Getting Ready for Surgery

man on way to surgery

The information here is not intended to provide health care advice. For advice and information specific to your surgery or other health concerns, please consult your surgeon or family physician.

This page contains sections about surgery at Island Health.

Resources for patients preparing for and recovering from surgery

Meeting your surgeon

Improving your health before surgery

Getting Ready for and Recovering From Breast Surgery: Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and West Coast General Hospital

Getting Ready for and Recovering From Breast Surgery: Cowichan District Hospital

Getting Ready for and Recovering From Breast Surgery: North Island Hospital

Getting ready for breast surgery

Getting ready for and recovering from breast surgery

Getting ready for and recovering from surgery – abridged version

Getting ready for and recovering from colon (bowel) resection surgery

Getting ready for and recovering from cystectomy surgery

Getting ready for and recovering from gynecological surgery

Getting ready for and recovering from laryngectomy surgery

Getting ready for and recovering from radical prostatectomy surgery

Getting ready for and recovering from total shoulder arthroplasty (replacement) surgery

Getting Ready for and Recovering From Esophagectomy Surgery

Getting Ready for and Recovering From Lung Surgery

Preparing for daycare surgery

Transurethral Resection of the Prostate

Hospitals that offer surgery

Surgical services are offered throughout the Island Health region at eight hospitals: 

Anesthetic Consultations

Patients that have medical problems that could affect anesthesia are referred to Pre-admission Services for a consultation with an anesthesiologist. You will be contacted by your surgeon or the hospital if you require an anesthetic consultation.

If you are physically fit and are having straightforward surgery, there will be no pre-arranged anesthetic consultation. You will receive your pre-anesthetic assessment on the day of surgery.

Children and Surgery

The hospital experience can be positive for children if they know what to expect. Children who are aware of what they will see and do are generally less anxious than children who have no information.

Regardless of age, most children want to know:

  • what will happen to them in hospital
  • if they will be harmed
  • if you will be with them
  • when they will be going home

It is normal for children to have fears about going to the hospital. Try not to ignore these fears. Respond to them with lots of hugs and comforting. You may not know all the answers but your child will recognize and appreciate your attempts to be honest and supportive with them. Your involvement in your child’s hospital care will help him/her feel that life is safe and normal.

When to Prepare

Preparation can reduce anxiety. Everyone’s needs vary. The following information is intended as a general guideline.

  • 2-3 years of age > 2-3 days in advance
  • 4-7 years of age > 4-7 days in advance
  • 7 years and up > 1 or 2 weeks in advance

Steps you can take:

Prepare Yourself

Learn all you can about what will happen when you and your child come to the hospital.  If you know what is ahead on the day of the surgery you can feel more confident in supporting your child.

Suggested resources:

Be Honest

Talk honestly with your child about what will happen. Because we want to protect our children from painful, unpleasant things, we sometimes hide the truth and cover up with cheeriness. This is not wise. Your child must be able to rely on what you say. Answer questions and listen to the child’s concerns. If you don’t have the information, phone the hospital or doctor to find out.

Honesty is important because it maintains your child’s trust, minimizes your child’s anxiety of the unknown and true facts may be less frightening than the child’s exaggerated imagination.


Play and rehearse with your child by playing hospital or operation. Use a play doctor’s kit and Band-Aids; make your own hospital beds or paper masks from found household items. 

Help your child choose a special toy or security object such as a stuff toy or blanket to bring to the hospital.

Practise distraction or coping strategies to help your child cope with the difficult moments such as singing a favourite song, counting, telling a story or breathing together.  Be sure to share your strategies with hospital staff.

Choose Words That Matter

Using words that are simple and non-threatening when speaking with your child is helpful to reduce anxiety. Telling your child every detail of the surgery can create more worries. It is better to focus on sensations he or she might feel such as:

  • what your child will feel?
  • what your child will hear?
  • what /who will your child see?

Pre-Op Videos

Some children do well knowing what’s going to happen with their hospital visit. If you feel your child would benefit from watching the hospital process, please watch the Getting Ready for Surgery video. It is recommended for children over 5 years of age, if the child’s caregiver believes it would be helpful and not cause more anxiety. 

If your child is under 5 years of age or you believe the child would not benefit from watching the video, it is recommended for the caregiver who is going to accompany there child to watch the Preparing Parents for Their Children’s Induction video. 

These ten minute video clips show the layout of the hospital, the getting ready process, and show the patient going into the operating room. If you believe your child is unable to cope with this situation, please reach out to our Child Life Specialists! 

Getting Ready for Surgery:  

Preparing Parents for Their Childs Induction:

Extra Support

If your child could benefit from extra support and preparation, please contact a Child Life Specialist. Child Life Specialists are:

health care professionals who can help reduce the anxiety of a hospital experience available for children before, during and after their hospitalization.

Pediatric Ambulatory Health Clinic, Nanaimo Regional Hospital 250-739-5850

Victoria General Hospital

Child Life Department at 250-727-4456 or 250-727-4466

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital at 250-739-5816

Pediatric Surgical Daycare, Victoria General Hospital 250-727-4247 

Getting Ready for Surgery

How will I find out my surgery date?

Your surgeon’s office will tell you the:

  • name of your surgery
  • name of your hospital 
  • surgery date
  • how you will be notified of the time to check-in at the hospital
  • length of hospital stay
Pre-operative physical exam

You must arrange a pre-op physical with your family doctor. This should be between three months and three weeks before your surgery. If your surgery is booked quickly, see your family doctor as soon as possible. Please take all your medications in the original containers with you to this appointment. This way, your doctor can confirm the medications you take.

If a dentist is doing your procedure, you will need to have your physical with a doctor who has hospital privileges. If your family doctor does not have hospital privileges, contact your dentist for other options.

Appointments with other specialists

Some patients need to see a specialist (e.g. anesthesiologist, cardiologist) before surgery. Others are asked to go to a class or participate in research e.g. Tumor Tissue Repository. If any of these apply to you, your surgeon, family doctor, or hospital will make arrangements and let you know. Some patients will need to attend the hospital Pre-admission Clinic (PAC).

Planning for recovery

To plan for recovery, you will need the following information from your surgeon before your surgery:

  • length of hospital stay
  • any equipment or supplies you will need to rent/buy before surgery and where to get them 
  • limits on activity after surgery
  • limits on lifting after surgery
  • length of time off school/work needed
  • length of time before operating motorized vehicles

Arrangements for your hospital stay and for going home

For Day Surgery and Overnight Stays of 24 hours or Less:

Before coming to hospital, you need to arrange to have a responsible person to:

  • escort you home safely (by car, taxi, or bus) - you will not be allowed to drive yourself or take a bus alone
  • stay with you for the immediate postoperative period - usually 24 hours
  • watch your progress towards recovery
  • assist you to follow postoperative instructions
  • assist with activities of daily living as needed

For Overnight Stays of 24 hours or Longer:

Before coming to hospital, you need to make arrangements to get home safely. If you are having difficulty making these arrangements, please discuss this with your surgeon or family doctor before your surgery.

Learn how you can request a private or semi-private room for your hospital stay

Help at home

Depending on your surgery, you may need help with household chores, dressings, finances, transportation or accommodations. If you have concerns in any of these areas, please talk with your surgeon or family doctor before your surgery.

What to do if you are not feeling well before surgery

In the week before your surgery, contact your surgeon’s office at once if you:

  • are not feeling well
  • have a cough, cold or fever
  • have a scratch, pimple or open area on the skin around the surgical area

Smoking and Tobacco

Make sure this person can be contacted by phone at anytime during the day of your surgery. 

Please note: If you do not arrange a person to escort you home home or someone to stay with you for 24 hours after surgery, your surgery may be postponed until you can make these arrangements.

Smoking increases your risk of serious complications. If you smoke or use tobacco, plan to stop before your surgery.

As a health care provider, Island Health has an obligation to promote good health practices. Island Health is committed to ensuring a safe, healthy and clean environment for everyone. Smoking and vaping is not permitted on any Island Health property. This includes all buildings, grounds and parking lots. 

Please read our Smoke-free Island Health FAQs for more information about this policy.

Drugs and Alcohol

Illicit drugs (E.g. cocaine, marijuana, LSD, Ecstasy) and alcohol can react with your anesthetic and cause life-threatening complications.

Please stop using illicit drugs or alcohol before your surgery. If you are not able to stop, please tell your surgeon, family doctor or nurse. Failure to do this may result in your surgery being postponed.

Packing for the Hospital

What to bring to hospital

Please be aware that you will be responsible for the care and safety of your personal property while you are in hospital.

On the day of surgery and for going home, it is helpful to wear loose fitting clothing that is easy to get off and on.

Remember to bring:

  • your BC Care Card or proof of substitute Medical Insurance Plan or another form of personal identification
  • an interpreter, if you do not understand English
  • glasses or contact lenses, hearing aids and dentures with storage cases labelled with your name
  • CPAP, Bi-level machines or dental appliance if you use one for sleep apnea (even for day surgery patients)
  • reading material or a special toy or blanket for a child
  • any crutches, cane, braces, or walker that you have been told by your surgeon that you will need, labelled with your name, and brought in by family/friend after your surgery

If you are having daycare surgery, also bring an empty bag to store your belongings. Before you go to the operating room, your family/friend can take the bag home and bring it back when you are ready for discharge.

If you are staying overnight or longer, also pack a small bag with a few personal hygiene items such as toothbrush/toothpaste, brush/comb, ear plugs (to help decrease noise while sleeping), shampoo, sanitary products, razor and shaving cream, deodorant, dressing gown, slippers/shoes (low heels, non-slip and easy to put on). Please limit belongings to one small bag. Family or friends can bring this and any other items you may need to the nursing unit after surgery.

If you are staying in hospital for 24-72 hours or less, also bring any respiratory inhalers, eye drops, topical medicated creams, estrogen patches or birth control pills (all other medications and supplements should be left at home). Most other medications are supplied by the hospital.

 What not to bring or wear to hospital

  • all jewelry or body piercing items (These items cannot be worn in the operating room because they increase your risk of infection, injury to the body, and loss or damage to your belongings)
  • personal items such as valuables, credit cards and cell phones
  • cash in excess of $20.00
  • large electrical appliances e.g. portable stereos, fans
  • no make-up, false eyelashes, hairpins, deodorant or talcum powder - face cream, acrylic nails and nail polish are okay although it is best to avoid dark coloured or metallic polish - if you are having surgery to an arm or leg, nail polish must be removed from that limb before coming to hospital 
  • no perfume, aftershave or other scented products
Just Before Surgery

Just before surgery there are several things that you need to do to ensure you are safely prepared for your surgery.

Preparing your skin

Skin preparation before surgery helps to remove germs on the skin, prevent infection and to help incisions heal.

Do not remove any hair from your surgical area for at least one week before your surgery unless told to by your surgeon. If hair removal is required, it will be done after you are admitted to hospital. 

Take a shower or bath and wash your hair with your regular soap and shampoo the night before your surgery. You may be asked to do further skin preparation by your surgeon or the hospital.

Fasting restrictions

Restricting food and fluid (fasting) before surgery helps to keep the stomach empty during surgery. This helps prevent vomiting that could cause choking or stomach contents going into the lungs, leading to pneumonia.

Your surgeon or pre-admission staff will tell you when to stop eating and drinking before your surgery. Your surgery will be postponed if you do not follow the fasting instructions.

Stopping medications

Take all medications as usual unless told not to by your anesthesiologist, surgeon or other specialist. Discuss any concerns you have about stopping your medications with your doctors at least two weeks before surgery. Allowed medications can be swallowed with 30 ml (1 oz) of water per pill up to one hour before surgery.

Bowel preparation

Some operations require the bowel to be cleaned out before surgery using laxatives, enemas or other bowel cleansing preparations.

You will receive instructions from your surgeon if you need bowel prep before your surgery. Please follow these instructions carefully. Failure to properly prepare your bowel for surgery will cause your surgery to be delayed or cancelled on admission.

What to expect after surgery

After General Anesthesia

You may feel some minor side effects after general anesthesia. These can include sore throat, hoarseness, nausea, vomiting, headache, sleepiness, lack of appetite or muscle aches and pains. They almost always go away in 24 to 48 hours. Call your doctor or nurse for further advice if they do not settle down.

Post operative confusion (delirium) is more likely to happen if you are 75 years or older, take sleeping pills, anti-anxiety pills, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or use illicit drugs regularly. Telling the nurse before your surgery can help prevent this from happening. 

Learn how to recognize delirium by reading the Pamphlet for Families: "Delirium in the Older Person: A Medical Emergency"  or by watching the video "Delirium in the Older Person: A Family Guide."

Anesthetic drugs, including intravenous (IV) sedation may stay in the body for up to 24 hours after your operation. During this time you may be impaired. Therefore, for 24 hours after anesthetic or intravenous sedation it is recommended that you do not:

  • make important decisions or sign documents
  • drive a car or work with machinery
  • do any dangerous activities like bike riding, swimming, or climbing ladders
  • travel alone by public transportation e.g. bus
  • go to work or do business drink alcohol
  • take tranquilizers or sleeping pills
  • have primary responsibility for the care of another person e.g. babies, small children, frail elderly

Pain Control

Your nurse will help to take care of any discomfort you may have. Pain can be managed in several ways. These include pills, injections, patient controlled analgesia (PCA) pumps and epidural injections. Your surgeon and/or anesthesiologist will decide which is the best method for you depending on the type of surgery you have.

Pain medications work best when taken at regular intervals and before the pain gets too bad. Do not hesitate to tell your nurse when you are getting uncomfortable. You should be comfortable enough to turn, move your arms and legs in bed and to do deep breathing and coughing exercises.

To help measure your discomfort, your nurse may ask you to rate your pain using a “pain intensity scale”. One easy method is to use a number scale and rate your pain from 0 - 10. Zero means no pain and 10 means the worst pain you can imagine. You can also describe pain with words like none, mild, moderate, severe or worst possible.

Pain Intensity Scale

0       1       2         3       4       5       6       7      8       9      10
 No                                  Distressing                         Worst
 Pain                               Pain                                    Possible

Incisions, dressings and drains

Incisions are closed with stitches (sutures), clips (staples) or dissolvable stitches. Your surgeon will decide which is the best method for you. You may have a bandage over your incision that will be changed as needed. Sometimes your surgeon needs to put a drain near the incision to help remove excess fluid. If this applies to you, your surgeon will explain this before surgery.

Fluids and diet

Your intravenous (IV) will be removed as soon as you are drinking enough fluids. Your diet will be increased depending on the type of surgery you’ve had and how you are tolerating the food.


Follow post-op activity instructions from your surgeon. Generally, you will recover quicker if you move about as soon as possible. Do not get up on your own until the nurse tells you it is okay. Your nurse will encourage you to deep breathe and cough and to do leg exercises while you are in bed. You will be helped out of bed as soon as it is allowed for your type of surgery.

Breathing & Leg Exercises Before and After Surgery


Your nurse will watch your urinary and bowel functions after surgery. Some patients will have a catheter to drain urine placed in their bladder before or during surgery. If this applies to you, your surgeon or nurse will explain this before your surgery.

Your Hospital Stay

Most patients are admitted the same day as their surgery. Check in at the front desk. You will be directed to the surgical admission area to:

  • change into a hospital gown 
  • sign your Consent for Surgery form (if you have not already done so)
  • complete admission procedures 
  • receive pre-operative medications and have an intravenous started, if ordered by your doctor

One family member or friend can stay with you until you are taken to the operating room. They will be asked to take your belongings home for safekeeping and bring them back after your surgery. If you are alone, the staff will transfer your items to your room.

Before going to the operating room, you will be asked to:

  • empty your bladder
  • remove your glasses/contact lenses, prosthesis, wigs, body piercings and/or dentures

You will be moved to the operating room “holding area”. You will be asked questions you have already answered. This is to double-check all your information. Your surgeon or anesthesiologist may visit you there.

You will be taken into the operating room when it is ready. A nurse will stay with you to explain what is happening, answer any questions and offer support. The length of time of your surgery depends on the type of surgery.

After surgery you will be moved to the recovery room. The recovery room nurses will watch you closely. They will give you medication for pain and nausea as needed.

The length of time you are in the recovery room will depend on the type of surgery and how you respond to the anesthetic. It is common to not remember much of your time in the recovery room.

If you are staying overnight, you will be moved to a nursing unit. There are many things that can delay your arrival in your room after surgery. We request that family/friends allow extra time for you to get to your room.

Going Home

Day surgery discharge is usually one to two hours after the surgery. Discharge for overnight stays is usually between 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The staff will tell your family/friend when to pick you up.

If you are discharged before someone is able to pick you up, we may ask you to wait in the lounge for your ride.

Discharge instructions

Before you leave the hospital your nurse will:

  • help you to get dressed, if needed
  • review your care instructions with you
  • provide you with written discharge instructions and prescriptions, when applicable 

Please ensure that you have all your belongings and any medications or valuables with you before you leave the hospital.

On returning home

When you return home, be sure to:

  • follow the instructions given to you
  • fill any prescribed medications and take as directed
  • make/keep appointments for follow-up care with your doctor
  • contact your doctor, a walk-in clinic, HealthLink BC at 8-1-1, or the Emergency Department for any problems after surgery

Hospital bill

Most hospital stays are covered under the B.C Medical Services Plan. Uninsured residents, non-Canadians, or persons not covered by the health care plan must pay the full cost of their stay and/or procedure prior to admission. You may pay by credit card, debit, cheque or cash.

Rehabilitation Services

Sometimes after surgery, patient's require some form of rehabilitation services. If this pertains to you, your surgeon will send in a referral for you with specific instructions.

Adult Rehabilitation Services
Queen Alexandra Orthotics, Prosthetics and Seating


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