A Young Woman’s Guide To Breast Surgery

The operation date is looming – what happens now?

Hospital Letters
You will receive a hospital letter confirming the date of your operation, the procedure you’re having and any other important information. This letter will clarify whether you are allowed to eat the morning of the operation or if you have to remain “nil-by-mouth” and will also let you know the estimated duration of your stay.

Occasionally operations can get cancelled but you would normally be informed beforehand. The letter may also instruct you to call the hospital on the morning of the operation to check there is a bed available.

Pre-Op Assessment Clinic
About two weeks before your operation, you’ll be asked to attend a “Pre-Op Assessment Clinic.” This is usually held at the hospital where your operation will be carried out and is basically a routine health check. A nurse will go through all the necessary information like next of kin, existing health conditions, allergies and other important information. Be sure to let her know whether you take any medicines, vitamin pills or herbal supplements – these may need to be stopped before your operation in case they interfere with the anaesthetic or your blood’s ability to clot. The nurse will also run through the operation you’re having to make sure you understand every aspect.

You will be sent for routine blood tests, echo-cardiogram (a painless procedure that looks at your heart function) and MRSA swabs. This involves a cotton bud being wiped against the inside of your mouth, our nose, your groin and occasionally under your armpit – if you are carrying any MRSA antibodies, these will show up on the test and you can be treated with antibiotics.

Some hospitals like you to check-in the evening before surgery while others are happy to have your arrive the same morning. Your admission’s letter will give you the information you need.

How long will I be in hospital?
The length of your stay varies from operation-to-operation. Laser surgery is normally carried out as a “day case”, which means you’re likely to be discharged the same day as the operation. Lumpectomies can also be carried out as a day case but occasionally involve an overnight stay. Double mastectomies with tissue reconstruction can involve a hospital stay of up to a week. You should be given an indication of how long you can expect to be in hospital at your pre-op assessment.

What to pack?
For the pre-op, you must remember to bring any medication, prescription or otherwise, with you. You shouldn’t need anything else.

When you go into hospital, you should take slippers, pyjamas with a button-up front and a dressing gown. Towels are usually provided but you will probably want to bring an overnight bag with toiletries in as well. Baby wipes and toilet wipes are especially useful for freshening up quickly and a minty mouthwash is also very useful.

You should make sure that you have someone to drive you home after the operation as the anaesthetic will make you drowsy and you probably won’t feel like doing much anyway!

Vitamin pills and herbal supplements
Recent research has revealed that certain vitamin pills and herbal supplements can interfere with blood clotting and certain medication. You should always let the hospital know if you are taking anything pre-operatively. Common supplements like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Echinacea, garlic and St John’s Wort can all have serious side-effects if you take them too close to your operation so do check before you go in!

Preparation the morning of the op
Before your operation, you need to make sure you have removed nail varnish from your fingers and toes. This allows nurses to keep an eye on your circulation during the operation so is very important. You should also have a hot bath or shower with a fragrance-free soap as well as wash your hair before the operation – this reduces the risk of infection by keeping bacteria at bay. You should also avoid using anti-perspirent deodorant or any perfume prior to the operation.

What if my period is due when I have my operation?
Quite often the stress of an operation creates havoc with your menstrual cycle. You’ll be told to come off any contraceptive pills before the op to help reduce the risk of blood clots so you may have an unexpected bleed. Basic rule is: don’t worry. You can still be operated on when you’ve got your period you just need to forewarn the nurses who can change your sanitary towel if you’re not able to do it.

If you normally use tampons, make sure you remove yours before the operation and use a towel instead. Leaving tampons in can increase the risk of infection and in particular, Toxic Shock Syndrome. Once you are up and about after the operation, you’re safe to put a clean tampon in.

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