfortable as possible. If you wait until the pain is very severe, it is more difficult for your doctor or nurses to do this.

Before you are discharged, your doctor and nurses will give you specific instructions related to your procedure, including wound care or dressings, activity restrictions, and follow-up appointments.

After discharge, please call the University of Chicago Medicine immediately at (773) 702-1000 if you experience:

  • Fever greater than 101 degrees
  • Redness
  • Drainage
  • Severe pain
  • Swelling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting