How Does the Operating Room Really Work?

Q: Why can't you eat anything the day of surgery?

OZ Says: If you have food in your stomach and throw up during surgery (due to the anesthesia or anything else), it could become a lethal event when you're under sedation, because you can't cough to clear your airway.

Q: Why can't they tell you the time of your surgery earlier?

OZ Says: Schedulers group "like" procedures together, then juggle patients within that queue: "We try to fit in pediatric and diabetic patients earliest, because fasting for long periods can add complications for them," says Adam Post, director of surgical clinical operations for Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, MI. There's also an O.R. shuffle: Most surgeons reserve time slots, and if they're not filled by a certain date, they're up for grabs by other docs. Basically, it's all in flux until almost the last minute.

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Q: Why is the surgeon general called a surgeon when he/she often isn't one?

OZ Says: It's a historical title that stuck. Back in 1798, that officer was called the Supervising Surgeon. The name shifted to Surgeon General, even though doing surgery wasn't part of the job, and still isn't. But being the nation's spokesperson for public health matters is a lot tougher.

Q: Why do patients have to get so naked?

OZ Says: It's a safety thing. First of all, clothing can get bunched up and bind you, and since you're sedated and won't notice, this can damage skin or even cut off blood supply to a body part, says Christopher Watters, M.D., a general surgeon with Duke Raleigh Hospital in Raleigh, NC. Second, we often use electrically charged needles to stop bleeding. Anything on your body that can conduct electricity is bad news—it can attract the current and may burn what's around it when these needles touch your body. Seriously, you can singe a finger where someone's wedding ring is, so jewelry comes off too. Sorry, we know it's awkward to go starkers under the gown, but it's important.

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Q: OK, Dr.Oz, how can someone stay out of your O.R.?

OZ Says: I love my work, but I hope you never need the kind of surgery I perform. Keeping yourself out of that situation boils down to this:

  1. Don't smoke, and if you do, quit.
  2. Eat fresh foods in their natural (unprocessed) states.
  3. Be active by moving around as much as you can.
  4. Give your heart a reason to keep beating. New research found that people with a high sense of purpose in life were 23% less likely to die early.

This story originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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