Become an Informed Consumer Before Your Operation


by Paul Ruggieri, M.D.

            You probably have many questions about your surgery and recovery.  You’ll fare better emotionally and physically if you have a clear understanding of what your operation will entail.  Therefore, don’t hesitate to ask questions and re-ask them if you are not clearly understanding an answer. The surgeon and his/her staff will be your best source of information.  Don’t feel intimidated or think the surgeon will be offended by your questions.  You and your loved ones have a right to know all about your operation.


Asking Questions of Your Physician

            Below is a list of questions that you may wish to ask your surgeon and his/her staff.  Carry the list with you.  It may be very helpful to jot down answers to your questions. Better yet, ask a friend or relative to take notes for you.  It’s easy to misunderstand an answer, especially if you’re a bit nervous.

In General

• What is my specific physical problem?  What organ, system, or body part is involved?

• What does this organ/system/body part do?

• What is causing the problem I now have?

• Will surgery cure the problem?

• Are there alternative treatments that don’t involve surgery? How do they compare with surgery?  Are they as effective?  Safe?

• What would happen if I don’t have surgery?

The Procedure

• On which part of my body will you perform the operation?

• How long will the incision be? 

• Approximately how long will the surgery take?

• Do you consider this major surgery?

• How many of these surgeries do you perform in a year?

• Is it a standard procedure or is it experimental?

Postoperative Concerns

• Where will I be when I wake up?

• Will I be in pain when upon awakening?  If so, how long will it last?

• When I wake up, will I have any tubes in my body?  If so, for how long?

• How long will I be in the recovery room?

Possible Complications

• What can go wrong with this type of surgery?

• How often do these complications occur?

• Am I likely to have complications?

• What happens if one of these complications does occur? How will it be treated? Could it cause permanent damage? 

• Have any of your patients experienced these complications? 

Post-Surgical Care

• After the operation, will I go to a regular room or to a special unit?

• How long before I may go home?

• May I have visitors in the hospital and at home?

• Will I be on a restricted diet in the hospital or at home?

• Will I receive any sort of therapy in the hospital?

• Will I receive any medication while in the hospital?

• Do the nurses know to give me the medications that I already take?

• Will I be able to drive myself home from the hospital, or should someone take me?

• Will I need any specialized care or help when I go home?

• Do I have limits physically?

• At home, will I need any medical equipment (crutches, portable toilet, ventilator)? If so, how may I get this equipment?

• Should I call your office if I’m having a problem?


• When should I see you in your office after surgery?

• When can I go back to work?  Drive?  Exercise?  Have sex?  Work out?

• Do I need physical therapy?

            You will have other questions of your own to ask your surgeon. Don’t hesitate. Communication between you and your surgeon is extremely important from the moment you meet until the time you leave your surgeon’s care. Ask, ask, ask questions!

            No matter how thorough your surgeon staff, always ask for written information about your condition and your surgery.   They may have instructions, brochures, books, or even videos that show your procedure and recovery.  Still others may provide you with a CD-ROM for your computer that combines audio and video clips with written material about your operation.  You may review these materials over and over again to help you feel more comfortable about your surgery.


Online Research

            If you have access to the Internet, you also may conduct research about your condition.  Using a word or phrase, your computer may search through general databases and web sites around the world. Be forewarned that you may come across a web site that sounds authentic but is created by someone who has no credentials to write a medical page.  That’s why it’s a good idea to stay with sites from established organizations or facilities that you recognize.

            When doctors do research online, they frequently use a database called MEDLINE, which is compiled by the U.S. National Medical Library (NLM), the world’s largest medical library.  NLM is part of the National Institutes of Health and may be reached at You will find other databases there as well.  MEDLINE contains references from approximately 3,900 international medical journals from the year 1966 to the present.  Note: these articles are written for medical professionals, so they may be difficult to understand.

            You will likely find the NLM’s companion site, MEDLINEplus, more reader friendly. It may also be reached at It was developed for the general public when the NLM discovered that one-third of nearly 200 million MEDLINE searches were being done by consumers. MEDLINEplus is an up-to-date collection of consumer health-care information. It is free for consumers, health-care professionals, and scientists.



            Organizations dedicated to educating people about specific conditions or problems are excellent resources. Some well-known examples are the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the American Cancer Society (see Resources). Many major organizations have Internet sites that offer a great deal of information.  They also have local and national offices that will mail printed materials. Several have telephone help lines you may call with your questions.


Internet Resources

National Cancer Institute

National Institutes of Health

Bethesda, MD  20892


1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237)


National Eye Institute

National Institutes of Health

2020 Vision Place

Bethesda, MD 20892-3655

(301) 496-5248


National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute

National Institutes of Health

Bethesda, MD 20892


National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research

National Institutes of Health

Bethesda, MD 20892


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

National Institutes of Health

Bethesda, MD 20892


National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

National Institutes of Health

Bethesda, MD 20892


U.S. Food and Drug Administration

FDA (HFE-88)

5600 Fishers Lane

Rockville, MD 20857

1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332)

(Information about medication)


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20201

1-877-696-6775 or 202-619-0257



(Consumer information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service)


Agency for Health-care Policy and Research (AHCPR)

2021 K St. NW

Washington, D.C. 20006




Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

1600 Clifton Road

Atlanta, GA 30333


(Statistics and other information about diseases and conditions)


U.S. National Library of Medicine

8600 Rockville Pike

Bethesda, MD 20894


(Produced by the National Library of Medicine, this site indexes articles from more than 3,500 medical journals.  The service is aimed primarily at scientists and health professionals.)


(Designed for the public, this site offers an up-to-date collection of consumer health-care information from the world’s largest medical library, the U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. It is free to consumers, health-care professionals, and scientists. )


From The Surgery Handbook, by Paul Ruggieri, M.D. Copyright © 2000 by Paul Ruggieri, M.D. Excerpted by arrangement with Addicus Books. $14.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-352-2873 or click here.