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What to Ask Before Surgery

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photo of doctor at desk talking with patient

As I sailed through the air, over the stairs, and towards the basement floor, even before I hit bottom, I knew there was something terribly wrong with my foot. And it must have been evident in my voice when I cried out, because my husband materialized at my side almost immediately.

Expecting that at worst, I might need a cast, off we headed to the Emergency Department. Instead, we got the news that while I had indeed broken my ankle, I would need surgery to literally screw the pieces back together. 

A big part of my job is speaking to doctors and other health professionals. And as someone who writes about health for a living, I’ve put together more than one article about how to get the information you need to make an informed decision about some aspect of your care. 

Still, my brain went blank. It wasn’t until nearly two weeks later, when OR time finally became available, that I finally remembered to ask the resident the critical question: what would happen if I didn’t have surgery? 

The shock of being told I needed an operation (I didn’t even go to the hospital to have my last two babies), uncertainty about how long I’d have to wait for it, and the frustration of not being able to get answers about whether I’d be able to opt for regional anaesthesia drove everything else out of my head.

If that can happen to me with my professional background (and the privilege of being white and relatively comfortable financially), I’m guessing it’s probably a pretty common phenomenon. So having a list of questions to consult while you’re mulling over your decision could be helpful.

To find out what you should know before agreeing to go under the knife, I spoke to surgeons in different specialities as well as a specialist in medical bioethics. The result: this story that originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Good Times,What to Ask Before Surgery.’ 

A big thank-you to the interviewees who so kindly shared their time and expertise: