SO MANY QUESTIONS, SO LITTLE TIME
So, you have to have a “procedure” done. Laymen’s terms: you need surgery. Your doctor probably briefed you on all of your options, all of the risks and all of the—No? They didn’t? Or maybe they did and you were doing the “smile and nod.”
When I counsel patients on their surgical options, I can always spot the “deer in the headlights” look in their eyes. No matter how much I try to ease their mind, I recognize that their apprehension can drive them to just a smile and a nod. Just like me, most healthcare providers have the best intentions for their patients and present all options available when surgery is a possibility. Unfortunately, some patients agree to have procedures without a true understanding. You should know that even if you are in a hospital gown and prepped for surgery, you still have enough time to ask serious questions.
So, what are these questions? I’m glad you asked.
What is the diagnosis? – Translation: What exactly is your illness or problem?
Make sure you understand what is being treated. So many patients have surgery, but do not know why. Even worse, they have the surgery, but their symptoms don't resolve – which brings us to the next question.
What is the benefit of the surgery? - Translation: How will it fix your illness?
All surgeries may not cure you permanently. Some may only give temporary relief. Before your surgery, you should understand how the procedure will help you, and if you should expect the problem to return.
What are the risks and complications? - Translation: What could go wrong while I’m open?
Surgeries are never minor, even if you get to go home the same day. Depending on the type of surgery, you could have damage to your internal organs or vessels, develop an infection, and of course a reaction to the anesthesia. It is important to listen to your doctor when he/she lists the possible complications.
What is the expected recovery period? - Translation: How long will I be off work, out of school, or in bed?
Before planning your procedure day, make sure you set up enough time to recover. Most people want relief right away and schedule procedures “as soon as possible”. Remember, your boss, teacher, or even household, needs to know when you will fully recover.
What are the alternative treatments? – Translation: Is there something else I can do or take?
Surgery is not the “end all – be all” for every illness. You always have options and you should know what they are. However, make sure that the alternative is a viable option and not just temporarily delaying the inevitable surgery.
What happens if treatment is refused? – Translation: How sick am I going to get if I do nothing?
Most people don’t realize that you can refuse any recommended procedure or surgery. Before you say “no,” however, really think about why you are saying “no.” Do you have concerns or fears for the 1% of severe complications? Do you believe that an alternative method may work? Whatever the reason, understand how and if the disease will progress and how your body will be affected without treatment.
What is my coinsurance or deductible? – Translation: How much do I have to pay the day of surgery?
In this day of healthcare, it is important to know what you are going to have to pay. Most people do not have 100% insurance coverage, or even worse, they are unaware that the procedure is not covered. Trust me, the worst feeling in the world is to be at home trying to recover and receive a bill from the hospital with four zeros behind the number. Always contact your insurance company to see if your procedure is covered.
QUICK NOTE: The only stupid question before your surgery is one that you don’t ask.
The next time you, a family member, or friend is scheduled for surgery, no matter how “minor” it may seem, make sure the questions above have been answered prior to signing anything. Only then will you be truly informed.