Doctor’s orders: Think before you watch your own surgery

Advances in surgical and anesthetic techniques mean that many surgical procedures can be done while patients are awake.

An obvious example is the Ceserean Section, a common surgical procedure done to deliver the baby whilst the mother is awake. But while getting surgery done when awake is not new, combining this with getting you to watch your own surgery is not common. But it’s a trend which is catching up fast, and may soon be commonplace.

What does it mean watching your own surgery? It means getting onto the operating table and having a form of anesthesia that keeps you awake and pain free. You then get positioned in such a way that you can easily watch what the surgeons are doing.

Depending on what part of the body is being operated on, it may mean watching on a real time monitor. You get to see every cut, any bleeding that occurs, every bit that gets removed, and every stitch that puts you back together at the end! It may sound squeamish to some, but others are finding the experience quite enriching. Individuals who have watched their own surgical procedures have reported benefits that include better understanding of their illnesses, and getting a sense of control of their treatment. They have found themselves recovering quicker, and not requiring intensive follow-up. They would do it over and over again.

But there are downsides as well. Watching parts of your body being opened up may traumatise you, and leave you with long lasting psychological effects.

Certain criteria must be met prior to getting you to watch your own surgery. Your surgical and anesthetic teams must be open to the idea. You see, getting you to watch confers some level of stress to the operating team. You must also be deemed suitable for anesthetising only the part of the body being operated on, what is referred to as regional anesthesia.

The operating room must also be well set-up to keep you fully awake and chatty. The atmosphere must all be business-like, without the usual operating room banter.

Watching your own surgery is not for the faint-hearted. Make sure you have enough personal reasons to want to watch. Get a detailed discussion with the surgical team in advance, and try to understand well in advance what you may see, and what it might make you feel.

Keep an open mind and reserve an opt-out clause. That means you can change your mind during the operation and request to be screened off from the ongoing drama, or get put to sleep altogether at some point.

Alternatively, you could always request a recording of the operation and choose if and when to view it, if ever. Remember, watching your own surgery live is different from what you see on TV. But you can experience it if you wish.

Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynecologist and Fertility Specialist. [email protected]