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Day of Surgery Frequently Asked Questions

What does "monitoring vital signs" mean?

Your vital signs are facts about your health that can be measured; and changes in vital signs can be monitored over time. Vital signs include temperature, heart rate (pulse), breathing rate (respirations), blood pressure and presence of pain. In the perioperative areas, anesthesiologists and nurses will also measure other factors, such as heart rhythm (EKG) and blood oxygen saturation (pulse-oximetry). Most vital signs are measured constantly, using automatic devices, and monitored by the anesthesiologist and nursing staff. Monitoring is more than just watching. If changes in your vital signs indicate a danger to your health and safety, the anesthesiologist or nurse will begin appropriate treatment to correct it.

Will I need to have an IV for surgery?

Almost all patients need to have an IV, or intravenous catheter, placed before surgery. This allows fluids and medications to be delivered quickly and safely through your vein. The IV will be started in the preoperative area by the RN or the anesthesiologist. Whoever places your IV will usually inject some local anesthetic first to numb your skin.

Small children can be very afraid of needles, and some short surgical procedures may be safe without an IV before surgery. The anesthesiologist can have the child breathe in gas medications to cause relaxation and sleep, and then start the IV if needed.

Will I need to have a catheter?

A catheter is a term for a tube. Most people associate this word with the Foley catheter that drains urine from the bladder. The surgeon or anesthesiologist may require it for your safety, depending on your health and the length or type of surgical procedure.

The catheter will be inserted after you have received anesthesia, so you will not feel or remember it. A nurse in the operating room will insert a catheter through your urethra into your bladder; the tube has a balloon at the end to help hold it in place.

Your body always makes urine, and the volume you make is a sign of the state of your health. The amount of urine passing through the catheter can be measured during surgery. The catheter may be in place as you wake up, but it will be removed as soon as it is safe to do so. It may cause a temporary urgency to void.

If I am anxious while waiting for surgery, can I receive medication to help?

Many people feel anxious while waiting in the pre-operative area. In most instances, your anesthesiologist can prescribe and administer medications to help calm these feelings of fear. These medicines can be given as a pill or by injection through the IV tubing. These medications can be administered after you have signed your consent and spoken to the anesthesiologist and your surgeon.

Why is it so cold in the operating room?

Remember that you are not wearing your usual clothes in the operating room. Operating room staff members do care about your comfort and modesty and will offer blankets or other warming devices to cover you. Let them know if this is not enough.

When you look around you will notice several staff in full-length gowns, masks and gloves. It does not feel as cold for them as it does for you. The staff will be moving and working hard during your operation and do not want to present a risk to you if they would perspire.

How will doctors and nurses protect me from infection during my operation?

All of the operating room staff members work to maintain a sterile field during your operation. This means that everything that could contact the inside of your body is completely clean and free of germs—bacteria, viruses or other organisms that can cause disease or infection. The "sterile field" refers to any area where sterile supplies and instruments are ready for use. During the operation, sterile drapes cover your body to make it part of the sterile field.

Disposable supplies are supplied sterile from the manufacturer, and they are stored with protective coverings to keep them sealed until use. Reusable instruments are thoroughly cleaned, inspected, packaged and sterilized by the hospital before each use. Both the manufacturers and the hospital have systems in place to monitor and ensure that all items are processed completely so they are safe for you.

Anyone working in an area where there is a sterile surgical field will wear a mask over their nose and mouth; some may even wear a full hood covering over their head. Anyone who touches sterile supplies or instruments will wear sterile gloves and many will also wear a sterile gown.

Anyone who sees a sterile item touch something not sterile will inform the rest of the surgical team immediately; this is called surgical conscience. Without question, any item that may have touched even a clean-but-not-sterile area will be removed from the sterile field. It will be re-sterilized or replaced as needed.