Your doctor explains them to you. Papers you sign outline them; but you still don't expect them. Complications, that is.
My recovery from surgery seemed to be going without a hitch. Then, the pain in my leg became intense. The change in the type of pain warned me to call my doctor. I was sent for a specialized test to see if I had indeed developed one of the complications on that list.
A Doppler scan of my legs revealed that I had developed blood clots in both legs. Why? I had been given blood-thinning medicine to avoid this. I had also been moving and going to physical therapy. There was no specific reason. I was just one of the unlucky 10% who develop blood clots after hip replacement surgery. Blood clots can develop immediately or even months after surgery.
I spent the next three days back in the hospital while I was given medicines to prevent further clots and to make sure that these clots did not migrate to the lungs. A pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening event. I was lucky that none appeared in my lungs.
Complications are possible after any type of surgery. It is rarely the fault of anyone. It is the result of an interaction of events that we do not understand. This is one reason that the decision to have surgery must be considered so carefully. Hip surgery is considered 'elective.' That means, it is not an emergency or life threatening. In my case, because of the intensity of pain and the destruction of the joint, it had become 'urgent.' Even so, there were risks.
Other complications could have included infection, non-healing of the incision, loosening or dislocation of the joint, and even death. I avoided possible complications from a transfusion by donating my own blood before surgery. I received one pint of the blood during surgery.
What is the difference between major and minor surgery? Major surgery is sometimes described as invasive, lasting over 30 minutes, and requiring extensive anesthesia. Some would argue; that most surgery is major. And the risks of complications (as I have learned) are real.
Working with your doctor and getting second opinions are sensible ways to approach any surgery. You also need realistic expectations of what the surgery can do for you. There are no medical miracles. There are amazing types of surgery and treatments that can save lives or enhance the quality of life, but none are without risk.