Luckily, I’ve only been admitted to hospital for surgery on two occasions, but when it happened I had serious concerns.

The big one was, will I develop a complication during my hospital stay that I didn’t have on arrival? So, what can be done to prevent this from occurring?

First, I choose my surgeon like porcupines make love, very, very carefully. This choice can have a major impact on outcome.

I realize the best of surgeons can encounter a problem that is largely “an act of God”. But chances are slim that an unforeseen event will occur with a first class technical surgeon, so the surgery is the least of my worries.

I know some may say, “Yes, but you have the inside track and know who to entrust your life to”. You’re right.

Being a surgeon helps, but here’s a tip for you. If you’re lucky enough to know a scrub nurse, one that assists at surgery, he or she will be able to direct you to the right hands.

Some patients make a terrible mistake by letting emotions determine their hospital choice. They want a particular hospital so friends and family can visit them daily after the operation. Family is important, but not as vital as travelling a few hours to a hospital and surgeon better qualified to do the operation. An emotional decision increases the risk of complications.

Remember, the more complicated the surgery, such as brain aneurysm or esophageal malignancy, the more you need a surgeon who is doing a number of these operations every year. As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect”.

My second worry, one that should concern everyone, was the risk of hospital infection. Studies show that in North America what’s called “central line infections” are a primary concern. Central line infections are those that occur when patients are receiving antibiotics, medication or nutrition by intravenous needle. This causes up to 30 percent of the 100,000 deaths from infection every year.    

Another frequent cause of hospital infection is the use of urinary catheters following surgery. The longer a catheter remains in place, the greater the risk of infection. So always ask the surgeon when and if the catheter can be removed.

Similarly, if you’re taking antibiotics, ask when they can be discontinued. The longer you take them the greater risk of complications. Remain alert to keep needless errors from happening.

You obviously can’t prevent having a sponge or instrument left in the abdomen, but you can prevent the surgeon from performing the wrong operation. It’s prudent, if you’re scheduled for a hernia operation, to have the surgeon write his initials on the surgical site. The more caution the better as in rare cases surgeons have operated on the wrong patient or performed the wrong operation!

What’s more common are errors of medication. It’s no wonder that this happens with so many North Americans taking so many prescription drugs. Numerous traps set the stage for this to happen.

Nursing is a tiring job and fatigue can play a role in this service. It’s also a dangerous time when the nursing shift changes. A lack of communication has often resulted in a patient receiving the wrong drug or the wrong dose.

How can this error be decreased? According to the health publication, Consumer Reports on Health, when nurses were asked this question 87 percent answered, “It would help if patients would bring their list of drugs with them”.

Remember, just because you are not a doctor, doesn’t mean you lack common sense.

Dr. Peter Pronovost, Director of Critical Care at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, provides sage advice. He says, “Question, question, question until things are explained to you in a way you can understand”. Following surgery, get moving as soon a possible. Ships tied up too long develop barnacles. Humans develop clots in their legs that may result in pulmonary embolism and death.

Of course, the best way to prevent surgical complication in hospital is to be sure the operation is needed. Every year thousands of operations are performed for questionable reasons.


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