Undergoing a scheduled procedure or surgery, such as a joint replacement, was already associated with a certain amount of stress before COVID–19. Now, during the pandemic, you may be experiencing new worries, wondering what it's like to have surgery during COVID–19, and deciding whether you should go through with your procedure or postpone it a little while longer.
Although your experience will be different than it would have been before the pandemic, you might be surprised how much actually hasn't changed. Here is some information on the current safeguards in place and what to expect before, during and after a scheduled procedure or surgery during COVID–19.
Prioritize the care you need
Whether or not you postpone your surgery should depend on a few things, according to Kristy Frazier, MBA, BSN, RN, CSSM, clinical director of surgical services at HCA Healthcare. The most important factor is what you stand to gain in quality of life — if you're in a lot of pain, for example, you should prioritize getting surgery.
Keep in mind that hospitals have put many safeguards in place to keep their patients, staff and communities safe. Every HCA Healthcare facility, for example, has strict infection control rules: Beyond requiring masks and social distancing, we limit who has access to and throughout our facilities, and we screen everyone who enters our facilities.
If delaying your surgery will worsen your stress and pain, that's another reason to avoid postponing it. "We hear about the mental effects of COVID–19 with isolation," Frazier said. "Add in physical pain or lower quality of life, and the health implications can be devastating. Take joint replacement, for instance. If other treatments have failed, surgery may be the only option. If you wait, you risk deteriorating the joints further, which can make the procedure even more difficult."
What to expect before, during and after your surgery
Before your surgery
As with any surgery, you'll receive pre–op instructions from your provider with directions, such as fasting the night before your surgery or avoiding certain medications.
Now, however, pre–op instructions will also include advice around COVID–19. Be careful to follow the most up–to–date COVID–19 guidelines from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and our Resource Hub — especially in the weeks leading up to your surgery. Following guidelines around socializing and coming into contact with others may be particularly difficult, according to Frazier, but is important.
"That in itself can add to the anxiety — because, naturally, you want to be around folks before your surgery who can make you feel better," she said. "But with COVID–19, you'll want to be very cautious about those in–person visits and who you come into contact with."
That doesn't mean you have to stay disconnected from your loved ones before your procedure. Sometimes, just hearing their voice or seeing their face on a virtual call can provide reassurance and calm nerves.
Another precaution worth taking is getting seasonal vaccines. "With coronavirus coming in conjunction with flu season, it's imperative that everyone get the flu vaccine," Frazier said. "While we don't know what's going to happen with the COVID–19 vaccine in the future, we do know that we can help prevent the spread of infection one way, and that's by getting protection from the flu. The elderly should get the pneumococcal vaccine as well."
At least three days before the date of your procedure, expect to receive a phone call where you'll be asked to report any possible COVID–19 symptoms. You may also need to get tested for the virus; some facilities even have a drive–through test for hassle–free screening.
The day of your surgery
On the day of your surgery, check your pre–op instructions for where to check in — the facility may mark one door for entry and a separate one to exit. At the entry, be prepared to answer more questions about your symptoms and have your temperature taken. Both of these screening measures apply to you as well as your support person, which may be limited to just one visitor.
You should also wear a mask. If you don't have one or have forgotten yours, the hospital staff will give you one to wear. Once you're ready to go in, expect to go through a process similar to pre–pandemic procedures — plus a few extra precautions to help keep everyone safe.
"Waiting rooms and hallways are marked to support social distancing and control the flow of people," Frazier said. "All the staff also use the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) throughout the facility and are screened with temperature and symptom checks."
If you bring a visitor, some facilities may request that they not go into the room with you during pre–op. However, support people are allowed for children or others who need a guardian or power of attorney present.
After your surgery
After your surgery, you'll get post–op instructions from your doctor. These days, however, you'll need to take some extra precautions, including being very cautious about the people you see, Frazier said.
"Limiting visitors is very important," she said. "We have some rules that minimize hospital visitors, depending on capacity. And everyone must wear a mask when they're out of the hospital room."
Following your provider's guidelines will ensure your safety and well–being as you recover from your procedure.
Getting the care that's right for you
For many, undergoing surgery during the pandemic presents a tough decision, while others may not have a choice. As you decide what's right for you, follow guidelines issued by your local health department and be sure to check in with your care team so that you can determine the appropriate course of action for your health.
Regardless of when you, or a loved one, are ready, our facilities are among the safest possible places you could choose for a scheduled procedure such as a joint replacement. Our responsibility continues to be ensuring that all patients who depend on our hospitals receive needed and timely care while balancing our readiness specific to COVID–19.
Check our Resource Hub regularly to view updated and important information about scheduled surgeries at our facilities.