Find information for family and friends of patients undergoing surgery.

It is really important for people having surgery to have friends and family members to offer support and assistance. 

The support person may take on the role of coordinator, making arrangements with others to help out.

Stress and medications can impair memory and clear thinking

Thinking about having surgery can be stressful, and stress can prevent us from remembering things and make it difficult to think clearly. Many medications can have the same effect. One of the ways you can help is to go with the patient to their appointments with the surgeon and at the Pre-Admission Clinic. Listen carefully, ask questions, and write information down so it is there for you and the patient to review later.

Surgical patients cannot go home alone

If your family member or friend has had a medication to make you sleepy or that put you to sleep for your surgery, they must go home with someone who is a responsible adult. These drugs can stay in your body for up to 24 hours.

If your family member or friend has not had a general anesthetic or any medication to make you sleep with a minor surgery or some diagnostic procedures, they may go home without a responsible adult. 

Assume that your family member/friend will need to be driven or escorted home, unless you are specifically told otherwise by a member of their surgical team.

It is not necessary for you to have your own vehicle. You can accompany the patient in a taxi or on the bus. The important thing is for them to have a clear headed adult with them to ensure their safety.

Make time to rest and sleep

Most patients enjoy having visitors and some would love to have you nearby around the clock when they are in hospital. It is very important though, for both you and the patient to get a good night’s sleep, and for the patient to rest quietly several times each day.

It is therefore best for family and friends to leave the hospital in the evening, and to allow the patient some time alone during the day to rest.

Ask the patient’s nurse for guidance about what is best for your family member/friend. Some hospital units have rest periods when visiting is not permitted.

After the patient goes home, they may still need to rest several times each day. You can help by coordinating visitors and encouraging nap time.

Know when to call the surgeon or family practitioner

Call your surgeon or family practitioner if you have any of the following:

  • You have a fever over 38.5°C (101.3F).
  • You feel increasingly tired or dizzy.
  • Your calf or lower leg is red, tender or painful.
  • You have problems urinating (going to pee).
  • You have stinging, burning or pain when you pee.
  • Your urine smells bad.
  • Your incision is red and swollen, and feels hot to touch.
  • You see blood or pus coming from the incision.
  • You have pain that does not decrease or ease with pain medicine.
  • Your pain is stopping you from moving and recovering.
  • You have a cough that continues to get worse.
  • You feel sick to your stomach or are throwing up often for more than 24 hours.
  • You have diarrhea that lasts for more than two days.

If you cannot contact your surgeon or family doctor, call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 to speak to a registered nurse any time - day or night. 

You or family member should call 9-1-1 for an ambulance if the following happens:

  • You have trouble breathing or any pain in your chest.
  • You have sudden severe pain that gets worse even with pain medications.
  • You feel cold but are sweating.
  • You start shaking.

Important: You should not drive yourself to the Emergency Department. Do not eat or drink anything unless you have been assessed and you have been advised you can do so.

Getting help at home

If your friend/family member needs nursing care or assistance bathing, the care team at the hospital will make a referral to Home Health, and they will contact the patient to make arrangements.

Getting help for you

It is very important for you to take care of yourself when you are helping to take care of someone else. It is not selfish for you to take time to be alone or to go out and do something you enjoy. There are likely other friends, family members, neighbours, or people from church who would be more than happy to help out if they knew what was needed, so just ask.

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help if you want someone to talk to about your own emotions or fears. All hospitals have social workers that you can talk to. You can also talk to your family doctor if you are worried about your own well-being.


  • This checklist is designed as a handy tool for you to keep track of what the patient has asked you to take care of and any tasks that you can hand over to other family and friends who are able to assist.

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    Updated 30/07/2018

Getting ready surgery guide for older children and teens 

Download our guide to help your older child or teen get ready for their upcoming surgery.

Preparing your child for surgery 

Download our guide to help you get your child ready for their upcoming surgery.

Frequently asked questions

Understand more about your surgery by visiting our frequently asked questions section.