Preparing for Outpatient or “Day” Surgery

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  • Young men's version of this guide

girl using tablet in hospital bed

Preparing for surgery can feel overwhelming or scary if you don’t know what to expect. You may have some unanswered questions and worries that make you feel this way. Knowing what to expect will help you feel less nervous and more in control. Be sure to get specific questions answered by your health care provider(s).

What is the difference between day surgery and inpatient surgery?

Day surgery is when someone comes to the hospital (usually in the morning) for a minor surgical procedure, and leaves the same day. Inpatient surgery is when someone stays in the hospital overnight after their surgery. Sometimes people who are staying overnight will be admitted to the hospital the day before their surgery. In most cases, people who are staying overnight will be admitted the morning of their surgery.

What should I do before my surgery?

This will depend on the type of surgical procedure you’ll be having, but your doctor/nurse will usually ask that you not have anything to eat or drink after midnight the night before your procedure. This means that you can’t have anything to eat or drink by mouth—no food or liquids of any kind, not even mints, candy, or chewing gum. Having an empty stomach before surgery decreases the risks of anesthesia, so it’s very important to follow this rule. You can brush your teeth in the morning, but DO NOT swallow water after rinsing your mouth. If you forget and eat or drink before your surgery, be sure to let the nurse or doctor know right away. Most likely, your surgery will need to be rescheduled.

If you take prescription medicine, ask your nurse or doctor if you should take your medicine with a tiny sip of water or wait until after the procedure.

Will I need a COVID test before my procedure?

Depending on your hospital, it’s likely that you will have to undergo a COVID test about 24 to 48 hours before your procedure. A COVID test is done by swabbing your nose (think flu test). The test is quick and painless, but an important step to make sure everyone is safe on the day of your surgery. For Boston Children’s Hospital patients, the COVID test must be done at either the main campus (Boston) or at the satellite locations in Waltham or Weymouth. Once you have received your COVID test, you will be asked to quarantine at home until your scheduled procedure.

I’m having day surgery—what will happen on the day of my procedure?

Depending on the hospital where you are having your surgery, the order of events may be different, and some advice that we list may not apply.

  • Time to arrive—One or two days before your surgery, you will receive a call from the hospital to let you know what time to arrive. Usually this is 1-2 hours before the procedure. Both you and your parent(s) or guardian(s) will need to sign a consent form (a document that gives the doctor permission to do the surgery and for anesthesia). Sometimes the consent forms are done before the day of your surgery.
  • ID Bracelet—When you check into the hospital, you will be given a bracelet that will have your name and your hospital identification number printed on it.
  • Day Surgery Area—After you have checked in with the admissions department, you will go to the Day Surgery Area, where you will be assigned a nurse who will take your blood pressure and ask you questions such as if you had anything to eat or drink before arriving at the hospital. He or she will probably ask you some private questions about your lifestyle, such as whether or not there’s a chance you may be pregnant, or if you use drugs or alcohol. You should answer these questions truthfully, because the doctors, surgeons, and anesthesiologists need to know if there’s anything they should be aware of that could complicate your surgery.
  • Urine Test—Most hospitals require teens born with a female reproductive system to have a urine pregnancy test. This routine and mandatory test is done on everyone over the age of 12 (or younger if they are menstruating) even if you are not sexually active. You will have private time with your nurse so that you can ask questions. If there is a chance you could be pregnant, it’s VERY IMPORTANT to let your nurse of doctor know.
  • Nail Polish—Please remove any nail polish before arriving at the hospital. If you are wearing nail polish and haven’t removed it yet, you will be given nail polish remover to take it off. This is done because the doctors/nurses need to be able to see your natural finger nail to check your circulation. Nail polish may also get in the way of the pulse oximeter which is a small machine that gently clips onto your finger to keep track of your pulse and how well you are breathing.
  • Acrylic nails—Most hospitals require that you remove at least 2 acrylic nails (one on each hand) so that the pulse oximeter can be used.
  • Jewelry—ALL jewelry will need to be removed especially nose, lip, and belly button rings, before your surgery. Leave your jewelry at home so you won’t worry about losing it at the hospital.
  • Makeup and Hair Products—Don’t wear any makeup to the hospital. While you are under anesthesia, you don’t have a blink reflex so small particles of makeup (especially mascara) can injure your eyes. Also, makeup, hair products and nail polish can be flammable and should not be worn when you are having surgery.
  • Hair—If you have long hair, consider putting it into a braid or a ponytail, or bring an elastic band with you so that you can tie your hair back once you get to the hospital.
  • Clothing—While you are a patient in the hospital your clothes will be placed in a bag with your name on it. You will be given a hospital gown to wear during the operation and while you are recovering. When you are ready to be discharged from the hospital, you will be able to change into your own clothes. It is a good idea to have loose fitting clothes so that you are comfortable on your way home.
  • Contacts – Be sure to bring a pair of glasses or your contact case with you to the hospital. They will ask you to remove your contacts prior to surgery, but you can replace them after.
  • Tampons–If you have your period on the day of surgery, you will be asked to remove your tampon. The hospital should give you a pad to wear, but it might be a good idea to bring one just in case.
  • Mouth Appliances–You’ll need to remove all dental appliances (such as a retainer or elastic bands from your braces) if you have any.

Why does everyone keep checking my ID bracelet? Don’t they know who I am?

You name, date of birth, and the planned procedure will be reviewed with you and your parent(s)/guardian(s) many times while you are in the day surgery area. The medical staff knows who you are, but these are safety checks to make sure that your surgeon always performs the right operation on the right person.

What’s the “pre-op holding area” and what happens there?

The “pre-op” holding area is where you’ll stay before you go to the operating room. This is where a nurse or anesthesia care provider will likely start an IV. This is a plastic tube that delivers certain medicine to your body throughout your surgery. It is inserted with a needle, but then the needle is removed so that only the plastic tube remains. The IV is usually placed in your hand. You will receive medicine through your IV to make you feel relaxed. If the anesthesiologist gives you a choice of which hand to put the IV in, choose the hand you don’t write with.

What if I’m afraid of needles?

If you are nervous about getting an IV, let your nurse know as soon as possible so that they can help you. You may be able to have a numbing cream placed on your hand which will numb your skin and lower the feeling of pain when the IV is inserted. The numbing cream takes time to work, so it’s important to ask for it as soon as possible. Another option is to have a small injection of numbing medicine in the area where your IV will be placed. When your anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist comes to start your IV, try to stay as relaxed as possible. You can do this by taking slow, deep breaths, concentrating on something pleasant, or having your parent(s) or guardian(s) distract you with conversation. After your surgery, you will be taken to the recovery room (also known as the PACU, or Post Anesthesia Care Unit, in some hospitals). When your nurse and/or anesthesia care provider feels you are taking fluids well after your surgery (and you are ready to go home), the IV will be removed.

What happens in the operating room?

You will be attached to a heart monitor. It is attached by 3 small, white circular patches that stick to a few areas on your chest. These white sticky patches are usually removed before you wake up. You will be given more medicine through your IV that will make you very sleepy. You will drift off to sleep and you will stay asleep during your surgery. After what seems like a few minutes, you will wake up in the recovery room, and the surgery will be over.

What exactly is anesthesia?

Anesthesia is the medicine that puts you to sleep and makes you feel no pain during your surgery. There are two different types of anesthesia: “local” and “general.”

Local anesthesia is special numbing medicine that is applied only to the area of your body where you are having a procedure. You are awake during the procedure. Sometimes you might also have an IV so you can be given medicine to help you relax. With this medicine, you may get drowsy, and even fall into a “light” sleep.

General anesthesia puts you to sleep during your procedure. This type of sleep is a “deep” sleep; you are sleeping so soundly that your anesthesia care provider helps you breathe. With this type of anesthesia, most people wake up feeling sleepy when the surgery is over.

If you have any worries or concerns about the type of anesthesia that you will be receiving, ask your health care provider or nurse to answer your questions. Also, it’s very important to let your health care provider/anesthesiologist know if you or any family members have ever had problems with anesthesia in the past, such as severe headaches, nausea, or a very sleepy feeling that took a long time to wear off. Unless you require emergency surgery, you should know which type of anesthesia you’re going to have in advance.

What happens after surgery?

After your surgery you will be taken to the recovery room. There, your nurse will check you often, and take your blood pressure, temperature, and pulse, and give you any medicine that your doctor orders. It is common to feel cold or chilly after surgery. Don’t be shy—ask your nurse for a warm blanket. If you’re thirsty and your HCP has said that it’s okay to have something to drink, your nurse will offer you a clear liquid such as ginger ale, water or apple juice. Before you can go home, you will need to pass urine (pee). Your nurse will offer you a bedpan or take you to the bathroom. After a little while, when you are fully awake and comfortable, your nurse will help you get ready to go home. You will probably have your IV removed at this time.

Will I have a scar?

Whether you will have a small, medium, long, or no scar at all depends on whether your doctor needs to make an incision (a cut in your skin). Some surgical procedures can be done without any cuts (such as an IUD insertion). Other types of surgeries require your surgeon to cut the skin to remove something. For example, an appendectomy requires a small size cut on your belly to remove your appendix. Sometimes, the cuts and stitches are made inside. One example of this is a tonsillectomy (removal of tonsils).

If I have an incision, how long will it take to heal?

Most incisions (where the skin was cut) appear red after the stitches dissolve. Dissolving stitches get absorbed by your body and do not need to be removed, but fade over time. About 4-6 weeks after the surgery, the scar from your incision should be much lighter than it was after the operation, but it takes up to a year for it to heal completely. It’s very important to keep the area where you had the surgery out of the sun, because the skin is tender and may burn more easily and cause a more noticeable scar over time. If you can’t help being out in the sun, be sure to use a sunscreen with a high (30+) SPF (sun protection factor) or higher on the healed incision area, to prevent burning. It is important to use sunscreen on your incision for a year–this will help minimize scarring. Most incisions heal well, and the scar will hardly be noticeable. Sometimes though, people develop a thicker type of scar that has extra fibrous tissue. This is called a keloid scar.

What can I do to make sure my incision heals well?

The most important thing to remember if you have an incision is to keep it clean. If you have an incision with stitches, you will receive instructions when you are discharged. The instructions will be specific to the type of surgery that you’ve had.

In general, you should call your doctor if you have:

  • A temperature of 101℉ (38.3℃) or higher
  • Any blood or drainage from your incision after the first 24 hours
  • Redness at the incision area
  • A bad odor coming from the incision
  • Severe pain in or around the incision
You will most likely be scheduled for a follow-up or “post-op” appointment with your surgeon so that they can check to see if you are healing well. It is important to keep this appointment even if you feel terrific.

What should I bring to the hospital?

Since you are having day surgery, you really don’t need to bring very much with you. Most people wear the same clothes home that they wore to the hospital. It’s a good idea to bring or wear casual and loose fitting clothing so that you are comfortable on the ride home.

What if I get bored while I’m in the hospital?

You probably will be on your way home before you know it—in less than 4 hours, but if you think you might get bored while you are waiting, you can bring a book, tablet, or music to listen to if you wish.

What should I do about the school work I’ll miss?

Helpful Tips:

  • If your surgery isn’t an emergency and your doctor is available, it might be possible to schedule your procedure during a school vacation week or during the summer. That way you won’t be worried about missing any school.
  • If your surgery is scheduled during school time, you can ask your teacher(s) about getting homework assignments ahead of time. Try to get as much of your work done before your surgery without getting too stressed out. Teachers will usually understand your situation if you take the time to explain that you will be having surgery and you will be home recovering for a few days.
  • If your surgery is an emergency, ask a parent/guardian or friend to get your school work for you. Many teachers will give you some extra time to make up your assignments. You shouldn’t have to worry. If a teacher seems too demanding, speak with your guidance counselor or principal when you return to school.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse for a note to excuse your school absences for your surgery and for your recovery time at home.

What if I have my period while I’m in the hospital?

Don’t worry – It’s okay if you have your period the day of your surgery or while you are in the hospital! This will not cause your surgery to be rescheduled.

Most likely you won’t be allowed to wear a tampon while in surgery. Instead, you will be given a pad to wear. If needed, an operating room nurse will change your pad while you are sleeping.

What if I’m still nervous on the day of my surgery?

It’s completely normal to feel a bit nervous, but knowing what to expect will make you feel less afraid. Try not to worry too much. Your doctors and nurses are there to answer any questions you have. They will take good care of you and keep you comfortable while you are in the hospital. If possible, try to talk with someone else who has had the same procedure. This may be a friend, relative, or someone your doctor or nurse arranges for you to talk to.

Once you are home recovering from your surgery, it’s important to rest, drink water and other liquids to stay hydrated, eat healthy foods, and take care of your incision (if you have one). Our bodies are amazing, but everyone needs time to recover from surgery. Ask your doctor/nurse exactly what you can and can’t do so that your recovery is fast and without complications. Remember to talk with your surgical team to learn more about specific instructions for your surgery.