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On the day

What to expect on the day of surgery, including about having an anaesthetic.

Before your operation

Your nurse will take some measurements. These include your temperature, blood pressure, oxygen levels, heart and breathing rate. 

If you 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.

The nurse or doctor will put a small tube into your arm (cannula). You can have medicines and fluids directly into your bloodstream via the cannula.

You might have a drip (intravenous infusion) before your surgery so that you're not dehydrated before your operation.

The nurse will go through a series of questions on a checklist to make sure you are ready for surgery. They ask you to:

  • tell them when you last had something to eat and drink 
  • change into a hospital gown
  • put on a pair of surgical stockings
  • take off any jewellery (except for a wedding ring)
  • take off any make up, including nail varnish
  • remove contact lenses if you have them
  • put on 2 hospital identification bands usually on each wrist

If you have false teeth you can usually keep them in until you get to the anaesthetic room.

For some types of surgery, you need to shave the skin over the operation area. Or the nurse might shave it for you. They might do this when you’re under anaesthetic in the operating 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.

If you've had medicine to help you relax your nurse and a porter take you to theatre on a trolley. You can walk down to the theatre if you haven't had any.

Having an anaesthetic

You have an anaesthetic so that you can’t feel anything during the operation. You have this in 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.

Your anaesthetist may put in a cannula, if you haven’t got one already. You’ll have 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.

The anaesthetist might also give you a spinal anaesthetic. This is a local anaesthetic that is injected into a small tube in the space around your spine (in your lower back). This makes you numb from the waist down it helps with pain control after your operation

Last reviewed: 
21 Jun 2019
  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (9th edition)
    L Dougherty and S Lister
    Wiley Blackwell, 2015

  • Chapter 2 Guidelines for the Provisions of Anaesthesia Services for Pre-operative Assessment and Preparation 2018
    W Key and others
    Royal College of Anaesthetists, 2018.

  • Section 1: Pre-operative care. Raising the standard: a compendium of audit recipes. (3rd Edition)
    G Hilditch
    Royal College of anaesthetists, 2012.

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