Preparing for Surgery

What to Expect When Your Child Has Surgery

Being in the hospital can be upsetting for your child, as well as for the whole family. Recognizing the common fears that your child has at each stage of growth and development can help you in preparing him or her for the experience ahead. Some of the ways to prepare include the following:

  • Become as knowledgeable as possible about the surgery planned for your child.
  • Be truthful with any information. Answer your child's questions truthfully, according to his or her age and developmental level.
  • Read books about hospitalization with your child.
  • Take your child on a scheduled hospital tour.
  • Give your child choices, when possible.
  • Make an appointment for preoperative preparations with a child life specialist who can provide age-appropriate explanations using medical teaching tools.

It is extremely important that you have followed all of the instructions that were given to you by your child's surgeon during the preoperative visit. Arriving at the wrong time or allowing your child to eat and drink after the prescribed times can cause delays in your child's surgery, or perhaps even postpone or cancel it. Before coming to the hospital, remove any jewelry (i.e., watches, necklaces, or earrings) that your child wears and leave them at home so they are not misplaced. Also, have your child remove nail polish so that the color of the nail beds can be observed during surgery and afterwards.

When at the hospital, you may expect the following to occur:

  • Your child will change into a hospital gown.
  • Your child will receive a hospital identification bracelet with his or her name, birth date, and hospital number on it.
  • Vital signs will be taken such as heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure.
  • Many of the same questions you have answered before will be asked again. This is a safety measure to insure that all the information in your child's record is correct. You will be asked about allergies, medications, and if your child has been exposed to any contagious diseases.
  • An anesthesiologist will see your child to answer any questions and examine your child.
  • A child life specialist will see your child to help prepare him or her for what to expect and to answer any questions your child may have.
  • In most cases, your child's surgeon will see you to make sure your child is ready for the surgery.

Once surgery has been completed, your child will be brought to the recovery room, also called the post-anesthesia care unit (also called PACU). In the recovery room, registered nurses, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare professionals will closely monitor your child as he or she "awakens" from anesthesia. The length of time spent in recovery depends on the type of surgery performed, your child's response to surgery and anesthesia, and your child's medical condition. Most children with minor surgical procedures may be discharged the same day of the procedure. Major surgeries will require longer recovery times and, perhaps, a stay in intensive care.


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