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Keep these in mind should you need to go under the knife.

November 28, 2014

Last week, I had outpatient surgery for fibroids. On the bright side, my body has healed quickly. Also: I didn't die from some medical mishap. But some things didn't go quite right and, despite my flurry of questions during my pre-op doctor visits, I neglected to ask some—and mention some personal medical details. I'm sharing the mistakes here in the name of better surgery for people everywhere. Keep them in mind should you need to go under the knife.

Surgery mistake #1: I didn't ask for a detailed description of the surgery.

Doh! My wonderful doctor did give a basic overview of how my surgery would proceed—he'd go in through my belly button and a few other incisions and remove as many fibroids as possible—but in retrospect, I should have asked whether there were any other procedures involved. Because as I lay there on the table I discovered—surprise!—that I was going to be intubated. For days after surgery, my throat has been a little sore and my voice hoarse because of irritation. In Googling around, I read that I could have asked the anesthesiologist to use a child's tube, which is supposedly less invasive. Who knows, perhaps this wouldn't have been a possibility but still: I would have liked to know about the intubation.

Surgery mistake #2: I forgot to share a medical detail.

The doctor had my full medical history. The doctor did not have my full surgical history. I neglected to mention that I have really small veins. This became painfully obvious (and I do mean painfully) when the anesthesiologist attempted to connect me to an IV, twice, with no success. Five words no patient wants to hear while lying in the operating room: "Do you want to try?" Four stabs later, the IV was in. And I have the black-and-blues on my hands and arms to prove it. Maybe there was no way of avoiding this—but maybe, if they knew ahead of time, they would have let the more experienced staffer in the room have a go at my veins first.

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Surgery mistake #3: Nobody told me about the payment part.

The surgical coordinator had said I'd be responsible for paying my insurance deductible for my surgery. However, I was not informed by her that full payment would be due the day of my surgery, nor was it mentioned anywhere in the pre-op paperwork I received. As I registered at the hospital, the staffer asked, "And how will you be paying the balance?" Lo and behold, I had to charge it to my credit card on the spot. (Good thing it wasn't declined!) Unexpectedly shelling out $1831 was more painful than the surgery itself.

Surgery mistake #4: I didn't explain my pain med preferences.

As I lay in the recovery room, I was given pain meds. What kind, I do not recall. What I do remember is waking up again and asking for more pain meds. The nurse said I was due and handed me two tablets (I later learned they were oxycontin). Then I drifted off again. Later, when I was up, I heard another nurse asking a patient nearby what his level of pain was…and suggesting he start with one tablet. This is what I would have preferred, too. It seems like it should be standard procedure to ask patients to rate their pain on a scale, then go with the lower amount of meds, given how addictive pain medication can be. (One study recently took a stand on the overuse of opiods for back pain, headaches, and migraines). If this was a protocol at the hospital, my nurse did not follow it. I was so groggy through the night that the next day, I was hesitant to even take the prescription pain meds I'd gotten and stuck with OTC pills. I regretted not mentioning my request for the lowest level of pain meds possible to the doctor ahead of time, or even on the day of surgery.

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Surgery mistake #5: I didn't ask who would take my post-surgery calls.

When my throat was still hurting a few days post-surgery, and I had concerns about a gigantic bruise on my belly, I called the doctor's office. He was on vacation, as it turned out. I was told the physician's assistant would return my calls. Several hours later, after nobody had been in touch, I called back and got the answering service. They paged the doctor on call...but gave her my wrong number. I called again. Once I got the fill-in doctor on the phone, she was reassuring. But dealing with the hassle of getting someone on the phone was annoying when I wasn't feeling my best. I should have asked the doctor, pre-surgery, who I should call with any medical concerns—and gotten a name and number.

Surgery mistake #6: I didn't milk my surgery for all it was worth.

"Honey, do you need anything?" my husband kept asking me over the weekend, as I recovered. I am still not entirely sure why I didn't tell him to, say, go get me a milkshake (as I did during pregnancy). Or, for that matter, book me a spa day. Instead I just said, "I'm fine!" and powered on. Then he stopped asking if I needed anything. What the heck was I thinking?! Being stoic gets you no milkshakes. Word to the wise: Take full advantage of your recuperation.

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