Why am I not allowed to eat or drink anything before I have my anaesthetic and operation?

A long way down your throat is the entrance to your lungs and the tube to your stomach that are very close to each other. You have a flap in your throat, called the epiglottis, that closes the entrance to your lungs when you swallow food to prevent the food from going into your lungs instead of your stomach. When you are anaesthetised, your body is very relaxed and the epiglottis does not work as well as when you are awake. If you have some food or liquids in your stomach, it is possible that this can get into your lungs. Getting food in your lungs is not good for you and can make you very ill. It is therefore important that your stomach is empty when you are going to be put to sleep for an operation. So be honest when someone asks you whether you’ve had anything to eat or drink! If you have to undergo an emergency operation, you might actually have had a big dinner beforehand. And in this case, of course there are other ways to put you to sleep.

Are there really no risks with anaesthesia?

Well, like with everything else in life – and we mean everything else – there’s a tiny risk attached to anaesthesia. But given the hundreds of thousands of people who are having anaesthesia every year, along with the fact that the equipment, drugs, procedures and expertise we have today are absolutely outstanding, safety with regard to anaesthesia is very high. In fact, the risk with anaesthesia is much lower than the risk you run when you travel to the hospital by car! You also have to consider any risks in the light of what will happen if the operation isn’t done. Lots of people would definitely die, or live with pain or a disability for absolutely no reason. Therefore, you always have to weigh up the risk of anaesthesia against the fact that not having the operation may be more dangerous.

I don’t want a general anaesthetic – could I have a local anaesthetic instead?

No. If your surgeon says you need a general anaesthetic, then you need a general anaesthetic. Some procedures can’t be carried out under just a local anaesthetic. But that said, it’s important for you to tell people if you’re afraid. You have a right to information, and if you like you can have a chat with somebody about how you feel before going under the general anaesthetic. This usually helps to reduce the fear, or eliminate it entirely. Finding out what other people thought or felt, or chatting to someone who’s been in the same situation often helps to make things seem better. Information can always be found at Anaesthesia Web on social media. You can also email your thoughts to us: .

I hate all that nursing, and I’d like to be put under general anaesthesia if I have to have blood samples taken or if a dentist has to examine me. Is that possible?

General anaesthesia may not be possible – but other help is available. A numbing cream is a handy trick to help prevent pain from small injections and things, and dentists have this kind of cream as well. And you can always get help by having a chat to somebody about how it feels. Funnily enough, just talking about your fear and what worries you usually helps. And remember, you always have the right to know what’s going to happen to you.

Why do I have to wear special clothes when I’m going under a general anaesthetic for an operation?

When you are going to have an operation, everything needs to be as clean as possible to prevent any dirt and bacilli getting in the surgical wound. This is why you need to change out of your normal clothes and put on a special clean hospital gown before you are taken to the operating theatre. You will be asked to get changed in a changing room with no staff. Many people feel quite uncomfortable when wearing surgical gowns. In that case, it might be a good idea to remember that all surgical patients look exactly the same.

Why do I have to wear a patch with cream on my hand or arm when I’m going under a general anaesthetic for an operation?

The patch on your hand or in the crook of your arm before operation is no ordinary patch – it contains a cream that will numb your skin. This kind of patch means you’ll barely feel the needle inserted in your arm in order to insert the little tube in your blood vessel.

Why do I have to have a plastic tube in my hand or arm?

Fluids and different drugs are administered directly into your bloodstream through that little plastic tube. So there’s only one puncture wound. The plastic tube is inserted using a needle which is then discarded. Only the soft little plastic tube is left in place. Lots of tape and bandage will be placed around it to keep it in place, but it’ll be secure and you can move your arm with no problems.

I can’t see any blood vessels at all on my hands or in the crook of my arm. Does that mean I won’t be able to have a tube put in?

Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. Finding a good place to insert the needle is harder with some people than with others, but we can always get the job done. Blood vessels are everywhere, even though they might not be all that easy to see. In that case, you can often feel where they are instead. The person who’ll be inserting your tube knows where to look, and they’re really good at finding them!

I have dark skin and I can’t really see any blood vessels. Can a plastic tube like that be inserted in my arm?

Oh yes, it’ll be fine. The strap that’ll be put around your arm will make it easier to both see and feel your blood vessels. The person who’ll be inserting the tube has had lots of practice at hunting for blood vessels, too, and they can feel where they are even if they can’t see them.

Why am I being given a drip?

You mustn’t eat or drink anything before a general anaesthetic and operation. It’s common to be given a drip – extra fluid containing nutrients – so that your body doesn’t get too hungry or thirsty. This drip is in a bag that's hung up on your bed, or on a rack next to your bed. The fluid in the bag drips into your body through a long tube that’s connected to the little plastic tube on your hand or arm. This drip contains water, salt, sugar and sometimes drugs – everything you need. You’ll often find the drip is still in place when you wake up after your operation.

Why do I have to shower and wash with a special soap before my operation?

We normally have some bacteria on our skin at all times. But if these bacteria enter your surgical wound, they could cause an infection. That’s quite important for you to shower and wash both your body and your hair thoroughly with a special soap that eliminates the bacteria on your skin before your operation. You have to wash your whole body with this special soap, not just the part of you that’s going to be operated on. Sometimes, you’ll have to shower and wash several times. Staff at the hospital will tell you what to do.

Why does the surgeon draw on me before my operation?

Before your operation, the surgeon will draw on you using a special pen to indicate the site that’s going to be operated on. This is done so that everyone looking after you knows for sure which bit is to be operated on. This is particularly important if your operation involves any part of your body that you have two of – arms, hands, feet and legs. Sometimes the doctor will draw an arrow, or a line, or maybe a little man. What they draw doesn’t really matter, and it doesn’t really matter if the surgeon doesn’t draw in exactly the place where you’re having a problem, but they do always have to draw on you before your operation.

Why do I have to wear a wristband showing my name and personal ID number?

Everyone admitted to hospital has to wear a wristband showing their name and personal ID number. This is so that people working at the hospital can be absolutely certain they’re looking after the right people all the time, even when staff changeovers occur. When you’re under anaesthetic, this wristband is particularly important because the staff can’t ask you who you are or when you were born.

Why are people always asking me what my name is and when I was born?

Lots of different people work at the hospital, and they have to be absolutely certain that they’re working with the right person. So you’ll be asked over and over what your name is and what your date of birth is. It might feel a bit repetitive, but there is actually a law that says staff have to ask you for your name and date of birth before they treat you.

Why do have to remove my jewellery before I go for operation?

You may bleed slightly during operation, and a special device is used to contract the tiny blood vessels in the wound to stop the bleeding. If you’re wearing jewellery, there’s a risk that the device used causes little marks on the skin where your jewellery is. This is why it’s important for you to remove necklaces, bracelets, earrings, piercings and rings before your operation.

Why am I not allowed to wear makeup or even nail polish when I’m about to undergo anaaesthesia?

When you’re under anaesthesia, the anaesthetists will check lots of things constantly. The colour of your face, lips and nails are one of the indicators of your condition when you’re under the anaesthetic. That’s why you mustn’t be wearing powder, foundation, makeup, nail polish or false nails when you have operation. Eyelash extensions are normally okay as long as you’re not undergoing facial operation and the eyelashes are secure. Check with the hospital!