Do I have to have surgery?
I have never had to have emergency surgery, so my first step has always been my doctor or the emergency room (depending on which circumstances) referring me to a specialist to determine if surgery was the best solution.
Surgeons will usually feel surgery is the best solution. If you want to rule everything else out first, ask your doctor for other referrals first. Physiotherapists, nutritionists, and other specialists will often offer alternatives you can try to delay your surgery. But if your doctor and the surgeon agree that surgery is the best solution, you should probably follow their advice; a second opinion is a good thing, denial is not.
When I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, the surgeons determined surgery was required, but should be delayed. They recommended a host of other specialists I could work with to slow down the progression, as a result I was able to postpone my surgery by ten years. It was a lot of work, but worth it.
So my first step was meeting with the surgeon to determine what is required. Half of the time, I run around the city for tests and x-rays and have all of it sent to him before I can even meet him. Not a big deal, but a huge time commitment. It does mean that we have all of the information required for an on-the-spot decision, rather than repeat appointments.
A second set of ears
Then I meet the surgeon. They go through the procedure with me and discuss what will happen and what I should expect. I’ve had some of them draw pictures on paper or on my x-ray, one drew right on my skin with a magic marker!
I always take someone with me to this appointment. i never remember everything they say, especially if they freak me out. I had one doctor show me a bone saw and the next 5 minutes was a complete blur. Thank goodness John was with me, or I probably would have ended up in the waiting room with no recall of anything.
Be sure you take someone who is not too emotional and someone you really trust; remember, they are there for more than moral support; they need to be able to stay strong and focused, just in case you don’t. If they break down or freak out, they are useless to you.
This is also why I bring a list of questions my family and I have brainstormed before the appointment. I would never remember otherwise. I also write down the answers for later, otherwise I get the times mixed up. “Was it 3 days in the hospital and 2 weeks on crutches or 2 days in the hospital and 3 weeks on crutches?” The doctor should be willing explain the problem, the solution and the recovery to you in a fair amount of detail, and answer any questions that you have.
Check out my list of sample questions: Preoperative FAQs – Surgeon
Surgeons – What’s up with this guy?
My surgeons have been a mixed bag. I had one world-class doctor who treated me like a person, who looked me in the eye and worried about my feelings. He was like family. I had another that spent most of my consult looking me directly in the kneecap. At one point he must have been thinking about the surgery, because he was very surprised when the knee spoke up and asked a question. He came out of his reverie and focused on my face and I had to repeat myself. I laughed and reminded him that the knee came with a person attached; he didn’t get it. I would like to say, he was also a great surgeon and a kind man. He was just very focused (which you would want in a surgeon).
Be prepared, depending on who you are dealing with, they may not have the best bedside manner. Surgeons are notorious for having the terrible people skills. You have to make some allowances, remember that they spend most of their relationship with you while you are unconscious.
I check out my surgeon; I ask around, but I take what I hear with a grain of salt too. One of my favorite surgeons was panned online for always recommending surgery as the solution. This didn’t surprise me, as he is very hard to get into and will not even see you unless he thinks it is necessary, but… to each their own. I do make sure I am comfortable and trust my doctor though. It is no good to go into this thinking you are in the hands of an incompetent.