Surgery Myths
Get the truth before you head to the OR
By Heather Morse

When it comes to healthcare, the line between fact and fiction can some-times be blurry. It can be tempting to turn to “Dr. Google,” especially if you’re facing a surgical procedure. We’ve asked SJ surgical experts to separate fact from fiction, so you can be confident you’re getting the care you deserve.

Myth #1: After bariatric surgery, you can’t eat anything good.

Reality: Patients who have had weight-loss surgery can still have their cake and eat it too. “After the recovery period, patients can have a little of everything they want, within reason, of course. There are no weird restrictions – you can enjoy a slice of cake on your birthday and a cup of coffee every morning once you’ve healed,” says Mark Salcone, DO, of LMA Surgical Specialists – Camden County.

“There’s this idea that people will be limited to bland, puréed foods or protein shakes forever, but the goal for patients is to transition to a protein-based diet with three small meals a day roughly four weeks following surgery,” says Salcone. “We actually find that many patients learn to incorporate more variety and creative, healthy options into their diet and begin to enjoy cooking.”

Surprisingly, the most difficult post-op change for many people isn’t diet-related at all, says Salcone. “The biggest adjustment is training yourself to slow down when eating. People have to learn to take 30 to 40 minutes to eat and really chew their food. We have a habit of rushing through meals or mindlessly eating. You can’t do that after bariatric surgery – but learning to slow down and be careful about what you’re eating is not a bad thing.”

Myth #2: If surgery takes a long time, something went wrong.

Reality: Slow and steady is a good thing in the operating room. “If surgeons take their time, there’s a much greater likelihood that everyone goes home happy. If they don’t, there is a greater chance of complications,” says Louis Balsama, DO, of Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine.

“Many patients and their families are unaware of the smaller details that all factor into how long surgery takes,” says Balsama. “If things are taking longer than expected, it could simply be a minor issue with equipment or personnel in the operating room. Or, it could be that the doctors need to find a solution to a problem we weren’t expecting. The thing with surgery is that you can only deal with the unexpected while in surgery – you can’t wait until later.”

If your loved one is in the OR and you find yourself frantically pacing the waiting room wondering what’s taking so long, it’s OK to ask someone for an update, says Balsama.

“We always try to keep the family in mind and keep them abreast of the situation if surgery goes beyond the original timeframe. The goal is to have open lines of communication. Doctors understand that surgery can be a tense situation for families – what’s routine for us is not necessarily routine for them.”

Myth #3: Back surgery won’t help – it will leave me worse off than I am now.

Reality: Back surgery can be just the thing to get you back in action. “The vast majority of patients we see – approximately 80 percent – do very well after back surgery,” says Steven Kirshner, MD, of Kirshner Spine Institute.

“You hear about the negative experiences, not the good ones, so there’s a skewed perception that back surgery is a bad thing. Treatment plans often begin with a conservative, therapeutic approach. We have a number of pain-management techniques that are extremely effective, but there are times when surgery is necessary,” he says.

Thanks to advanced, minimally invasive techniques, patients who do require back surgery are no longer encased in a big brace and confined to bed for weeks and even months following their procedure.

“The goal is to get patients up and moving the day of surgery so they can get home. There is no down-time, per se. There are restrictions on lifting and bending for roughly one month, but we encourage patients to start walking a half-mile a day two to three weeks following surgery. With aggressive physical therapy, most patients are back to themselves within three to four months,” says Kirshner. “Surgery can be the key to minimizing pain and maximizing their function.”

Myth #4: The human element of surgery is lost in robotic surgery.

Reality: Physicians say robotic surgery is the best of both worlds: you get the high-tech precision of a computer combined with the expertise and intuition of a surgeon. “The computer is more precise than a human hand, and that is an advantage for patients,” says Cooper University Health Care surgeon Steven McClane, MD. “Surgeons are still using the same equipment, like a scalpel, only with better technology behind it.”

And while the technology is out of this world, the surgeon is still in control of every nimble movement the robotic instruments make. “When most people think of robotic surgery, they imagine the doctor in a completely different room and the robot being in control,” says McClane. “In reality, it’s not the robot doing the surgery, it’s the doctor doing the surgery and making the decisions from a console just a few feet away from the patient. We’re completely directing the surgery the entire time.”

This is precisely why McClane urges patients who are facing robotic surgery to ask their doctor about his credentials – not the robot. “The technology is obviously a good thing, but the robot is really just a minor detail of the surgery. The surgeon’s training, skill level and reputation are the important things to focus on.”

Myth #5: If I get a knee or hip replaced, I’ll have a giant scar and need to spend weeks in rehab.

Reality: When it comes to joint replacement, patients are discovering that less is more. “Over the last few years, joint-replacement surgical techniques have greatly improved, so now we’re able to make small incisions – three to five inches as opposed to eight or 10 inches in the past. The other big difference is now we push aside muscles, tissue and tendons instead of cutting them, which means patients are able to get up and moving quickly,” says Rajesh Jain, MD, of the Virtua Joint Replacement Institute.

The vast majority of Jain’s patients go home the same day as their surgery – not because they have to, but because they can. “We have patients out of bed just a few hours after surgery. They’re getting physical therapy at the hospital, and we’re making sure they can safely walk, use the bathroom and do stairs so they can manage at home. The recovery is not what most patients and their family members are used to, but we’ve found that most patients recover better in the comfort of their own home,” says Jain.

The quick recovery time means patients are often able to get back to their favorite activities in a matter of weeks, not months. “They’re able to get back to golf, work and playing with their grandkids – it’s night and day from the joint replacement surgery of the past.”

December 2015
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