Health Break | Published March 20, 2006 | Written by Carol A. Bergamaschi, RN

Helping Your Day of Surgery Go Smoothly

Imagine that you must have surgery. You've made all the arrangements (emotional readiness, time off work, child care, etc.). Then, you find out on the day of surgery that your procedure will be delayed or cancelled for reasons that you may or may not have been in control of.

When surgeries are delayed or canceled, there are usually good reasons for it ultimately for the safety of the patients. By understanding the reasons for canceling or delaying surgery on the day it was scheduled, patients might be able to avoid some of the delays and cancellations. Other reasons might be unavoidable.

Here might be some specific reasons for delaying or canceling your surgery on the day it was scheduled:

  1. You ate or drank the day of surgery:

    • Food and liquids should not be consumed on the day of surgery. The reason for this is not to have food or liquid in your stomach when anesthesia is given. The food or liquid could possibly come up from your stomach and go into your lungs, resulting in a life-threatening pneumonia.

    • Be sure to follow your surgeon's instructions. This usually means nothing to eat or drink after midnight the night before surgery.

    • Sometimes clear liquids are allowed the morning of surgery (coffee or tea without cream or sugar, bouillon, ginger ale, Jell-O or apple juice (without pulp). No milk or orange juice.

    • No food also means not chewing gum, eating candy or mints and no tobacco.

    • You should not drink alcoholic beverages 24 hours before or after surgery.

    • If medications are to be taken the day of surgery, do so with a small sip of water.

  2. You forgot to take your prescription medications or did not stop taking certain medications:

    • Make sure that your surgeon is aware of all vitamins and medications (prescription, over-the-counter and herbal) that you may be taking.

    • Check with your doctor about which medications you should take the day of surgery or which ones you need to stop taking ahead of time.

    • Blood pressure, seizure, heart and asthma medications are usually taken the day of surgery. Not taking these could result in problems, such as elevated blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, respiratory problems, etc.

    • If you are taking blood thinners, ibuprofen or aspirin medications (Coumadin, Advil, Aleve, Motrin, Ecotrin, baby aspirin), you will need to stop taking these several days before surgery. Blood work will be done to make sure your blood is not too thin, which could result in bleeding problems with surgery. Your doctor should tell you when to stop taking these.

    • If you are diabetic, check with your doctor before taking insulin or oral medications the day of surgery.

  3. You did not follow your surgeon's preparation instructions:
    • Your surgeon may order special preparations (bowel preps, enemas, etc.) or oral antibiotics to be taken before surgery.

  4. You were not medically cleared for surgery:

    • Certain medical conditions (heart, lung, kidney, etc.) may require you to be seen by a specialist to be sure that it is safe for you to have surgery.
    • Additional blood work or tests may need to be performed in order to clear you for surgery.
    • Be sure you provide your doctor with an accurate health history. This will assist the doctor in helping you make the best decisions.

  5. You had a change in your health:

    • A change in health could seriously affect you if you have surgery. Notify your surgeon as soon as possible if you develop any:

      • Cold or flu symptoms (runny nose, sore throat, fever, persistent cough, etc.).

      • Cuts, sores, burns, scrapes, rashes or infections.

      • Tooth or gum problems.

    • These could result in further risks to you. Your surgeon will decide if it is safe to proceed with your surgery.

  6. Your Lab/Test results were abnormal:
    • These are usually addressed before the day of surgery; however, some blood work or tests may need to be done the day of surgery. If abnormal, it may be unsafe to proceed with surgery.

Delaying or canceling your surgery for any one of these reasons is for your safety. Being aware of some of these could help prepare you for surgery and make your already stressful day go smoothly.

Carol A. Bergamaschi, RN is a registered nurse in the Operating Room at Mount Nittany Medical Center.