by Mario Cattabiani (Director of Communications at Ross Feller Casey, LLP in Philadelphia)
Surgery can be a scary thing for any patient. Whether it is a minor procedure or life-saving necessity, all types of surgical procedures come with some degree of risk. To help ease your fears, it is a natural reaction to want to learn about everything that is going to happen during the procedure. You probably want to find out exactly what you need to do beforehand, what type of procedure is planned, who will be performing it, what the recovery will be like and when will you be able to go home. While all of these concerns and questions are completely valid, an important aspect of the process is left out.
Did you know that the first few hours after a surgical procedure are often just as risky as the actual operation? Just because you make it out of the operating room does not necessarily mean that you are in the clear just yet. While that can be a terrifying thought to come to grips with, it is the reality.
Consider what happened to 17-year-old Mariah Edwards in 2012. This young girl was having a very routine procedure performed, and her tonsillectomy went according to plan. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse when she was moved to the post-anesthesia care unit after her surgery. Mariah was given Fentanyl, which is a drug that is known to depress respiratory function. As her conditioned worsened, she was left alone and unmonitored for at least 25 minutes. The curtains in her area were drawn, and the nurses on call at the time failed to perform their routine assessments of the young girl. Additionally, the equipment that was supposed to be “monitoring” Mariah was not correctly set, muted and/or ignored. Tragically, this occurrence of severe neglect caused an irreversible brain injury, and Mariah passed away several days later.
Becoming an Informed Patient
If you or a loved one will be undergoing a surgical procedure in the near future, now is the time to find out more about your post-operative care. Patients are in an extremely vulnerable state following an operation, so it is important to understand exactly what type of care will be administered. You will not be able to ask questions or get information from your medical team immediately following the procedure, which makes it imperative to find out their policies, plan and experience beforehand.
Most importantly, you should never be embarrassed or hesitant to ask your doctor or surgeon any questions. He or she may be a medical professional, but that is not the only important thing to consider. You want a health care provider who is caring, understanding, patient, competent and experienced in the type of operation that is needed.
So, what exactly should you be asking about your post-operative care?
1. Ask for information about the entire medical team.
Go ahead and ask your surgeon if he or she has performed this exact procedure before. What were their other experiences like? What were the outcomes? Additionally, learn more about the anesthesiologist and the rest of the surgical team. Have they all worked together before? What are their levels of experience?
2. Ask about their policy on post-operative monitoring.
If you are going to be the patient, find out how often the nurses will be checking on you. If a loved one is undergoing surgery, do not hesitate to ask if you will be able to sit with them immediately following the procedure. No one will watch a patient more closely than someone who has a personal connection with them, and it may help to give everyone peace of mind.
3. Ask about medications and side effects.
Prescription drugs and pain medications are typically given to patients following a surgical procedure. While the exact situation may change, go ahead and ask what medications are typically given to patients for this type of procedure and what side effects are possible.
Surgery is a serious matter that comes with risks of complications during the procedure, reactions to anesthesia and/or problems with insufficient post-operative care. Whether you or a loved one are going to be a surgical patient, we want you to be armed with all of the tools and information to help the process go smoothly and safely. Check out our complete checklist of questions to ask your surgeon about your post-operative care.