Monday Medical: Surgical terminology 101 |

Monday Medical: Surgical terminology 101

Susan Cunningham/For the Steamboat Today

— Every year, there are more than 4,500 surgeries at Yampa Valley Medical Center. With four operating rooms, the hospital sees a range of procedures every day — from complex spine surgery to appendectomies.

With advancements in surgical options, it can be difficult to keep up with the ever-growing vocabulary of the operating room. Registered nurse Sarah Kerrigan has 21 years of experience in the operating room and works as the minimally invasive service line coordinator at YVMC. She outlines some of the terms used frequently by doctors and nurses and the differences between them.

• Minimally invasive surgery: Surgery involving as few small cuts in the skin as possible. Benefits include decreased post-operative pain, less blood loss and a faster recovery. “We try to do everything in a minimally invasive way now,” Kerrigan said. “It results in less pain and lets people get back to their lives more quickly.” This includes orthopaedic, OB/GYN, neurology and general procedures.

• Laparoscopy: Minimally invasive surgery through the abdomen.

• Arthroscopy: Minimally invasive surgery on a joint.

• Robotic surgery: Minimally invasive surgery involving the aid of a robotic system. At YVMC, the da Vinci Surgical System is used in various procedures by specially trained surgeons. With the “da Vinci Si,” surgeons operate with four robotic arms that have tiny wristed instruments for a high level of precision, while looking at a console with a magnified, 3D high-definition image. “Robotic surgery is bringing us to the next level of surgical care,” Kerrigan said. “And for a hospital of our size to have a Da Vinci robot is just phenomenal.”

• Single-incision surgery: A surgery in which only one small (2 cm) cut is made.

• Same-day surgery: A patient is admitted, surgery is completed and the patient goes home all in the same day. Same-day surgery is also known as outpatient surgery. Most of YVMC’s surgeries are same-day, said Kerrigan, who recently went through a same-day surgery herself. She was admitted at 10 a.m. and home before 4 p.m. “Improvements in anesthetics, surgical technique and more have made surgery so much nicer,” she said.

• Inpatient: A status given to patients who have more complex surgeries and need to stay in the hospital for one or more nights for monitoring.

• Pre-operative: The period before a surgery. At YVMC, a nurse calls a patient to discuss the pre-operative instructions, which may include avoiding food, beverages and some medications for a short period of time.

• Post-operative: The period after surgery, including the recovery time spent in the hospital and at home. All patients receive detailed instructions for post-operative care, including how long to keep a dressing on, when to take a shower, and what pain medicines are recommended. “Ideally, these instructions should be discussed before the surgery,” Kerrigan said. “Talking about what to expect post-operatively with the surgeon or nurse is the most important thing to do before your surgery,” she said. “Post-operatively, you may be worried about yourself or your loved one, or distracted by thoughts of the logistics for when you’re home.”

• Anesthesia: The use of multiple drugs that cause a patient to lose sensation and go to sleep for a procedure (general anesthesia) or to numb an area for a procedure (local anesthesia). Another option is a block, which can keep an extremity numb for up to 36 hours. The type of anesthesia used depends on the patient’s history, the procedure and other factors.

Kerrigan suggests asking lots of questions before any surgery.

“It’s really important for people to be informed about what they’re walking into,” she said.

For more information, she recommends the hospital’s surgery site at

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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