Ask Questions Before Device Or Implant Surgery

by Robert A. Duke

Artwork by Hilary Cole

Don’t expect to be told everything you need to know when electing surgery. Despite the length and thoroughness of pre-surgery preparations, you’ll discover most information is for the surgeon, not the patient. First, the surgeon is in charge and is helped by a team of skilled professionals, and second, patients have little idea what questions to ask.

My only medical knowledge comes from my patient experience, which includes three spinal surgeries at three hospitals and a couple of minor surgeries at surgery centers. Realize that surgery is about more than cutting and stitching, there are questions about the procedure and facility.

Non-medical questions surrounding your surgery include administrative procedures, implanted device information, discharge requirements, therapy protocols, recovery support and financial considerations. Other questions would be unique to you and your situation.

Here are some questions to get you started. If you go online and search for your condition or procedure, you’ll discover more questions.

In November 2015, I went to Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., for cervical vertebrae fusion surgery: an operation to fuse together three of my neck vertebrae. I’d never before had a device implanted in my body nor was I familiar with Desert Orthopedic Care practice, the surgeon, or medical center. It was all the result of an emergency when I was traveling.

I went into pre-surgery screening with a list of 25 questions and came out of the process with just two answers. At pre-surgery, each person who interviewed me assured me the next person I would see had the answers I was seeking. Pre-surgery at Eisenhower had surgery patients wait in a central waiting room until called for an interview. After each interview, the patient returned to the central waiting room until called for the next interview.

Without a list, you might not get even two answers and, as I proved, you’re unlikely to get many answers unless you demand them. As with the first question, you may need Internet access to search for answers and time to follow up on results, because not all answers are available during pre-surgery processing.

Besides traditional inpatient hospital surgery, there is the increasing option of outpatient surgery centers for which additional questions may be appropriate. As a CBS news report pointed out, “There are risks associated with any procedure, wherever it happens. If considering a surgery center, spokesperson Dr. LaPook said, “asking about backup plans in case something goes wrong (would be appropriate).”

What I’ve come to call the Golden Rule of Surgery is to have a caregiver present at every opportunity, to be what a nurse-practitioner friend calls (in all seriousness) your guard, to listen and advocate for you at every step.


Robert A. Duke is author of “Waking Up Dying: Caregiving When There Is No Tomorrow,” he lives in Bellingham. His email:

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