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How to prepare yourself for surgery

Take an active role in your health and surgical recovery.

This guide provides an overview of safety tips for COVID-19 and outlines 10 easy to follow steps to help you feel prepared and reassured for surgery.

  • Patient with leg complaint

    Your health is important.

    It’s normal to be anxious before surgery. With the added stress of COVID-19, you may have additional concerns about moving forward with a procedure. However, your health and wellness can’t wait indefinitely1-2.

    Healthcare providers are informed and have implemented processes to safely manage surgery during COVID-19.

    There are also additional steps you can take as a patient to help protect yourself while you prepare for surgery during this time.

  • Patient prepared for surgery

    COVID-19 considerations

    Throughout the pandemic, you have heard public health recommendations on how to help keep yourself and others safe.

    Those recommendations remain important as healthcare services resume. Specific guidance may vary by geographic region, but following are some infection prevention tips recommended by the CDC4:

    • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of your elbow
    • Clean your hands often using soap & water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
    • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
    • Regularly clean frequently touched surfaces around your home
    • Avoid close contact with those who may be ill (even in your own household)
    • Maintain phyiscal distance of about 6 feet (2 meters) between yourself and others in public
    • Cover your nose and mouth with a cloth face mask/cover when in public (i.e. in the grocery store, running essential errands)
    • Contact your healthcare provider if you feel ill or have symptoms of COVID-19

Steps to take before your surgery

1. Ask questions

  • Ask questions before surgery

    Don’t be afraid to ask questions about COVID-19 or about your surgery. It’s important that you contact your providers to learn more about the plans for your treatment and recovery, including any pandemic related considerations put in place to promote your safety and the safety of those taking care of you2-3.

    Here are some examples of questions you may want to discuss2-3:

    • What policies or protocols do you have in place for COVID-19?
    • What is your testing policy for patients and staff?
    • What happens next if I test positive?
    • Can I have family/visitors with me?
    • What happens if I have a complication?
    • How will my post-discharge care and follow-up appointments be managed?

2. Share your medical history

  • Share medical history before surgery

    Before your surgery, your doctor or nurse will speak with you to check your medical history. Due to new safety measures, some of your pre-op information may be collected over the phone or video conference. This information will help your surgical team to tailor their care to make sure you have a safe operation and good recovery.

    You should let your doctor or nurse know if you:

    • Have symptoms of respiratory illness (coughing, shortness of breath, sneezing) or have been in close contact with someone displaying those symptoms1
    • Have a fever, chills, or sweats1
    • Have diabetes or other chronic condition5-8
    • Have any known allergies8
    • Have had a complication with surgery or anesthesia in the past8
    • Are taking any medications (including vitamins or herbal remedies)6,8

3. Stop smoking as soon as possible

  • Stop smoking before surgery
    • People who smoke are more prone to developing infections and other complications related to surgery. The earlier you stop smoking, the better your chances of a good recovery. Ideally you should stop smoking at least four weeks before your operation. If you are unable to stop smoking immediately, you should look to stop smoking at least 48 hours before your operation. You should also refrain from smoking for as long as possible after surgery, to help your overall recovery10-11.
    • Ask your medical team if you need help to stop smoking, if at least only temporarily.

4. Make positive lifestyle choices

  • Healthy eating before surgery

    Doing what you can to improve activity levels, maintain physical health, and strive for a healthy body weight before surgery may help you recover and return to daily activities after6,9.

    Your providers can tell you when and how to but consider the following6,9:

    • Eating a well-balanced diet by selecting foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and proteins
    • Exercising regularly to build energy and maintain strength
    • Avoiding excessive alcohol. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can weaken the immune system and slow down recovery

5. Don’t remove hair

  • Do not remove hair

    It may be tempting to shave, wax, epilate or use hair removal creams around your surgical area prior to surgery, but don’t! Removing hair can damage the skin prior to surgery, which can weaken the bodies defence against germs7, 13-15.

    If hair removal is necessary, it will be removed with special clippers designed for medical use on the day of surgery7,14-15.

What to do at the time of your surgery

6. Shower or bathe on the day of your operation

  • Shower or bathe on day of surgery

    Have a hot shower or bath using plain soap on the night before your surgery and/or in the morning on the day of your surgery. Your doctor may give you special instructions to use an antiseptic soap instead of plain soap7,9, 14-15.

7. Keep warm

  • Patient actively keeping warm

    Patients that are actively kept warm before, during and after surgery have better outcomes than patients who are cold 7,14-17. Before surgery, your medical team may provide you with a special warming gown that gently blows warm air over the skin to increase your temperature16-17.

    You can help by doing the following:

    • Bringing extra clothes such as slippers, a dressing gown, vest and other warm clothing
    • Asking for additional blankets to keep you warm during transportation from the ward to the operating room
    • Wearing the gown given to you as near to the time of surgery as possible, to avoid getting cold
    • Informing the medical staff if you feel cold or uncomfortable at any point

After your surgery

8. Ensure hands are kept clean

  • Keep hands clean post surgery

    Maintaining clean hands can help stop the spread of harmful germs that can cause infection. Encourage the people around you to make sure their hands are clean.

    • Family and friends should clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after visiting you. If you do not see them clean their hands, ask them to clean their hands
    • Make sure that your medical team clean their hands before examining you, either with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub

9. Know the signs of possible complications and speak up

  • Possible complications post surgery

    Your team should provide specific instructions on how to care for your incision site and any dressings or devices that may be needed18. Before going home, you should have a clear understanding of discharge instructions, follow-up appointments, what to watch out for, and who to call if you need help or have a problem.

    The following signs and symptoms should be reported immediately5,7,18:

    • The skin around your wound becomes red, swollen, hot or painful
    • Your wound has a green, yellow, cloudy, or foul-smelling discharge (pus)
    • You have a temperature above 38°C (100.4°F)
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
    • Bleeding beyond what you’ve been told to expect
    • You feel generally unwell

10. Be kind to yourself and others

  • Be kind to yourself and others post surgery

    Everyday activities may feel overwhelming but taking care of your mental wellbeing and resilience is important to your long-term healing19.

    The following are some straightforward tips for self-care and coping with stress19:

    • Pause and take some deep breaths. Pay attention to how you feel
    • Take breaks from pandemic news coverage and try to do something you enjoy
    • Try to get enough sleep
    • Follow your provider’s recommendation for physical activity
    • Stay connected to your loved ones and support systems

Get in touch – we’re here for you

If you would like any additional support in reassuring your patients during this challenging time, please contact our team of 3M specialists.



  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Coronavirus FAQs.
  2. Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). Rescheduling Medical Care is Important. 2020. (PDF, 181 KB)
  3. American College of Surgeons (ACS), American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), Association of perioperative Registered Nurses (AORN), American Hospital Association (AHA). Joint Statement: Roadmap for Resuming Elective Surgery after COVID-19 Pandemic. 2020
  4. CDC. COVID-19 Protect Yourself. 2020.
  5. CDC. FAQs about Surgical Site Infections. (PDF, 208 KB)
  6. ACS. Quality Programs: Strong for surgery – information for patients.
  7. World Health Organization (WHO): WHO Global Guidelines for the Prevention of Surgical Site Infection. 2016. Retrieved from
  8. ASA. The Path to a Safe Surgery: Preparing for Anesthesia begins with You. 2019. (PDF, 704 KB)
  9. National Health Service (NHS). Enhanced Recovery Program. 2019.
  10. Theadom A, Cropley M. Effects of preoperative smoking cessation on the incidence and risk of intraoperative and postoperative complications in adult smokers: a systematic review. Tobacco Control 2006; 15: 352–8
  11. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Joint Briefing: Smoking and surgery. 2016.
  12. Memorial Sloane Kettering. Patient and Caregiver Information: Alcohol and Your Surgery. 2019.
  13. AORN. Guidelines for Perioperative Practice 2019. Denver, Co: Association of PeriOperative Registered Nurses (AORN); 2019: 586
  14. NICE (2019) NICE guideline 125. Surgical site infections: prevention and treatment
  15. CDC. ‘Guideline for Prevention of Surgical Site Infections,’ JAMA Surg. doi: 10.1001/jamasurg.2017.0904.
  16. Kurz A, Sessler DI, et al. Perioperative Normothermia to Reduce the Incidence of Surgical-Wound Infection and Shorten Hospitalization. New Engl J Med. 1996;334:1209–1215
  17. Melling AC, Ali B, Scott EM, Leaper DJ. Effects of preoperative warming on the incidence of wound infection after a clean surgery: a randomized controlled trial. Lancet. 2001;358(9285):876-880.
  18. ACS. Surgical Patient Education Program – Wound Home Skills Kit: Surgical Wounds. 2018.
  19. CDC. COVID-19 Coping with Stress. 2020.