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How to Help a Loved One Through Surgery

Updated on September 23, 2016
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No matter how routine a procedure may be, surgery is never fun. Whether your loved one is undergoing an elective procedure or emergency surgery, the experience can be just as stressful for you as for them. Here are some steps you can take to support your loved one through all stages of the surgical process.

Pre-Surgery Care and Support

The most important step you can take when it comes to supporting a loved one who is preparing to go through surgery is to understand the procedure yourself. If you will be providing post-operative care for the patient, ask if he or she wants you to go with them to their surgical consultation so you can learn the proper care procedures. Aftercare instructions should also be provided in paper format, so both the patient and the caregiver can act with confidence.

Emotional support is also an important component. When showing your support, remember to consider the needs of the patient. Some people are extroverted and feel most supported when surrounded by friends and loved ones with words of encouragement. Others don't like to have a "big fuss" made over the procedure. If you're the type to worry, remember not to pile your concerns on top of what the patient is already going through. If you have been asked to attend a consultation, there is a time and a place to ask questions and voice concerns you have, but it is important not to cause more stress for the person who is having surgery by talking about potential complications leading up to the procedure.

If you have agreed to help the patient organize his or her pre-surgical errands and tasks, it helps to create a list or download a scheduling or list-making app like Errands or Wunderlist. Beginning preparations a week in advance or more can dramatically reduce the stress for you and the patient. There is nothing more stressful than staying up late the night of surgery running errands and gathering supplies you will need in the days and weeks to come. Some surgeries take weeks or even months to recover from, so it helps to gather food supplies and take care of any housework the patient would normally be responsible for. Many surgeons require special preparatory cleansing the night before, so it is important to follow any provided instructions to a T. For example, patients are commonly required to purchase a special cleansing soap to use the night before and the morning of surgery. Some surgeries require the patient to forego deoderant prior to surgery. All general anesthesia patients are required to fast from food or drink for a given period of time, so not eating in front of a fasting patient is a basic (yet often ignored!) form of support.

Here are some common items your loved one may need before surgery:

  • Prescription medications (Some doctors require medication to be taken before surgery while others require a discontinuation, depending on the procedure and patient)
  • Special cleansing soaps/washes/solutions
  • Food and water
  • Special equipment (Compression socks, ice packs, gauze, etc., depending on the type of procedure)
  • Identification and insurance documentation
  • Comfortable clothing

During the Surgery

The knowledge that someone who cares about you will be waiting when you get out of surgery is a source of comfort in itself. Many modern surgical waiting rooms post surgical progress on the screen while you are waiting for a patient in surgery, providing you with the information you need to set your nerves at rest. If the patient has asked you to do so and you have internet access, you can use this time to update friends and family.

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After the Surgery

In most cases, patients who are recovering from surgery will be unable to return home. If your loved one is kept in the hospital overnight for monitoring, you can of course show your support by bringing flowers, a gift or simply good cheer! Again, what is supportive for one person could be a nightmare for another. Some people like to be greeted by droves of visitors after waking up from anesthesia, while others prefer to have some time alone to recover.

Once it is time to drive the patient home, be sure to remain with them until the effects of the anesthesia and any other drugs they took at the surgical center have worn off. Remind the patient of his or her physician's instructions about eating and drinking after a procedure. Some people are nauseous after anesthesia, while some dental procedures require that patients avoid eating certain foods or at all for a given length of time after surgery.


Surgery is a stressful experience, and sometimes even the most basic steps, such as having food prepared or remembering to take important medication, can slip your mind before a procedure. Having a compassionate person there to help before, during or after surgery can make recovery a much easier process.

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    • lanablackmoor profile imageAUTHOR

      lanablackmoor 

      24 months ago from New England

      I'm so sorry you had that experience, PeachePurple. ): Its a shame that people don't realize how vulnerable you are to words when going through something as stressful as surgery. A little support goes a long way, but a single hurtful comment can do a lot of damage!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 

      24 months ago from Home Sweet Home

      It is true that emotional support is important. When I had my gallbladder removal surgery, I spoke to my younger brother about it because I was scared, instead of comforting advice, he gave me a slashing of hurtful words

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