Surgery and the Psychology of Mortality – Psychology Today

A little while ago, I underwent surgery. I was very fortunate: I received excellent medical care, had lots of emotional support, and the procedure went exactly as planned.

Anna Shvets/Pexels

Source: Anna Shvets/Pexels

I want to discuss not the physical aspects of surgery but some of its psychological ones, some of which were surprising. Right up until the time of my surgery, my feelings about it were ambivalent.

On the one hand, I recognized that the surgery was the best thing to do, that it was supported by published studies and by careful cost-benefit analysis. I understood the reasoning in favor of the surgery, as a layperson, reasonably well.

On the other hand, I recognized that the surgery carried a small but real risk of mortality (“perioperative mortality,” in the lingo of surgeons) or serious morbidity. In consenting to surgery, I was consenting to a procedure that might lead, relatively quickly and directly, to a profoundly bad outcome. This thought led me to feel, reasonably enough, apprehensive.

I never quite managed to balance these two thoughts—that surgery would almost certainly be helpful and would extend my lifespan, on the one hand, and that it was potentially harmful on the other. I did try to seek out what guidance I could find.

Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Source: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

By temperament, I’m inclined to seek guidance from books, and my hospital provided one: Prepare for Surgery, Heal