For many patients, anesthesia is the scariest part of surgery. But you can ease your fears -- and help prevent the rare negative outcome -- with awareness and good communication with doctors, says Dr. Paul Rein of Virginia Anesthesia VAPCS, a practice based in southeastern Virginia.
* Don't panic. The chances of dying in a car crash are about 40 times greater than from an anesthetic, Dr. Rein says. "The reality is anesthesia has become very safe because of better techniques, better monitoring and better practitioners," he says.
* Don't cheat on "no food or drink" orders. As a rule, patients should have nothing for eight hours before surgery -- even gum. If you get sick and vomit while under anesthesia, the contents can get into your lungs and be dangerous.
* Know your medical history. Tell your doctor the specific names and doses of all drugs you take, as well as past surgeries. If you've had problems with anesthesia * Stop taking herbal medications. Doctors generally advise avoiding these products for two weeks before an operation, as they can cause increased bleeding.
* Ask questions. Meet with your anesthesiologist and get all the answers you need before heading into the operating room. Learn about the type of drugs you will get; you may have a choice between general or regional anesthesia.
* Arrange for a caregiver. A responsible adult should drive you home and stay with you the day of an outpatient surgery, even after minor operations. Don't take a taxi or get dropped off at home alone; on top of recovering from surgery, you'll likely feel the effects of anesthetic drugs for several hours.