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How to Prepare for Brain Surgery

If you are scheduled for brain surgery, you may be feeling scared and overwhelmed. These are typical emotions to be experiencing.

As you prepare for your surgery, getting information about what to expect can help ease your fears and anxiety. It can also help you and your family to develop a plan. As needed, ask your neurosurgeon and their team questions about the preparation, procedure, and recovery.

There are many reasons to have brain surgery: aneurysm, blood clots, brain tumor, epilepsy, head injury, hemorrhage, leaky blood vessels, stroke, and others. Your brain surgery will be unique to your specific needs. For this reason, your neurosurgeon will give you specific instructions. Follow them.

Here are some of the steps that you may take as you prepare for your brain surgery.

Preparations to Make Weeks before surgery

During the weeks leading up to the surgery, there will be a lot of preparation needed. It may feel overwhelming and exhausting at times. As you prepare, be sure to take time to breathe and relax. Ask family and friends to pitch in as needed to help relieve some of the stress and pressure you might be feeling.

Preoperative Appointments

You will have several preoperative appointments leading up to the surgery. Write down questions that you have and take someone with you. It can help to have another person in the room to hear the same information that you’ll receive in case you miss something. They can also assist in asking the questions that you’d like answered.

You may need to be cleared for surgery by your other physicians based on other medical conditions. For example, if you have a heart condition, your cardiologist will need to make sure your heart looks good for the upcoming procedure.

You will meet with your neurosurgeon. They will ask for a complete medical history and conduct a physical exam. This may need to be done by your primary care physician and the results will be shared with the neurosurgeon.

During the history, you will be asked to provide a list of current medications. Include any prescription and over-the-counter medications along with vitamins and herbal supplements you may be taking. Also, let them know if you have a natural tendency for bleeding. This information will help your surgical team to provide you with proper instructions to follow before, during, and after the surgical procedure.

Do not be surprised if you are asked to take multiple tests as part of the preparation. Other tests may include blood tests, chest x-ray, electrocardiogram (EKC), MRI, CT scan, or PET scan. These may be needed for use during the surgery as well to make sure everything else looks good leading up to it.

Your neurosurgeon will review the results of the tests and provide you with specific preoperative instructions about diet and medication. If you are unsure about anything, ask to get clarification. They will also review the pre-surgery steps and anesthesia.

Medication Prep for Brain Surgery

As you prepare for brain surgery, you will keep taking most or all of your current medications. Your neurosurgeon may alter your regime based on what you are taking.

You will be asked to stop taking any blood thinners (e.g., Heparin, Eliquis, Warfarin) or anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen). If you have any questions or experience issues after you stop taking a medication, check with your neurosurgeon’s office.

You may also be asked to start taking medications in preparation for your surgery. This may include steroids to help with brain swelling, anti-seizure medication, and stomach protective agents to help with side effects.

After the surgery, you will receive postoperative medication instructions.

Consent Forms

As part of your preoperative visits, you will be asked to review and sign consent forms. Your neurosurgeon will review the details of the procedure with you. They will also discuss any potential risks.

This is another opportunity to get answers to any unanswered questions you may still have. This can include anything related to before, during, and after the surgery.

Recovery Process

Go over the recovery process with your neurosurgeon and his team. You want to make sure you and your loved ones understand the care that you’ll need after brain surgery.

You can expect to spend up to a week in the hospital after surgery. During that time, you will probably work with physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists. They will be there to help you through the recovery and to access your progress.

Remember, you will feel worse before you start to feel better. This is normal.

Home Preparations Before Surgery

In addition to taking care of all the preoperative appointments and tests, you will need to take time to make preparations at home. You will want to have everything ready to go before you leave for the hospital. You won’t feel like it or be able to after surgery.

Here are some things to consider doing.

  1. Discuss plans with your family. These can be difficult conversations to have. But, you need to make plans in case something unexpected occurs during surgery. You should also consider having a living will and advance directives. These are legal instructions that dictate your medical care wishes if you’re unable to make decisions. You may also want to give someone medical power of attorney. This varies by state.
  2. Eat well-balanced meals and drink plenty of water every day. This will help you to physically prepare your body for surgery and recovery.
  3. Rearrange your house (bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen) to meet your postoperative needs. You will need things to be convenient, especially if you may be home alone for any period of time.
  4. Gather things that you want to do during recovery. You will spend a good amount of time taking it easy. Find movies, shows, books, magazines, and other things that interest you. Have a variety available.
  5. Make arrangements for loved ones to help out. This includes taking you to and from the hospital. As well as helping you around the house for a period of time after surgery.
  6. Arrange for the care of others. If you are a parent or caregiver, you will need to have someone else take care of them for a while until you have recovered. This includes pets.
  7. Take time off of work. As already mentioned, your recovery will take time. Schedule the necessary time off from work. Also, discuss your return to work plans with your supervisor.
  8. Meal prep, stock your kitchen, or arrange for food to be brought to you for days or weeks after you’re home from the hospital. You can find great recipes online to make ahead and freeze. This way you do not have to worry about cooking while still recovering.
  9. Pack a bag for the hospital. You will be there for several days after the surgery. Bring comfortable clothes, socks, robe, slippers, basic toiletries, books or magazines, any needed items (e.g., eyeglasses (with case), dentures, hearing aid), list of medications, medical insurance card, and something to wear home. Leave valuables (e.g., money, jewelry, credit cards) at home. You do not need to bring your own medications; the hospital will take care of giving you what you need while in their care.
  10. Decrease your alcohol, caffeine, and cigarette consumption. You will want to do this over the several weeks before the surgery rather than the day before. This will allow you to do it gradually. Going “cold turkey” can have adverse effects on your body.
  11. Donate blood. If you want to donate your own blood for your surgery, you’ll want to do this many weeks ahead of time so your body has time to replenish before your surgery. Your family and friends can also be “direct donors.” They are able to specify you as the person who should receive their donation. You can check with your hospital’s blood bank to see if this is an option and to learn more about their process.

The National Brain Tumor Society has a list of questions to ask as you prepare for brain surgery.

Day Before Brain Surgery Preparations

On the day before your surgery, you will begin the final preparations. Your neurosurgeon will provide you with specific instructions regarding hygiene and diet. Here are things that may include.

You should remove any jewelry and nail polish. Your neurosurgeon may ask you to shower with a special soap or shampoo on the night before and the morning of your surgery. If not, use your regular soap and shampoo.

You will be asked to not eat or drink anything after a certain period of time. Typically, this is eight hours before the surgery. Up until that time, you can continue to eat and drink as normal. We’d recommend eating a solid, well-balanced meal before you start your pre-surgery fast.

Follow any other directions given to you by your neurosurgeon.

Day of Brain Surgery Preparations

On the day of surgery, shower again if instructed by your neurosurgeon. Do not use any hair products, makeup, lotions, perfumes, or other similar items.

Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. You’ll change into a hospital gown after being admitted. But, it is helpful to be as comfortable as possible until then.

Remember that you are fasting. Do not eat or drink anything that morning.

After you arrive at the hospital, you will be admitted. The nursing and surgical team will take over the presurgical preparations. There will be some final blood draws and exams that are conducted as part of the preoperative steps. They need to make sure you’re physically well before proceeding with the surgery.

If you or your family have any final questions, take the time to ask your surgical team. They are there to help you.

If you have any questions about treatment options for brain tumors or other neurological conditions, our team at Dickinson Neurological Surgery is available to assist. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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