NHS Surgery Pre-Op Assessment – My Experience

Yesterday I had my pre-op assessment for spinal decompression and stabilisation surgery. I kept a little diary of the whole experience as I thought it might prove useful to someone else about to embark on the same journey.

6:15 AM – I’m awake! I’m not half asleep perched on the side of a bathtub, evaluating the prospect of washing my hair or wearing a hat. There is this lurking knot starting in my stomach – surgery is becoming more and more of a reality. I’ve been on the waiting list so long that I was beginning to believe it would never actually happen.

7:36 AM – It was decided that a hat would be worn today. So my hair is braided and a hat is on my head. At the moment I am deciding on breakfast. The knot in my stomach is much tighter, but I don’t want to faint from low blood sugar – I’m pretty certain that would be a bad thing to do at an assessment of fitness for an operation. I know. Toast, that ubiquitous grab and go breakfast. Oh and tea. A large cup.

8:30 AM – That’s us on our way, in a manner of speaking. We are remaining quite still in a traffic jam, but we are pointing in the right direction, so that is something. My little ball of anxiety is turning into a swirly washing machine in my stomach. Please let this be the only traffic jam!

8:50 AM – I’m a little early! Amazing considering the traffic we just went through. As I walked in the nurse and I had a standard hospital conversation:

“Good morning, are you Lisa?” – I nod. ” I need a sample of your urine” while pointing at the bathroom door. I nod again and head to my destination.

If you are lucky enough not to have had this conversation at least once in your life I envy you. The saying goes “leave your inhibitions at the door of the hospital” and it is so true.

09:04 AM – My assessment time was 9 AM but it is common when using NHS services to be a patient, patient. So now, we sit and wait. I’ve never really minded the waiting part, my mum is a wizard at starting conversations. Often I just sit and listen to her and her newest friend trade stories and learn about each other. Today our comrades are a husband and wife duo. The husband had a discectomy done privately. However, something has gone awry and he needs another operation but this time through the NHS as they cannot manage a second private surgery.

9:28 AM – Still waiting. It has transpired that the wife of the duo has a dog that she knits jumpers for as a hobby. While she was telling us about this hobby the husband’s face was one of love yet resignation.

9:33 AM – My name was just called.

09:45 AM – Vitals are done – normal BP, Low blood oxygen saturation but normal for someone in pain. My nurse today is a pleasant lady called Gail. Petite framed and soft-spoken, but intelligent. The ideal nurse for the knot of anxiety that I have become this morning.

9:55 AM – I have been left to do the final of 3 swabs for MRSA in private. First in the nose, Second at the back of my throat, third… my groin. Charming. Well here goes.

10:05 AM – Now it’s time for blood to be taken and the cross-examination to follow. If there is ever a time that you are having blood taken for testing, there s a form you can sign to give permission for leftover blood from the test can be used for research. I always sign it and I recommend you do too. Otherwise, the specimen will be discarded after testing which is a waste of a valuable resource.

10:20 AM – Time to go for an ECG – Cardiology is quite the distance and I walk with crutches. By the time I get there I’m defeated and my heart is racing. Not the best time to trace someone’s cardiac function. As an aside, they now provide disposable gowns in place of cotton reusable ones. These paper garments are not made for adults, especially of the female variety. Like I said earlier “leave your inhibitions at the door of the hospital.” The ECG technician is quick, her hands a flurry of contacts and cables. Before I know it I’m done!

10:50 AM – Off on an adventure to find a bathroom. Brb.

11:06 AM – Now I see the man himself, my surgeon. He has a final year medical student observing. Poor guy looks terrified. Mr Reece is unquestionably excellent at his job, nevertheless to someone who doesn’t know him he can seem brash and straightforward. I like the matter of fact nature, it tells me he is decisive and efficient. However, as a student, fresh to the medical realm – I feel for his protege. Mr Reece has a plan of action, reported in great detail. MRI’s are one of my favourite medical imaging to witness. You can literally scroll through the body from skin to bone and out the other side – just astounding.

11:30 AM – I’m reliably informed I am fit for surgery pending haematology and microbiology testing. I’ve just signed my consent form plus a form to give my permission for students to learn from my procedure.

11:40 AM – All finished. Home time!

There you have it. My experience of the whirlwind that is a surgical pre-op assessment. This assessment was for quite major surgery so it is at the extreme end of the tests and questions. But very necessary as it will ensure the best possible result.

What is your experience with procedures for surgical assessment? I would love to know how the experience differs around the world.

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