Monday, October 17, 2005

Pre-op: The hospital pre-op appointment

Often referred to as "the pre-op," this is different from pre-op appointments with your surgeon. At that appointment (or several appointments) you explore the reasons for your hyst, make plans for many optional parts of your surgey and followup care, and sign (after discussing) your surgical consent.

But for "the pre-op" you'll most typically be going to the hospital and/or the office of the anesthesia group that will be providing that portion of your surgical services. Here's what you can expect at each.

At the hospital

You can expect to be spending some time with the billing office, getting your registration and billing information recorded and signing the multitude of forms the hospital requires before accepting you as a customer. You should bring in or be prepared to provide such information as your insurance billing details, next of kin/emergency consent contact, who will be the contact during the time you are in surgery, living will (if you have one), and any special needs you may have (a translator? assistive devices for basic communications? religious practice needs? visitor restrictions for personal safety or preference?). If you are not covered by insurance, be sure to be prepared to set up a payment schedule and ask for a discount for paying cash; bring your credit card as well.

You may be given paperwork to bring back with you upon admission. Be sure to check what the procedures required on the day of your admittance are: when your surgeon told you to be there at 8 am, he meant to begin the stuff he is concerned with; the hospital office may also need your time then, and you don't want to be late for your surgeon because of competing demands for your time. This is also a good time to ask whether you will need to stop at the billing office on your way out of the hospital when you are discharged: at some hospitals this is routine (and tiresome) and other hospitals take care of all of this at your pre-op visit, freeing you to just cruise out whenever your doctor gives the okay. Be sure to ask when checkout is during the day, lest you end up paying for an extra day's stay because you lingered an unnecessary half hour over the limit. If you plan to ask for a copy of your hospital records, this is also a good time to ask the procedure for obtaining them (although you may be referred to another department for this).

If you have not already had these done at your doctor's office, you may also be asked to visit the lab, x-ray and ekg to have routine pre-op studies done. Not all of these are required for all women, but generally some or all of them are simply part of a last-minute check to make sure that other problems will not interfere with your surgical procedure. Aside from the stick for blood, none of them are invasive or especially uncomfortable.

If you are being typed and cross-matched for blood that will be held for a possible transfusion, you may be given an ID bracelet and required to put it on. This is dorky-looking but necessary--it holds your half of the only key that assures that the held blood has been tested for compatibility with your own. If you lose your key, the blood is wasted (and you'll be charged for it) as well as not available should you need it; re-matching you will take time that you may be ill-able to afford in an emergency. If wearing a paper bracelet for several days is especially distasteful for you for some reason, you may be able to negotiate having it placed around your ankle instead. If that is the case, be sure to let everyone know where it is on the day you're admitted (where everyone means your doctor, the circulating nurse in the operating room, and anesthesia) and ask that it be noted on the front of the chart when you are being checked in.


The other part of "the pre-op" is generally a visit to someone from the anesthesia group. This is a special medical practice, separate from your surgeon. Typically this service is provided by a pool of doctors (anesthesiologists) and perhaps nurses (anesthetists), and you will be billed separately by this group for their services. The practitioner you see may not be the one who will care for you during your surgery, but he will write notes and perhaps some orders that will go in your chart for the person actually in the OR.

This appointment is primarily an interview, although it is likely that the practitioner will examine your head and neck, and look into your mouth (or at your back, if you are having a spinal--and some of the following will not be applicable if that is the case). This is to identify any problems that may make putting the tube into your lungs (through which they will maintain your respirations once you are under general anesthesia) tricky. In particular, you will be asked if you have any dental appliances or chipped teeth--it's important to let them know this so that they can avoid damaging them with the instruments being used.

Other things anesthesia will discuss include previous experiences you've had with anesthesia and other health conditions you may have that might affect your toleration of anesthesia drugs. This is also the time to share any fears you may have about anesthesia, review any meds you may be given to relax you beforehand, and to discuss nausea in the immediate postop recovery period. If you are prone to nausea, let them know: it's possible to medicate you before you start puking, which can be A Very Good Thing when having abdominal surgery. If you have had bad experiences in the past with pain medications, like itchy/rash reactions, do be sure to let them know this, even if it's not a real allergy.

Anesthesia will review with you the timing of when you may last eat/drink anything (not what you may eat or drink--this may be up to your surgeon). Fasting is very very important to prevent vomiting during the process of going under--something that can cause pneumonia--so be sure you understand your restrictions and that they are for your benefit. If you plan to take some regular meds or supplements in the fasting hours before surgery, please check these with anesthesia and ask what/how much you may take them with if they are oral meds. Diabetics or asthmatics have a special need to review what they will be taking before surgery, what their normal maintenance regimens are, and how their needs will be managed during surgery and recovery. The whole goal of this appointment is to make anesthesia as successful and little stressful for you as possible, so the more you can help your anesthetist, the better things will go for you.

And one last note about all of the pre-op contacts you may have just before or the day of surgery: don't be surprised if, over and over, you are asked specifically what procedure you are having (and if something is happening only to one side, like only one ovary to be removed, you'll be asked to point to the involved side). This is a constant process of checking who you are and that the right person is having the right surgery--it's a much more positive identifier than asking a nervous or groggy person a question like "are you [mumbled name]?" that they might answer without really grasping. And, because it's a hyst, you may be asked several times whether you are pregnant and if you understand that having this surgery means you cannot ever again get pregnant. While this may seem like an extra added torment to many of us, it does, ultimately, protect the rights of women to understand what they are choosing. If our aggravation pays for one woman getting the message who may not previously have fully understood the implications of what she has consented to, well, don't you think it's worth it for her sake?

Friday, October 07, 2005

Pre-op decisions: Keeping your cervix, revisited

The decision to keep one's cervix may have just gotten a little simpler for some women...or their daughters, at least. As you may have noted in our previous discussion of this topic, a certain number of women opt to have their cervix removed not because of specific cervical pathology but because they want to be protected from the risk of developing cervical cancer in the future. For these women, news released this week about a new vaccine that offers protection from the most common causes of cervical cancer may allow them to make that decision differently.

I'm not sure yet how and when this is going to play out. The vaccine hasn't been approved yet, but given the large test sample and the overwhelmingly positive results, I'm having a hard time believing the US FDA is going to drag their feet in approving this.

The manufacturer notes that this vaccine "should" be given before a young woman becomes sexually active to "ensure" protection. This doesn't address its use in women who are already sexually active but perhaps are not yet infected and who could conceivably benefit from that protection. As with so many things to do with a hyst, this will need to be a personalized decision: weighing the risks of having been infected against the inpact cervical removal might have on one's sexual response. But as time goes by and more of the women who are faced with the need for a hyst have been protected by this vaccine, that decision to ditch a cervix for prophylactic reasons may become less urgent for many. And, all things considered, that's good news.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Pre-op decisions: we'll just take out those ovaries so you won't have to worry about cancer

If you are planning your hysterectomy, or even just investigating what it would mean for you, and your doctor offers you this "recommendation," you may want to ask him to step back and explain himself in a lot more detail.

It used to be the practice that when women were facing a hyst, a surgeon would suggest that because her ovaries "aren't needed" any more, she should have them removed now so as to remove the risk of later getting ovarian cancer. In many cases, this would include the suggestion that "most" women who retain ovaries only end up needing another surgery later to remove them anyway.

Today we know that this kind of a sales pitch is not only medically inaccurate but is in fact a strategy that holds greater odds of shortening a woman's life than the alternative. And, slowly, doctors who keep up with the news in this field are revising their recommendations to a more accurate representation of the various risks.

Much of this turnaround can be credited to this study, published in the May, 2009 issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology: "Ovarian Conservation at the Time of Hysterectomy and Long-Term Health Outcomes in the Nurses’ Health Study." For something that may be a little less intimidating to read, you might try this article at webmd: "Hysterectomy: Spare Ovaries, Boost Health?." Yet another good resource is the anonymous but probably related to the study website OvaryResearch, which focuses on the study and discussion it's stimulated as well as an earlier version of it that appeared in 2005.

Okay, enough with the citations: what's this about?

The study, which involved a very large pool of women (that's good, because it means the results are more likely to really reflect us all), found that rather than lowering deaths from cancer, prophylactic oophorectomy (that's the fancy way of saying taking out ovaries for the sake of prevention) in fact had a higher risk of death from all causes but mostly heart disease and lung cancer. That's right: removing our healthy ovaries at any age does not lengthen our lives or improve our health.

Further, although breast and ovarian cancer rates were lower in women who had their ovaries removed, the risk of death from all types of cancer was higher in these women. So, yes, the very thing we feared and chose this option in hopes of preventing is actually more likely to happen to us than if we'd left well enough alone.

And the rates of death are highest for women who never supplemented their hormones after the surgery. All those women who valiently toughed out menopausal symptoms because they thought it was the right and "natural" thing to do were in fact working with their doctors to shorten their own lives.

Tragic, right? And we're talking a big tragedy here: about 300,000 women a year choose to have this surgery under the impression that it will help them live longer, healthier lives. According to the main study author, that's "50% of women who have a hysterectomy between ages 40-44...and 78% of women between ages 45-64," even though it's well demonstrated that post-menopausal ovaries continue to contribute to our hormonal support, a support that's lost when we take those ovaries out.

But wait! What about women at real risk for cancer?

Yes, of course there are women for whom the risks boil down to high expectation of death by breast or ovarian cancer vs later death by these risks of lost hormones. That's a special situation and no one is suggesting that preventative removal of ovaries might not be the right choice for them.

But it needs to be an informed choice. That means not just making the assumption that because there's "a lot of cancer" in one's family that we are, personally, at risk for these specific cancers. It requires genetic testing and evaluation by an oncological specialist, not an assurance of a gyn surgeon who heard the word "cancer" and got spooked into a slash-and-burn mentality.

Can't I just take something to make up for that risk?

For many of us, the idea of cancer is so terrifying that it shorts out our brains. Especially if we're younger women and few of our peers have died of things we attribute to aging, we may not feel that the risk of heart attack or stroke is all that vivid or personal.

One of the objections to the recommendations of this study, that more women keep healthy ovaries, is that this risk can be treated medically with statins, drugs that lower cholesterol and lipids that are believed to be a major cause of heart disease, and bisphosphonates, drugs that preserve bone density. As the study author replies, however, these drugs have notorious dropout rates, just as HRTs do. Taking out a healthy body part and replacing it with drugs that must be taken for the rest of our lives and may have significant side effects of their own: if we look at it that way, how much sense does that make?

And then there are the women who want to do it "all naturally." What do they do? Exercise and healthy eating are important lifestyle strategies for minimizing cardiovascular and osteoporosis risks, but alone they probably aren't enough for most women, not to mention that they too are something that sounds better in concept than they are actually adhered to for every remaining day of our lives. Menopausal nutraceuticals, the raw plant estrogenic compounds that are sold to reduce hot flashes in natural menopause, are relatively ineffective in coping with the level of symptoms seen with the larger drop in hormone levels due to ovarian removal. And they entirely fail to address many of the more serious effects of hormone deficiency...such as the ones that lead to the risks cited in the study. In fact, this is not a natural situation and there is no natural solution that makes up for it.

But my ovaries are diseased: what should I do?

No one is suggesting that women should not treat existing ovarian disease with surgery. But this study does suggest that we should balance our treatment options against the risks, and those risks are more sizable than our previous understanding led us to believe.

Some ovarian disorders don't require removing the whole ovary to treat, and these are poorly paid back by the increased risks.

But some disorders do require removal for definitive treatment. Sometimes, other diseases are best treated by removing our ovaries. In these cases, however, we still need to understand the costs of that treatment and we need to understand how to mitigate those costs, whether that's drugs or HRT or simply accepting that we have chosen that direction for our lives rather than the one that would have resulted from our ovarian disease.

We need to know that not having ovaries means more than not having ovarian disease.

You have to make up your own mind

This is a complex issue. Many things that can go wrong with our ovaries still don't require that we give up our ovaries. Nothing going wrong with our ovaries really doesn't seem to require their loss. The things at the other side of that equation, heart and lung disease chief among them, kill many, many more women every year.

Just as we don't necessarily believe the car salesman that the extras he's recommending will do anything more than provide him with higher profits, so we shouldn't necessarily believe the person we'll be paying to do our surgery that the extras he's recommending are more valuable to us than him. This is where second opinions are so important, getting an opinion from a doctor who doesn't profit from that advice. And where we're worried about cancer risks, we should talk with an oncologist to make sure we're evaluating our own risk accurately and not just spooked by the word itself.

This study did nothing to simplify our decision with respect to a hyst except for one thing: we simply shouldn't accept "as long as you're having a hyst" as a good reason to give up our ovaries. Because when you hear that phrase, you now know enough to hear the unspoken rest of it: "as long as you're having a hyst, why not let me give you a higher chance of an early death by heart disease or cancer?" And we simply don't need that.

[Note: This essay was revised in June 2009 to include the results of the May 2009 study.]

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Hysterectomy or cancer: are you sure?

I happened across an interesting news item today, a report of a newly released study in the June 2005 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

Many women who have their uterus removed for benign conditions may mistakenly believe that, unless they have the surgery, they're likely to develop cancer, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that among more than 1,100 women who underwent hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions, 29 percent said they had "a lot" of fear that they would develop cancer, without the surgery. The large majority, 80 percent, reported at least "a little" fear.

The report goes on to question whether this misunderstanding is rooted in the explanations doctors are giving their patients for their options. For some of the most common reasons for a hyst, there are other treatment options that may be applicable, but women may not choose them out of (a groundless) fear of cancer.

So for every woman who is contemplating this surgery, it's vitally important that you ask your doctor explicitly why he is recommending this treatment approach and what explicitly are the consequences of not treating it this way. If you hear the word tumor (as is often used in discussing fibroids), are you sure whether you are talking benign (harmless) or malignant (can kill you)? If not, ask your doctor: is my condition cancer? will I get cancer if I don't do this? Your doctor knows what he's talking about, but his assumption that you do too may not be well-founded. It's always better to say something like "just to be sure I understand what we're talking about here, do I have cancer now or will I in the future if I don't have a hyst?" than to undergo medical treatment that may be more extreme than you really want because you didn't get the unspoken message.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Pre-op: planning for the medications we'll be receiving

In the course of some discussions we've been having on the list, I've realized how difficult--and yet how important--it can be to make sure that our medication preferences, sensitivities, and allergies are taken into account in the planning process. While most of us know about pre-existing allergies and know that we need to tell our doctors, anesthesiolgists and caregivers about them, it's more of a grey area in the case of sensitivities or strong preferences. How can we anticipate what we might be given in order to tell our doctors what we need them to know when we have, for the most part, little idea of what we'll be getting? I thought that you might like to know the general outlines of what you can expect in terms of medications throughout your surgical experience. Mind you, these are just generalities, so you'll need to do the work of talking with your doctor and fleshing out the details.

Starting with the at-home pre-op phase, many women are told to use a specific laxative bowel prep, with various doctors preferring different combinations of agents. Some doctors do not order this, and it should not be done unless it's ordered. You may be able to negotiate the actual laxatives used if you have specific preferences.

In the in-hospital pre-op process, you will probably receive a sedative/amnesiac agent (Versed is one commonly used, but there are many others and it's a matter of physician/anesthesiologist preference) and this may be mixed with other drugs, such as atropine, that dry up your nasal/oral secretions and assist with anesthesia (generally those receiving a general get this). Once your IV is started, you may also be given an initial dose of an antibiotic.

One other thing that might pose a problem for some women in the pre-op surgical routine is exposure to a skin cleanser called Betadine. This is an iodine-based scrub that is typically used to prep before incisions. Not only is it used to scrub your belly if you're having an abdominal incision, but you may be asked to douche with it beforehand, in order to begin decreasing the number of bacteria in your vagina. This can be a harsh agent and there are a certain number of women who are simply allergic to it. If you've not encountered it before or not used it on delicate vaginal tissues, ask for a sample betadine scrub so you can do a test before using the douche. I know that I can have betadine on regular skin without any problem at all, but when I tried a little test scrub on my labia, the burning was horrific even though I washed it off immediately! I reported this to the prep nurse the next day when she tried to send me off to do the douche, and she agreed that the doctor would not want to do surgery if the prep left me blistered and burning. There are other cleansers they can use, so if you're in any doubt, ask your doc at your preop and ask for a sample to test out yourself at home before committing to placing it where it is not, ahem, easily removed.

In the OR you will receive a great many drugs, depending upon the anesthesia you choose. These are under the control, for the most part, of your anesthesiologist, and that is who you need to discuss this part with if you have any specific drug concerns. As a rule, general anesthesia today is much less stressful on the body than it was even a decade ago, so your mother-in-law's account of her reaction to surgery she had 40 years ago may not be entirely predictive of your experience. Spinal or epidural anesthesia also involves drugs given systemically as well as locally, so you will again have to review with your anesthesiologist exactly what his plan is.

In Recovery, you may receive an antinausea drug (it's possible to request preoperatively that you be medicated for nausea before you experience it, if you're worried about the possibility or previous experience leads you to believe you're prone to vomiting). You will receive pain medication IV (typically morphine or demerol) and perhaps, depending upon elapsed time, another dose of antibiotic. If your doctor is one who favors this approach, you may also be given IV Toradol, which is an anti-inflammatory of the aspirin-ibuprofen (NSAID) family. Given the recent questions raised about the Cox-2 family of drugs and heart disorders, if you have any cardiac disease, you should discuss the use of this entire family (Cox-2 and NSAID) with your cardiologist as well as your surgeon, both in terms of operative use and home use of oral anti-inflammatories.

Postop pain control tends to be IV at first, then gradually moving to IM (shots, usually in the big muscle of the butt) or perhaps straight to oral. Morphine and demerol remain the most common but there are other agents that may be used. Some doctors continue the additional Toradol so long as you have an IV. Women who retain a spinal may be also getting morphine via that mode. When the transition to orals is made, they typically are one of the codeine blends although some women go straight to oral anti-inflammatories.

Many doctors will also place you on anticoagulant shots starting in the OR and continuing for at least a day until you are up and around enough that the risk of clotting is lowered. These are tiny sticks into the fat pad of your belly, and may be the source of small bruises you'll see there. Because these shots are given early in our recovery when we're pretty bleary, many of us don't remember them at all and wonder about the tiny bruises. The drug is called heparin.

In the postop (in-hospital) period there may be several more doses of antibiotic and usually the introduction of stool softeners once you can take oral meds (once your bowels have begun making sounds signifying they are functioning). Additional vitamins or iron supplements may be ordered for those whose blood counts are low (but do not resume taking your own vitamins till you get the okay from your doc--if you double up on some of them because you're taking yours and getting some from the hospital, you can set yourself up for bleeding and other risks). If you are having problems with gas the best remedy is walking but some doctors will also order Gas-X or similar drugs to help ease the discomfort.

And those are all the usual things I can think of that might be a problem. Obviously if you take drugs for other problems, you'll be resuming those postoperatively and should be sure that you do get them if they are needed and that you get the doses you normally take unless you and your doctor have discussed making some temporary change. You may need to remind your doctor about pre-existing prescriptions, especially if they are prescribed by other doctors, so they don't forget to resume them in your postop orders. Don't assume that they are being omitted for some good reason unless you have specifically discussed doing so with your doctors--docs forget things that are outside their own routines for their surgeries, and it's up to us, ultimately, to guard our own interests.

It's a good idea for each of us to think through whether any of these drug families are a problem for us--if so, early discussion with our doctor and/or anesthesiologist will help alleviate the risk of negative reactions when you are least likely to want them: during or immediately after surgery. What if you've never had any of them? Our caregivers are alert for negative reactions, but we have a certain burden on us to report them as well. For example, if you are sensitive/allergic to morphine, you may experience annoying itching of your nose and eventually itching all over. So it's a good idea, if you start itching and have a morphine pump, to speak up early and often in asking to change to something else.

I know that I got one push of my morphine pump done by the nurse as I was getting into bed when I got to my room from Recovery, and I spent over 24 hours trying to rub my nose off my face. Luckily I didn't need the morphine again--Toradol was plenty of control for me even with a fairly sizable abdominal incision--and so it was not something I had to deal with. But this is someplace where having a friend or family member in the hospital can help us: in those first postop hours when we're too snowed to put things like this together or to advocate strongly for our needs, someone with us who can help us deal with these things can be very valuable.

My sister was the one who made the nose/morphine connection for me (I hadn't noticed I was doing it--yeah, that's how groggy), and so when I got up and the nurse went to hit the pump, she intervened and asked me if I felt I needed the morphine in the light of the reaction I might be having. I agreed that no, I felt as though I could try it without, and so I went staggering merrily off down the hall with the two of them following along shepherding my assorted catheter/IV/whatever (in retrospect I think that maybe the morphine made me more than a touch goofy, too, but at least I was up and moving). And by the next morning I was more alert and thoughtful and could take care of myself again, even though my concentration was as impaired as anyone's whose just had a general. So that is a little cautionary tale for those who are wondering what this actually works out to be like, if we have a mild sensitivity reaction.

To help you do some drug-related research, if you are unclear on exactly what drugs are related, what they include and what side effects they carry, these links might be useful:

The main takeaway point here is that it's up to us to judge how we're responding to what we're getting, not only in terms of whether we are getting, say, adequate pain relief from our meds, but whether they are suiting us in other ways as well. Remember that there are alternatives for all drugs, so gritting your teeth and putting up with something is really not necessary for anything other than the convenience of your caregivers. And that's not who it's about, is it?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Operative uncertainties: why did I come out of the OR with a different diagnosis/surgery from the one I went in with?

I read many comments from women who are surprised to wake up from surgery without their ovaries when they thought they were only having their uterus removed, or who find that they have a whole new shopping list of diagnoses that they never expected when they went in. How can this happen? they ask. They told me that these things "might" happen but were not likely.

Doctors really get in a bind between trying to prepare you for all the eventualities and to steer you so that you're not totally overwhelmed with fear of things that just aren't likely at all. It's a hard call, and it's made vastly more difficult because the diagnostic tools we have just aren't that accurate.

That's right: for all the ultrasounds and MRIs and CAT scans and all those advanced tests, there's just nothing that is anywhere near as accurate as opening us up and looking around. It's a very common thing for women to go into the OR with one diagnosis and come out with either a different one entirely or a whole raft of unexpected discoveries.

For example, endo seems to be a surprise discovery in about half (that's a seat-of-my-pants guesstimate based on what I read online, not a firm statistic) of the women who have a hyst and endo--it's never suspected or diagnosed pre-operatively in a surprising number of cases. Another surprise diagnosis is adenomyosis, which will turn up in a hyst done for fibroids or endo without ever having shown up well in diagnostic imaging. Sometimes extensive scarring or damage from other disorders, as in a case where large fibroids actually damage ovarian circulation, is what makes the deciding difference in the operative plan, and yet scarring is virtually invisible to most diagnostic techniques. Women who have suffered from pains and miseries all their lives and who were told they simply had to put up with it as their lot in being women often are astounded and validated when they return from the OR with a whole shopping list of abdominal pathologies that remained elusive until the surgeon actually got a good, personal, eyeballs look.

The fact is, a preoperative diagnosis, while informed by every skill the doctor can bring to bear, remains only an educated guess. I think this is one reason why, unless the diagnosis is very well-defined indeed, women may be well served by having that abdominal incision. I know that I felt that since I was having the surgery one way or another, I wanted to know that as of that date, there were no more lurking surprises that might have been missed by the more limited vag approach (well, that plus the fact that my uterus was roughly the size of a steamer trunk and I strongly suspect they brought in a fork lift after I was anesthetized to get that monster out). I don't think that this is in itself necessarily a compelling enough reason to choose this route, but it is certainly an added peace of mind that helps offset those first few days when the incision is most troubling.

So I would have to say, after the years I've been involved in the hyst community online, that a pre-op diagnosis is only a "best guess" and that a wise woman and her doctor consider it a very open-ended proposition. And because our ovaries are rather fragile organs, I think that however much we may hope to keep them, they have to be considered at high risk for possible removal.

A prudent woman facing surgery should make her feelings known very clearly to her surgeon on what her stance is on ovarian pathology. I think most of us would okay removal immediately if cancer were suspected. Short of that, however, are a lot of grey-area calls. Do you want suspicious ovaries removed "just in case" or do you want them biopsied with the option of later (minor surgery with laparoscope) removal if indicated? Many doctors feel that after age 45 ovaries represent more liability than value (although that may be changing), on the premise that our bodies need hormones for nothing other than fertility. Many women in menopause disagree with this, and it's something that it's best to think out in advance (a brief hormone education that might help you explore this further is here) lest your doctor make a decision for you that you would not have favored had you been a party to it.

At the very least, you can ask your surgeon: under what conditions during the surgery will you remove my ovaries--what are the decision points for you? And if you disagree or think the matter requires evaluation at the time of surgery, you can modify your operative permit to include the specification that if ovarian removal is indicated based upon surgical findings, you only will grant consent for it through [your personal rep named in the permit, whom you have prepped with your views in great detail and whom you trust to carry out your wishes as best they can]. In such a case, the surgeon would have to contact that person (who would obviously be standing by in the waiting room through the surgery), explain the situation, and receive their consent for whatever option is proposed. This is not an unheard-of option, and one that women who have strong feelings about their ovaries have successfully taken.

So while there are unknowns we all face when we go into surgery, good planning and frank "what if" discussions with our doctors can help make sure we're better prepared for those uncertainties. When your doctor runs through that list of "possible but not likely" outcomes, stop him and ask: but what if that does happen? What then? What are my choices? What will those choices mean for my future health? And if you feel you need to, you can add language to your operative permit to specify that in a "what if" situation, the doctor will perform the option you prefer.

We can't eliminate the unknowns--they're part of the package--but we can prepare for them as well as possible so that the fear of them beforehand and the way we deal with them afterwards are at least less stressful for us. And we certainly can use a little stress reduction as we're facing this surgery.