September 1, 2019

Surgical Outcomes

Improving the odds.

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel

Q:I will be scheduled for in-hospital surgery under general anaesthesia within the next three to four months, and I’m scared. I’ve heard that there are ways to reduce my risk. What can I do?

A:People undergoing medical-surgical procedures often feel anxious, stressed, or scared. Doctors are paying increasing attention to interventions to reduce presurgery jitters, anxiety, and stress to improve recovery and avoid delayed discharge from the hospital. Using the time you have before surgery to optimize your total health is a must-do for all who can. Some hospitals have “prehabilitation” programs, so see if such a program is available where you are.

We are privileged to respond to your question, but remember that these general health tips should not supersede or replace the recommendations from your physician.

  • Make maximum deposits into your “well-being bank account.” Use the opportunity to examine and improve all aspects of your health: physical, mental, social, and spiritual. Get up-to-date with appropriate screening and those “to-do” things you’ve been putting off. Quitting the use of alcohol, tobacco, and nicotine all improve your chances of a better surgical outcome.
  • Be clear, honest, and upfront with your doctor(s) about your habits, history, concerns, and anxiety—and your use of supplements. Some herbal products, supplements, and both nonprescription and prescription medications can be dangerous if used before and after surgery. So please disclose everything.
  • Become knowledgable about your surgery and recovery process. Research shows that the clearer your expectations, the lower your stress, and the better you are likely to do before, during, and after surgery. Always feel free to get a second opinion.
  • Eat well. It’s crucial for a quality lifestyle, but it’s a must before and after surgery. Your presurgery diet should be rich in protein (1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day), especially the amino acid arginine, fiber to prevent constipation, and omega-3 fats (but not in excess). Presurgery arginine and omega-3s can reduce the risk of postsurgical infections, and along with vitamin C-rich foods regulate the immune system to promote healing. Nuts, seeds, seaweed, and legumes provide many of the components for an enhanced pre-op diet. Additionally, good evidence suggests that carbohydrate-loading two to three hours prior to surgery, and chewing gum containing xylitol after surgery, improve perceived recovery.
  • Get physically fit. This improves recovery. In the weeks before your surgery, walk at least 30 minutes every day, and moderately but safely step up your favorite form of exercise.
  • Lose some fat. If you are overweight, healthfully losing even 10 pounds before surgery will improve your surgeon’s visibility during the operation and allow him or her to operate more quickly and efficiently.
  • Take time to laugh, sing, and pray. These curb levels of stress hormones in your body and strengthen your immune system. A merry heart is good medicine!

Preparing for surgery takes planning. Have a plan, and prayerfully work that plan. By God’s grace, trust Him to do for you what you can’t do for yourself.

Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.