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What to Expect for Your Child’s Surgery

Last week, Darah had her tonsils removed and her third set of tubes placed in her ears. Darah has had 12 surgeries in her 3 1/2 years of life and Connor’s had a same day procedure already as well (tubes placed in his ears). The picture to the left is of Darah before her open heart surgery at three months old. I am aware that not everyone is as “experienced” as we are when it comes to surgery for their child and want to share what surgery days are like for those of you who may be approaching your first surgery with your child. Every procedure, hospital, doctor, nurse, and child are so different. It’s hard to write up a one-size-fits-all post on what you can expect, but some things are pretty standard regardless of what your child is having done, and the emotional impact is pretty strong no matter how major or minor your child’s surgery is going to be!

Pre-Op (Before the surgery)

Before some procedures, doctors will want to get bloodwork done on your child. Ask for numbing cream if it’s available. This is a cream that acts as a local anesthetic and will help decrease some of the pain of the actual needle stick.

Tour the hospital with your child. Knowing where everything is prior to surgery day can help to alleviate some of the anxiety of the day. Most hospitals (if not all) are very prepared to show families where everything is prior to the surgery. It can also help with your child’s nerves if they see the hospital before the day of the surgery.

Visit the hospital’s website. If your child’s surgery is being performed in a children’s hospital, a lot of times their websites have great resources, virtual tours, and coloring sheets for your child. Take advantage of their website!

    Surgery Day: Before the surgery

    You will probably be asked to arrive 2-3 hours before the actual procedure. This is to register your child in the computer system, talk to the surgeon, nurse, and anesthesiologist about last minute questions. They will also check your child’s basic vitals during this time. Be prepared, surgeries often start later than usual.

    Leave earrings, all jewelry, and valuables at home. If your child’s ears were recently pierced, discuss this with your doctor prior to surgery day.

    If your child is anxious or irritable before the procedure, ask the anesthesiologist for a “cocktail.” Some doctors will call is “silly juice.” Basically, it’s a light sedative that will very much calm your child.

    If your child needs an i.v. for the surgery, ask if that can be done after your child is already asleep. Sometimes the doctors will put the child to sleep in the operating room using a mask and then start the i.v.

    While you’re waiting in the holding room before the surgery, ask your nurse if they have a playroom or any toys or books your child can play with while you are waiting. We ALWAYS bring our portable DVD player with us for Darah to watch movies on during the wait.

    Do not be afraid to ask your doctors and nurses any questions you have. I also usually tell the staff something personal about Darah or our family so they go into the operating room remembering that this is somebody’s most treasured possession, and not “just another surgery.” This last surgery, I told the anesthesiologist a quick story about Darah’s beaten up Lovey she had with her. After the surgery, the recovery nurse said she heard the story about poor loved Lovey. This made me feel more comfortable in trusting them with my daughter.

    When it is time to say goodbye, remain positive and reassuring. Remember, no matter how young or old your child is, they are sure to have some anxiety about being in a new place with new people and it is important to help them to feel ok with everything that is happening.

      Surgery Day: During the Surgery

      Make sure you are in the correct waiting room and that the staff has a way to reach you if necessary. I always personally give the attending nurse my cell phone number, just in case they need me in a hurry. One time the nurse wrote it on her scrubs so she’d have it if she needed. This made me feel better!

      If the surgery is going to take a while, ask family or friends to wait with you at the hospital. Having mindless chatter going on around you can really help pass the time and calm your nerves.

      Eat something while you wait! Recovery rooms rarely allow food or drinks in them, so you may not be able to eat after the surgery. Your child may be in the recovery room for several hours, so go in there with a full stomach.

        Surgery Day: Recovery Room

        After the surgery, the surgeon will likely come and find you in the waiting room. He or she will explain to you how the procedure went. You will more than likely be asked to wait in the waiting room another 15-30 minutes while they situate your child in the recovery room. Your child will more than likely be asleep this entire time, so try to patiently wait it out. I think that is the hardest part after the goodbye!

        When you are paged or called to come to the recovery room, your child may be asleep, or they may be starting to wake. When your child wakes up, expect your child to be very disoriented. Depending on your child’s age, and reaction to anesthesia, they may wake up very upset. Darah always wakes up fighting.

        Disorientation and pain reactions can be very similar and hard to decipher. Ask your nurse what the pain management plan is. The less pain medications your child receives, the sooner you go home, but if your child is in pain, it is important that they receive medicine available to them.

        There will be many lines attached to your child. There may be an i.v. attached as well. The lines measure oxygen saturation levels, heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. There will probably be a lot of beeping. Do not be alarmed by all the beeps. If you are nervous, ask your nurse if there is anything wrong. She will explain to you what beep means what and let you know if you need to worry.

          After the Surgery

          Depending on your child’s procedure, you may be admitted to the hospital or you may go straight home.

          If you are admitted to the hospital, do not be afraid to page your nurse. If you need linens, a pillow, or towels, (even if it’s for yourself) ask your nurse. Ask if you can have a private room. Our hospital charges us $100 per night if we want a private room.

          If you go straight home, make sure you get a prescription for any medications your child may need. Even if your child doesn’t seem to be in any pain, make sure you know what to do if they start becoming uncomfortable. Ask your doctor when your child is allowed to return to normal activities (such as school, playing outside, etc…). Know who to call if you have questions or problems when you get home.

            Every surgery, no matter how big or small is scary, especially if the surgery involves your precious child. Knowing what to expect can certainly make that process a little easier.

            Do you have any tips or stories about your experience with pediatric surgery?

            12 Responses to What to Expect for Your Child’s Surgery

            • Gravatar
              Comment by Mommy Zabs
              February 19, 2008 @ 10:48 am

              This is such an informative post. I will keep it in my mind in case i have friends that need it… ALSO i will probably link to it by end of week. Love the redesign by the way. great arranging. really impressed. Glad you kept the same look though because i love that!

            • Gravatar
              Comment by Mommy Zabs
              February 19, 2008 @ 10:49 am

              oh you need a “vote for my post” button too! That will make it easier to submit you!

            • Comment by Amanda
              February 19, 2008 @ 11:01 am

              @MommyZabs – Thank you very much for the compliment!! Yeah, I thought about adding a “vote for my post” button too. I am trying to figure out if I want the button to link to the front page or if I should grab the button from each post that links to the post itself on MBN. Of course, I would rather do the later, but I am not sure how to make that work. My husband is the programmer. We are going to figure it out later. He is too tired from the re-design to think about it right now. :)

            • Gravatar
              Comment by Melissa
              February 19, 2008 @ 6:39 pm

              Fantastic post!! :)

              My dad recently had open-heart surgery, and I thought you were right on with the what to expect from the hospital portion.

              It was hard enough to see my dad go through surgery; I can’t imagine the strength it takes to watch your child. Thanks for sharing your experiences, McKenna!

            • Gravatar
              Comment by JBS
              February 20, 2008 @ 9:53 pm

              Thanks for the great insight.
              I wonder if you have any suggestions about what to tell your child about the surgery. My 5 year old is getting his tonsils and adenoids removed and tubes put in his ears next week. I am not sure what to tell him and what might be best left out.

            • Comment by McKenna
              February 20, 2008 @ 11:33 pm

              Hi JBS! I haven’t been in that position because Darah is so much younger, but my number one thought is to be honest, but very reassuring. I would reinforce all of the good things that will happen because of the surgery, (ie: he will have even better hearing and better rest at night). You can maybe play games with his hearing…whisper really low so he can’t hear you before the surgery, and tell him you’re going to try it after the surgery to see if he can hear your very soft whisper. Allow him to ask questions and if you can’t answer them, tell him he can ask the doctor or nurse the day of the surgery. Check out some kid books from the library about going to the hospital. I really recommend taking a tour of the hospital with him before the actual surgery day. And, by golly…make sure he gets a lot of ice cream for being so brave! I hope his surgery goes very smoothly!!
              Here’s some links I found:

            • Comment by McKenna
              February 20, 2008 @ 11:58 pm

              @ Melissa
              We all have stories to tell that can encourage other moms! That’s exactly what The Mom Crowd is all about!! (I think this may be coming off cheesier than I intend). ;)

            • Gravatar
              Comment by JBS
              February 21, 2008 @ 10:45 pm

              Thanks for the reply and all the great links! I have not discussed this at all with him yet and the surgery is in 5 days. I think tomorrow we will have a chat about it and I will talk very casually(I am a little stressed about it and am going to try really hard to not let him pick up on it) about it and be sure to emphasis the ice cream!

            • Gravatar February 23, 2008 @ 12:07 pm

              [...] Mom Crowd writes about what to expect for your child’s surgery. A great reference for those parents who have to go through this with your child. It is written by [...]

            • Gravatar
              Comment by Brittany
              June 4, 2008 @ 8:58 pm

              This is an old post, but I just want to say how perfect this is. My son had a 4 hour long surgery when he was just under a year, and I read every pamphlet and hospital website I could get my hands on. In the end, I STILL wasn’t prepared for it, and it was such a traumatic experience, and I think my emotions only added to the stress. Nothing replaces talking with moms who have been there. Nothing. This site is just amazing, I wish I would have seen it a year ago, but I am so happy to have found it now.

            • Gravatar
              Comment by Ann Marie
              April 22, 2009 @ 7:09 pm

              Thank you so much for all of your tips and information. My two-year-old daughter is having surgery tomorrow, and your post really helped me know what to expect BEFORE we get there!

            • Gravatar July 27, 2009 @ 10:54 pm

              [...] that staying in the hospital is probably one of the most uncomfortable places to stay.  I have written an article to help parents prepare for their child’s surgery and now have decided that parents also need some encouragement on finding ways to be more [...]

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