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Thursday, September 1, 2016
Flying Shortly After Surgery
I will be having tear duct surgery in a distant state in a few weeks. Communication with the surgeon is a problem--my questions are filtered through his assistant, who schedules his surgery. I had the same procedure performed in my home town using local anesthesia only, and I was able to drive myself home afterwards. (Unfortunately, the surgery failed.) My new surgeon requested MAC anesthesia. His assistant told me that it would not be a problem to fly home that evening--I could request drugs that would leave my system quickly. (My husband has an important meeting the morning after my surgery and needs to be back.) Is it safe to fly a few hours after having anesthesia? I won`t be meeting either the surgeon or the anesthesia provider until the day of my surgery, and I`m concerned that my liaison might be giving me bad information.
Communication with your surgeon is very important. Inadequate communication is the leading cause of serious medical error. If you cannot get satisfactory answers and advice from your surgeon and/or his office you should choose an alternative surgeon, especially as the surgery you are having is elective (not urgent).
The standard practice after outpatient surgery that requires any form of anesthesia, whether that is sedation ("MAC anesthesia") or full general anesthesia, is for patients to be escorted home by an adult, and to be in the company of an adult at least overnight.
Although recovery from modern anesthetic drugs is prompt, and the risk of serious adverse events related to anesthesia after minor surgery in healthy patients is low, my guess is that most facilities in the United States would advise against flying immediately afterward. An airliner at 30,000 feet is not the best place to have a medical emergency - it's not only that care is hours away, putting the patient at risk, but an emergency seriously inconveniences passengers and crew if the plane is diverted.
Having said this, there are no laws or regulations I am aware of that would prevent you from flying. Your surgeon is the responsible physician and ultimately his or her decision, along with the policy of the hospital, should guide you, assuming a full disclosure to you of any applicable risks and benefits. This is known as informed consent and normally requires a face-to-face discussion with your doctor who in turn is fully informed of your health history.
Gareth S Kantor, MD
Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University