Before your operation

You have tests before your operation to check:

  • your fitness for an anaesthetic, if you need one
  • that you’ll make a good recovery from surgery

You might have some or all of the following tests:

  • 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
  • a test to check your heart and lung function when you're resting and exercising (called a cardio pulmonary exercise test)

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:

The surgeon

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

The anaesthetist gives you the anaesthetic and looks after you during the operation. They make sure you’re fit enough for the surgery.

The clinical nurse specialist

The clinical nurse specialist checks what help and support you have to see what you will need when you go home. They are your point of contact and care for you throughout your treatment. They might be called your key worker.

Nurse

The nurse checks your:

  • general health
  • weight
  • blood pressure
  • pulse
  • temperature

The physiotherapist

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 also teach you leg and breathing exercises to do after your operation to help with recovery. 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 blood clots forming in your legs. You might also have medicines to stop the blood from clotting. You have them as small injections under the skin. You start the injections before or after your operation. Your doctor or nurse will let you know when they start.

You might also wear compression stockings.

Your nurse and physiotherapist will get you up out of bed quite quickly after your surgery. This is to help prevent chest infections and blood clots forming.

This 3-minute video shows you how to do the breathing and leg exercises.

The evening before or the morning of your operation

You usually go into hospital on the morning of your surgery. You might go in the evening before.

Your nurse might give you a carbohydrate-rich drink to have the evening before the operation. You might also have it the following morning. The drink gives you energy and can speed up your recovery.

When you're in hospital your nurse will check your blood pressure, pulse, temperature and breathing rate. You might have fluids through a drip (intravenous infusion) into your arm before your surgery if you have recently been finding it difficult to drink.

On the day

Your nurse will check your blood pressure, pulse and breathing rate.

On the day of the operation you:

  • stop eating for about 6 hours beforehand, but can still drink clear fluids up to 2 hours beforehand
  • change into a hospital gown
  • take off jewellery (except for a wedding ring)
  • take off make up, including nail varnish
  • remove contact lenses and false teeth

You can usually keep your false teeth in until you get to the anaesthetic room.

For some types of surgery, the hair might need to be removed over the operation area. It’s likely your surgeon will shave this 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. Your nurse takes you to theatre on a trolley if you have this.

You can walk down to theatre if you don’t have any medicine to relax you.

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.

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 in the space around your spine. They can attach a pump to this tube to give you pain medicines. This is for after your operation to help control your pain.

Last reviewed: 
13 Jan 2021
Next review due: 
13 Jan 2024
  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley - Blackwell, 2014

  • The Royal Marsden Hospital Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (9th Edition) 
    L Dougherty and S Lister
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

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