Surgery: What’s the worry about it?
As someone who’s been through her fair share of surgery, I know what it feels like to have pre-operation jitters. As surgery is an invasive medical procedure it’s normal and natural to feel fearful especially if you are going to be under general anaesthesia.
So, what is general anaesthesia? According to HealthXchange, “general anaesthesia is a medically induced, reversible state of unconsciousness, achieved by using a combination of medications which include pain-killers."
Going under general anaesthesia is not the same as going under local anaesthesia, which only affects a specific part of your body. Many surgeries use one or the other, and often both.
Myths about general anaesthesia
Some common fears surrounding going under general anaesthesia include waking up feeling pain or even dying during the procedure. A patient’s worst nightmare would be to be put to sleep before surgery, only to realise that while they are unconscious and immobilised, they are able to feel every stitch.
Thankfully, these worries are mostly unfounded as general anaesthesia is very safe. While many people believe that anaesthesiologists simply induce sleep in patients during the process, their scope of work is much more involved.
Anaesthesiologists accompany patients at every step of their procedure, monitoring their vital signs and using high-tech tools like patch strips with electrodes to monitor patients’ brain waves. This takes out much of the guesswork and ensures that patients are comfortable and well taken care of.
“Overall, general anaesthesia is safe, even for those with health conditions. Anaesthesia advancement over the past decade with improved medication, equipment, staffing and more importantly, stringent practice standards and educational requirements for anaesthesia providers mean comparisons with past experiences are like comparing apples to oranges.”
- Tay Yoong Chuan, consultant Anaesthesiologist
What can patients do to take care of themselves before surgery?
Besides following your doctor’s orders, you should not be smoking (if you are a smoker) several weeks before surgery, and lose weight if you are obese. Both factors may contribute to complications when going under general anaesthesia.
What can you do to ensure a smooth surgery?
“Provide your health providers with your health records: include your health history, medication (including over-the-counter drugs, traditional/herbal supplements), allergies, previous investigation reports (if done privately, because they are not accessible on NEHR), your past experiences with anaesthesia.”
- Tay Yoong Chuan, consultant Anaesthesiologist
However, this is not to say that general anaesthesia is the be-all and end-all when it comes to surgery.
For those who are worried about being unconscious, you can also consider where possible local anaesthesia which is only applied to the affected area, or discuss with your doctor about considering non-surgical options where possible.
Surgery may not be the best option when it comes to treating conditions, due to possible side effects and comparatively higher costs. Be sure to consult your doctor before embarking on any medical procedure, as certain procedures may not be the best for you or your lifestyle.
What are other myths surrounding surgery?
To clear the confusion surrounding surgery, we consulted Dr Tay Yoong Chuan, a consultant in the Department of Anaesthesiology at Alexandra Hospital (managed by Sengkang Health) to weigh in on some common myths.
Don’t eat seafood after your surgery - “Seafood avoidance after surgery for wound healing is known in traditional medicine, even having divisions of types of acceptable seafood. In the absence of seafood allergies, however, safe protein-rich sources post-operatively is useful for wound and muscle healing. This could be derived from seafood, in addition to poultry and vegetables sources. Amino acids from proteins are the building blocks for tissue recovery.”
Don’t shower after your surgery - “Basic hygiene is important to prevent wound infection after surgery. If the dressings for the wounds are not waterproof, consider other methods such as sponge bathing or waterproof dressings. In doubt, please consult your surgeons regarding appropriate wound care after specific surgery.”
Surgery is painful - “Although pain perception is variable between individuals, utmost care is made to ensure the surgical procedure is as pain-free as possible. Regional anaesthesia provides an option for blocking transmission of pain signals to the brain. Strong painkillers during a general anaesthetic and complementary regional anaesthesia balance the provision of pain control and side effects of painkillers.”
All in all, surgery should be viewed as a medical option if not deemed necessary to treat your condition. Don’t let fear stop you from getting the help you need, and be sure to clarify doubts with your doctor or surgeon before the operation.
Disclaimer: All information within this article is intended for general information and is provided on the understanding that no surgical and medical advice or recommendation is being rendered. Please consult your doctor first.
This series is made possible through our collaboration with Sengkang Health, a SingHealth institution that aims to build a community compact for a healthier Northeast. We have worked with the doctors of Sengkang Health in creating this health series. Let us know if you want to see more similar content in the comment section below and check out the other articles of this 6-part series.