Find out about what happens before surgery, the people you’ll meet and the exercises you need to do.
Tests to check you are fit for surgery
You have tests before your operation to check:
- your fitness for a general anaesthetic
- that you'll make a good recovery from surgery
Tests might include:
- blood tests to check your general health and how well your kidneys are working
- an ECG to check that your heart is healthy
- breathing tests (called lung function tests)
- an echocardiogram (a painless test of your heart using sound waves)
- a chest x-ray to check that your lungs are healthy
Pre assessment clinic
A week or two before your surgery you have an appointment at the hospital pre assessment clinic.
Pre assessment clinic
Your pre assessment appointment prepares you for your operation.
You meet members of your treatment team at this appointment and you can sign the consent form to agree to the operation.
Ask lots of questions. It helps to write down all your questions beforehand to take with you. The more you know about what is going to happen, the less frightening it will seem.
You can ask more questions when you go into hospital so don’t worry if you forget to ask some.
At the hospital you might meet:
A member of the surgical team will tell you about:
- the operation you are going to have
- the benefits of having surgery
- the possible risks
- what to expect afterwards
The anaesthetist gives you the anaesthetic and looks after you during the operation. They make sure you’re fit enough for the surgery. If you're a smoker, they will advise you to stop smoking before your operation.
The pre assessment nurse checks your:
- general health
- blood pressure
They also check what help and support you have to see what you will need when you go home.
You might also see your cancer specialist nurse. They are your point of contact and care for you throughout your treatment.
The physiotherapist assesses how well you can move around. They let the doctors know if there is anything that could affect your recovery.
The physios may teach you leg and breathing exercises to do after your operation to help with recovery. Or you may get a leaflet describing what to do. Learning how to do the exercises beforehand makes it easier afterwards.
Learning breathing and leg exercises
Breathing exercises help to stop you from getting a chest infection. If you smoke, it helps if you can stop at least a few weeks before your operation.
Leg exercises help to stop clots forming in your legs. You might also have medicines to stop the blood from clotting. You have them as small injections just under the skin.
You start the injections just before your operation. You might also wear compression stockings.
This 3-minute video shows you how to do the breathing and leg exercises.
Breathing and circulation exercises after surgery
These exercises help prevent you developing a chest infection or blood clots in your legs after surgery. These problems are more likely when you are not moving around as you would normally.
You can do these breathing exercises while sitting up in a chair or in a bed or whilst lying down.
Relax your shoulders and upper chest.
Take a slow, deep, comfortable breath in and hold for a couple of seconds, then slowly breathe out.
Repeat this 3 times.
You can start these breathing exercises as soon as you come round from your anaesthetic.
You should try to do them every hour when awake until you are fully mobile.
If you need to cough, support your wound with your arms, a pillow or a rolled up towel.
If you are struggling to clear any phlegm, try a hu. This is where you breathe out in a short, sharp manner as if you were trying to steam up a mirror.
You should move about as soon as possible after your operation. But while you are not as mobile, try to keep your legs moving to encourage better circulation.
You can do these exercises in a bed or in a chair.
One foot at a time point your toes away from you then pull your toes towards your chin.
Try to do 10 of these on both feet at least 2-3 times an hour.
The next exercise is circling your ankles. One at time circle your ankles, clockwise and then anticlockwise. Repeat this 10 times with each ankle 2-3 times an hour.
The evening before
You might go into hospital the evening before or morning of your operation.
You might have a carbohydrate rich drink the night before your surgery. You might also have one the morning of your operation. The drink gives you energy and can speed up your recovery.
On the day
Your nurse will check your temperature, blood pressure, pulse and breathing rate.
If you still have any questions about your operation the nurses can arrange for a member of the surgical team to come and talk to you. You'll sign a consent form for the operation if you didn't do it at the pre assessment clinic.
You might have a drip (intravenous infusion) put into your arm before your surgery so that you can be given fluids. This makes sure you are not dehydrated before your operation.
You will be asked to:
- stop eating for about 6 hours before your operation but you can still drink water up to 2 hours beforehand
- change into a hospital gown
- take off any jewellery (except for a wedding ring)
- take off any make up, including nail varnish
- remove contact lenses if you have them
If you have false teeth you can usually keep them in until you get to the anaesthetic room.
Your nurse might give you a tablet or an injection to help you relax. This will be an hour or so before you go to the operating theatre. This makes your mouth feel dry but you can rinse your mouth with water to keep it moist.
Your nurse and a porter take you to theatre on a trolley if you have had medicine to help you relax. You can walk down to the theatre if you haven't had any.
Having an anaesthetic
You have an anaesthetic so that you won’t feel anything during the operation. Your ward nurse and a porter take you to the anaesthetic room, next to the operating theatre.
All the doctors and nurses wear theatre gowns, hats and masks. This reduces your chance of getting an infection.
The anaesthetist puts a small tube (cannula) into a vein in your arm. You have any fluids and medicines you need through the cannula including the general anaesthetic. This sends you into a deep sleep. When you wake up, the operation will be over.
Before you go to sleep your anaesthetist might put a small tube through the skin of your back. It goes into the fluid around your spinal cord. They can attach a pump to this tube to give you pain medicines during and after the operation.