The right reasons for going under the knife.

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You’re thinking about surgery. About getting a little fix. Maybe your slack tummy bugs you when you look in the mirror, or a sagging face. You think you’re ready, but are you? If you think you’re ready to take the next step from thought to action, there are a few more things you need to think about beyond who (will perform it?), what (exactly do you want done?) and where.

The Ideal Patient

You might think that doctors will take any patient, but for Dr. Nick Carr, MD, FRCSC, a plastic surgeon in Vancouver and the head of plastic surgery at the University of British Columbia, there is such a thing as a hands-off candidate, and they include unrealistic patients, people who are being pushed into surgery by parents and partners, those with underlying medical conditions that make surgery too risky to be reasonable and patients who have undergone repeated surgery on the same body part so that the risks of repeat surgery outweigh the potential benefits. Patients with body dysmorphic disorder also raise a red flag for Dr. Carr. “In some cases, such as these, the patient may be helped by a psychologist, but in my experience it is rare that someone who is not a good candidate for surgery becomes a good one,” he says. According to Dr. Carr, the ideal patient is “a patient who is healthy, well informed, and motivated and fits the indications for the specific surgery they are seeking.” A patient who has realistic goals and knows what those goals are is the best candidate.

Knowing Your Goals, and Why It’s Important

According to Dr. Philip Solomon, MD, FRCSC, a facial plastic surgeon at the Toronto Rhinoplasty and Facial Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Centre, “It’s very important to have a clear surgical goal. It’s also critical to find a surgeon who shares that goal and feels it is reasonable and obtainable in their hands.” When it comes to goals for aesthetic surgery, Dr. Carr advises they should be specific and not generic. “In other words, it’s more likely to lead to a successful consultation if the patient can articulate ‘I don’t like the loose skin in my tummy since I had my baby’ rather than ‘I’m unhappy with the shape of my body,’” says Dr. Carr. While goals are important, Dr. Solomon warns,“It’s critical to be aware of what’s possible. If a patient does not understand what their likely outcome will be or the limitations of the procedure, they will be dissatisfied, even with a good technical outcome from the procedure.”

Have You Considered Less Invasive Options First?

You may have the right reasons for going under the knife, along with realistic expectations, making you a good candidate for surgery. But does that mean you should go ahead with it? Only once you’ve considered less-invasive options first. “It is the surgeon’s job to make each patient aware of any alternative treatments,” says Dr. Carr. “In many cases, the surgical option is the best one, in which case it makes sense to proceed directly to surgery. It boils down to making certain that patients are well informed and empowered to make the choice that is best for them.”

Study Up On Procedures and Recovery

When it comes to educating yourself about the procedure and recovery, Dr. Carr says that there is a huge amount of information available to patients, particularly on the Internet. “The hard part is sorting out what applies to you and whether it is important information,” says Dr. Carr. “Patients should do some preliminary research on their own prior to a plastic surgery consultation, either by talking with other patients or through online research, yet the best way to get accurate information is through a plastic surgery consultation. If a single consultation doesn’t feel right or leaves a patient uncertain as to how to proceed, they should feel free to see another surgeon.”

“Prior to going ahead with surgery, patients must have a clear understanding as to what the specifics of their procedure involve and what to expect in terms of recovery and potential complications. This information is specific to their surgeon and must be provided as part of the pre-operative preparation.”

Have a Support System In Place

“Having adequate support is critical,” says Dr. Carr. “Support allows the patient to concentrate on rest and recovery. In the event of a complication and the associated stress, the assistance and support of friends or relatives become particularly important.” While not essential when family or friends provide close support, it makes the experience of surgery much easier: “Surgery is an isolating experience due to the need for rest and withdrawal from normal activity, as well as the associated stress. Having someone emotionally close to support a patient through surgery often makes the experience very positive, ” says Dr. Carr.

How to Find the Best Doctor for Your Procedure

First thing, check credentials, says Dr. Carr. “In Canada, look for a surgeon who has Royal College certification in plastic surgery. Then look for a member of one of the main aesthetic surgery societies; in Canada, it’s the Canadian Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Most busy aesthetic surgeons belong to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery,” says Dr. Carr. “Ideally, a patient can talk to a previous patient who has had a similar procedure and can give them a word-of-mouth referral. Internet opinion is often a minefield of misinformation unless it comes from a reputable source.”

“It’s very important to see a specialist who performs the procedure you are looking for on a routine basis. Ideally, a surgeon should have performed the procedure hundreds of times, if not thousands. This will ensure that your surgeon has experience and a passion for this procedure. See if they can show you results from cases similar to yours,” advises Dr. Solomon.

Rest for Best Results

Rest is particularly important when it comes to surgery. “Lately, I’ve had a number of patients work out hard early on the day of their surgery. This increases blood pressure and heart rate, with increased risk of bleeding,” says Dr. Carr. “Patients making the decision to have surgery need to be clear that, for a week prior to their procedure and several weeks after, the surgery, including preparation and recovery, should be their main priority,” This includes a restful recovery environment, adequate time away from work and social activity, and no vigorous exercise.

How else to ensure the best results? Stay healthy, and follow your surgeon’s advice. “If [your surgeon says] take three weeks off work, do so,” says Dr. Carr. “If they say stop drinking and don’t smoke, do so. Above all, treat the experience seriously. Surgery is nearly always a safe experience, but there are inherent risks, and these are increased when instructions aren’t followed.”

Find out if you are ready for surgery

Contemplating a procedure? Answer the questions below ; if you answer YES to most, then more than likely you are ready.

1. You’ve read up on your surgery, procedure and recovery.

2. You’ve found a surgeon you’re comfortable with and who has agreed that you are a good candidate for the proposed procedure.

3. You’ve rested and followed your surgeon’s advice for surgery preparation.

4. You have clear, defined, realistic goals and your surgeon shares these goals with you.

5. You’ve established a support network.

6. You are doing it for the right reasons.

7. You have researched your surgeon and are confident he is the best fit for you and your procedure.

8. You’ve considered other less-invasive treatments first.

Four questions to ask your doctor

1. How is the procedure done?

2. Are there any possible risks involved?

3. What are the potential side effects?

4. What is the downtime and recovery like?