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 Rx: Preparing for Surgery 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Body Health by . View all columns in series

Develop a Pain Control Plan
Putting up with severe pain is neither heroic nor wise. And with today's pain control treatments, it's unnecessary. Good pain control is important for your recovery. You can start walking, do your deep breathing exercises, cough, and get your strength back more quickly. You'll be less likely to develop complications like pneumonia or blood clots. You may even be able to leave the hospital sooner.

Find out what kind of pain to expect with your surgery and work out a plan with your doctors and nurses both before and after.

Some tips:

  • Don't wait for pain to get severe before asking for pain medication. Short-term use of narcotic pain medications is not addicting.
  • Measure and report your pain repeatedly on a scale of zero to 10. This helps you and the medical staff track your progress.
  • Speak up. Don't be shy about reporting your pain or telling someone when the medication isn't working.
  • Also try non-drug approaches such as breathing and relaxation exercises, imagery, music, distraction, massage, heat, and ice.
Get up!
Rest is great - so is getting some gentle exercise and movement as soon as possible after your operation. Too much inactivity increases the risk of inflammation of the veins and blood clots. So walk around wherever you can, and do exercises your condition allows or the staff recommends.

Choose a Room with a View
In one study, patients who had a room with a view of a wooded scene after surgery suffered less postoperative distress, required less strong pain medications, and were discharged from the hospital one day sooner than those who looked out on a brick wall. If you can't have a real view, bring in your own pictures or photographs of nature or watch nature programs on TV.

[Sidebar] Healing Instructions for Your Body
Studies show that we can improve and speed recovery from surgery by giving our bodies specific, detailed instructions for healing. Below are some instructional "scripts." Record them on an audio tape or place them on note cards and have someone read them to you or repeat them to yourself. Do this frequently in the days before, during, and after your surgery.

Pain Control
Note: Relaxing the muscles around the site of the incision can help reduce discomfort after surgery. This usually results in less need for postoperative pain medications, and may speed recovery and discharge from the hospital.

Your script:
"All of my muscles in my (area of surgery) will be completely relaxed as I come out of the operation. It is very important that all of these muscles remain completely relaxed, limp like a rag doll, so that the blood will flow easily into the area and heal me, and so that the pain medicine will work more easily and better. With relaxed muscles I will recover more quickly and more comfortably. So all of the muscles in my (area of surgery) will be completely relaxed after surgery, and will stay relaxed."

Bowel Activity
Note: After abdominal or pelvic surgery, the stomach and intestines usually go on strike. In one study, patients were given specific preoperative instructions about restoring bowel function. They recovered more quickly, passed gas sooner, began eating earlier, and were discharged from the hospital an average of a day and a half sooner than patients who just received a general reassurance.

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 About The Author
David S. Sobel, M.D., M.P.H., is a practicing physician in adult medicine and Medical Director of Patient Education and Health Promotion for Kaiser Permanente Northern California. He is physician lead for the......moreDavid Sobel MD
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