Find out what happens before surgery, having an anaesthetic, 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 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
Pre assessment clinic
1 to 2 weeks before your surgery, you have an appointment at the hospital pre assessment clinic. This prepares you for your operation.
You meet members of your treatment team at this appointment and can sign the consent form to agree to the operation.
Your doctor and nurses might tell you about the enhanced recovery programme. This is a way of caring before, during and after your surgery to help you recover more quickly after a big operation. It includes advising you about:
- being physically active
- stopping smoking
- drinking less alcohol
- eating well before your surgery
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.
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 your operation. 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.
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 the morning of your surgery.
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 diffiucult 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, you’ll need to shave the skin over the operation area. Or your nurse can 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. 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 won’t feel anything during the operation. Your ward nurse and aporter 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 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.