You are scheduled to have surgery. Learn about what to expect on the day of surgery so that you will be prepared.
The surgeon's office will let you know what time you should arrive on the day of surgery. This may be early in the morning.
- If you are having minor surgery, you will go home afterward on the same day.
- If you are having major surgery, you will stay in the hospital after the surgery, although in some cases you may be able to go home afterward on the same day.
What to Expect Before Surgery
You will have met with your surgeon before the day of your surgery. You may meet with the surgeon again right before the operation.
You may have an in-person or phone meeting with an anesthesia nurse or provider before the day of surgery. On the day of surgery, you will meet with the anesthesia providers who will take care of you during surgery.
Try to ask detailed questions about surgery and anesthesia before the day of your operation since you and your providers will have more time to talk.
When you talk with your surgery team on the day of surgery, expect them to:
- Ask you about your health. If you are sick, they may wait until you are better to do the surgery.
- Go over your health history.
- Find out about any medicines you take. Tell them about any prescription, over-the-counter (OTC), and herbal medicines.
- Talk to you about the anesthesia you will get for your surgery.
- Answer any of your questions. Bring paper and pen to write down notes. Ask about your surgery, recovery, and pain management.
- Find out about insurance and payment for your surgery and anesthesia.
You will need to sign admission papers and consent forms for surgery and anesthesia. Bring these items to make it easier:
- Insurance card
- Prescription card
- Identification card (driver's license)
- Any medicine in the original bottles
- X-rays and test results
- Money to pay for any new prescriptions
What to Expect on the day of Surgery
At home on the day of surgery:
- Follow instructions about not eating or drinking. You may be told not to eat or drink after the midnight before your surgery. Sometimes you can drink clear liquids up until 2 hours before your operation.
- If your doctor told you to take any medicine on the day of surgery, take it with a small sip of water.
- Brush your teeth or rinse your mouth but spit out all of the water.
- Take a shower or bath. Your surgeon may give you a special medicated soap to use. Look for instructions for how to use this soap.
- Do not use any deodorant, powder, lotion, perfume, aftershave, or makeup.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing and flat shoes.
- Take off jewelry. Remove body piercings.
- Do not wear contact lenses. If you wear glasses, bring a case for them.
Here is what to bring and what to leave at home:
- Leave all valuables at home.
- Bring any special medical equipment that you use (CPAP, a walker, or a cane).
Plan to arrive at your surgery unit at the scheduled time. You may need to arrive up to 2 hours before surgery.
The staff will prepare you for surgery. They will:
- Ask you to change into a gown, cap, and paper slippers.
- Put an ID bracelet around your wrist.
- Ask you to state your name, your birthday.
- Ask you to confirm the location and type of surgery. The surgery site will be marked with a special marker.
- Put an IV (intravenous) line in.
- Check your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate.
What to Expect After Surgery
You will go to the recovery room after surgery. How long you stay there depends on the surgery you had, your anesthesia, and how fast you wake up. If you are going home, you will be discharged after:
- You can drink water, juice, or soda and eat something like soda or graham crackers
- You have received instructions for a follow-up appointment with your doctor, any new prescription medicines you need to take, and what activities you can or cannot do when you get home
If you are staying at the hospital, you will be transferred to a hospital room. The nurses there will:
- Check your vital signs.
- Check your pain level. If you are having pain, the nurse will give you pain medicine.
- Give any other medicine you need.
- Encourage you to drink if liquids are allowed.
What to Expect Going Home
You should expect to:
- Have a responsible adult with you to get you home safely. You cannot drive yourself home after surgery. You can take a bus or cab if there is a responsible adult with you.
- Limit your activity to inside the house for at least 24 hours after your surgery.
- Not drive for at least 24 hours after your surgery. If you are taking medicines, talk to your surgeon about when you can drive.
- Take your medicine as prescribed.
- Follow instructions from your surgeon about your activities.
- Follow instructions on wound care and bathing or showering.
Same-day surgery - adult; Ambulatory surgery - adult; Surgical procedure - adult; Preoperative care - day of surgery
Smith SF, Duell DJ, Martin BC, Aebersold M, Gonzalez L. Perioperative care. In: Smith SF, Duell DJ, Martin BC, Gonzalez L, Aebersold M, eds. Clinical Nursing Skills: Basic to Advanced Skills. 9th ed. New York, NY: Pearson; 2016:chap 26.
Zaydfudim VM, Hu Y, Adams RB. Principles of preoperative and operative surgery. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 21st ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2022:chap 10.
Review Date 8/22/2022
Updated by: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery Practice Specializing in Breast Cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.