How to Prepare Your Child for Surgery

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Two of my children have had surgery thus far in life. It is always a scary thing–surgery. While most of the time things go right, sometimes things go wrong and that can be nerve wracking. I think it is helpful to prepare yourself and your family ahead of time and to know what to do to help make the whole process easier.

How to Prepare Your Child for Surgery | surgery tips | surgery | #surgery

With Brayden, I had months to research and prepare for his sugery. He had what is called “trigger finger” in his thumb, which meant his ligament was preventing him from extending his thumb fully. His proceedure was rather simple. I was able to talk to moms whose children had been through surgery and get their wealth of knowledge and experience before facing it.

With McKenna, however, I had less than 24 hours notice before her surgery, and a proceedure was added during surgery, giving me no time to prepare. Her initial surgery was  for ear tubes, which is very simple, but she also had an adenoidectomy and a tonsillectomy added at the last moment. The tonsillectomy is not quite so easy and low impact. 

Because of the short time frame I had with McKenna, I thought a post on this blog with genearl tips on prepping for surgery would be helpful for anyone of you whose child needs to have surgery.

How to Prepare Your Child for Surgery | surgery tips | surgery | #surgery

Preparing Kids for Surgery

  • Ask Questions: As your doctor, ask your friends, neighbors–anyone you can get in contact with for their experience and what things you should be asking. A hard thing with surgery is we often don’t know what we should know. People who have been there can help us out with that.
  • Research: Do your own research on the procedure. Don’t just rely on what the surgeon is telling you pre-op. Again, ask people about their experience. What should you expect pre-op and post-op? Ask on social networking sites, read reputable websites, read journal articles….find  out  what you can.
  • Stock Up at Home:: Buy what you will need before the surgery. Buy foods, medicines, humidifiers, etc. all beforehand so you have it at home. Going shopping with a child who just had surgery is even less fun than with a healthy child. Waiting at home while your spouse runs to the store for needed supplies is also not fun if the child is in need of it. Many surgeons will even call in prescriptions the day before surgery so you can have that at home, also.
  • Talk to Your Child: Explain in a way that you think is best for your child. Why is she having surgery? We told McKenna she was having surgery so her ears wouldn’t always be in such pain. She had been living with pain in her ears for long enough that this was very exciting for her. Tell the child what you will do (though I don’t think I would tell what the surgeon would do). “we will get up early and then go to the hospital. We will put you in a special outfit. You will go with the anesthesiologist…etc.” This is training in times of non-conflict. Tell your child enough to give her the tools and power of knowing what is going on without so much it scares her.

Take To Surgery

Your doctor and hospital will give you ideas of things to bring with you to the surgery. Here is my list:

  • Easy to change clothes: your chilld will most likely be changed into a gown for the operation and then back into her clothes before going home. You will want these to be easy to change.
  • Sippy cup/bottle: I would bring your child’s own cup to the surgery. After surgery, your child will need to drink so much liquid before leaving, and it will be easiest to do this with a child coming off of anesthesia if she has her own cup she likes to drink from.
  • Camera: Capture the day on film.
  • Blanket: Bring along your child’s favorite blanket (or just a familiar blanket if she doesn’t have a favorite). 
  • Lovey: We brought a favorite stuffed animal. We did our surgeries at two different hospitals, and both allowed the child to take a stuffed animal (or several) into the operating room. McKenna chose not to take one into the OR, but Brayden brought his. They even bandaged his giraffe up just like him. 
  • Other entertaining items: We brought some toy trains for Brayden. For McKenna, we had Elmo on my husband’s iPhone that we turned on after the surgery when she was waking up. It helped her to be a little more calm. 

At Home After Surgery

  • Be comfortable: Make your child as comfortable as needed. For Brayden’s surgery, he was able to go about his day as usual, just with a large bandage on one hand. McKenna, however, was down for the day. She was on the couch all day and her menu was significantly different. I made her very comfortable on the couch, and myself very comfortable on the other couch.
  • Be present: After anesthesia, you need to watch for blood clots. Because of this, I didn’t even take McKenna to her room for a nap. I stayed right by her side the whole day so I could watch her. 

Extra Surgery Tips

  • I really worried about the no food and water after X time thing–especially in the morning. Both of these children are big eaters who want to eat as soon as they wake up. There really isn’t need for worrying. Niether of my children asked for food nor water. Both hospitals we went to were great and had us scheduled first thing in the morning, so we had to wake the child up to go to the hospital. That definitely made it easier to go without food and water. Once at the hospital, things are so new and they are just nervous enough they don’t think about it.
  • Some hospitals will allow you to take your child to the operating room and stay until the child is asleep. Others take the child at a certain spot. Both hospitals we went to take the child. With Brayden, they carried him and he cried for about 10 seconds, and then was okay. With McKenna, she walked out hand and hand with the anesthesiologist chattering away. We knew what was going to happen and had better prepared her for what was to come, so she was okay with it.
  • Some children are “angry” when coming off of anesthesia. Pretty much all children cry (if not completely all). Some are just angry. That is Brayden. He was angry while waking up. It is definitely easier to have just a sad waker (like McKenna) than an angry one. The child doesn’t stay angry for long and doesn’t remember it later.
  • Don’t be worried about things getting off the normal routine. The child will bounce right back into routine happily once she has recuperated. 
  • Some children have a hard time with doctors or dentists after a surgery. Brayden was fine with his doctor, but the dentist freaked him out for the next year. He had previously not be scared at the dentist, but having to lay down and open his mouth and have a person with a surgical mask lean over him really scared him. He did get over it, but it was sad to see. It remains to be seen if McKenna will have the same reaction with the dentist. The doctor is fine. 

Our Experience

Below is a post I wrote about Brayden’s surgery right after it happened.

Things went really well yesterday for Brayden’s surgery. Thanks so much for the prayers!

We got him up at 6 AM and whisked him off to the hospital. He was ridiculously chipper for waking up so early. We got to the surgical center and checked in. He was rather nervous. I had explained to him everything to the point of the mask they would put on, and he was not pleased about the mask.

We went to his room and changed him into his scrubs. We had brought some trains to play with, so once he was all settled and checked in, he and my husband played trains. This was wonderful. He got lost in play and didn’t worry about what else was going on. It also helped so he didn’t think about the fact that he couldn’t eat or drink anything. The surgeon came in to talk to us. He is a great surgeon who is so good with kids. Brayden got a lot more at ease after talking to him.

A few minutes after the surgeon left, the anesthesiologist came in. She explained what she would be doing. I told her he wasn’t pleased about the mask and she said that is common. We the picked up Brayden and carried him as far as we could. At that point, the anesthesiologist took him. He cried “Mama!” and reached for me and she walked down the hall with him. We went back to his room to wait. I of course cried, but I managed to wait until Brayden was gone.

It all went quickly and the surgeon was soon there telling us everything went well. He said it would be another 40 minutes before Brayden would wake up, then they would bring him to us. 20 minutes later we had a crying Brayden in our arms. My husband laughed because it just goes to show how much Brayden is a “sleep-fighter.” Even drugs won’t make him sleep when he doesn’t want to be.

He cried as the medicine wore off. He was obviously delirious. After ten minutes or so he calmed down. The nurse kept telling me to have him take a nap. I explained that just wasn’t going to happen at this time of day. It was 8:30 AM. As he calmed down, he did get droopy-eyed, but his eyes kept shooting open over and over again. I had to wonder if that is what he looks like for naps and bedtimes 🙂

The anesthesiologist came in and told us he only cried for a few seconds, then he got really brave. I thought that was funny because that means I cried longer than he did. We sent his favorite stuffed animal with him, so she tried putting the mask on the stuffed animal first, but that was not good. He didn’t want her to do anything to his Giraffe, he would take the mask. Later that day I told Brayden I heard he had been really brave with the mask. He said, “No Mommy, I was not brave. I was really scared.”

As soon as we walked out of the hospital, he was as happy as could be. I was glad he is a child who can be trusted. The surgeon told me if he would leave his bandages alone and be careful with them, he would just bandage, but if not, he would do a cast. So he just has bandages and is being really good about it, though he doesn’t like it. Things are going really well. He is playing and going about things as usual, though we have mixed up our schedule for a few days to work around limitations. I will explain that in a future post 🙂

Reader Comments on Surgery

Rachel said: Praise the Lord! I love that you cried longer than her did… Doesn’t that just go to show, “this will hurt me more than it will you!?”

Angela said: I am so glad Brayden is doing well. I think he was very brave!

Rachel Stella said: Good job for being so brave Brayden! Feel better soon!

Christie said: Praise God for giving Brayden (and you!) strength!! We will pray for a speedy recovery!

Maureen said: So happy everything went so well! With Lucas’ little surgery I had a choice of hospitals. I chose the one that allowed me to go in the OR. They let me hold him while they put him under. It was a little scary but since I was there, he didn’t cry at all. It was a little scary for me though. They didn’t prepare me much and said something about his body getting stiff. What?! After I laid him down, I walked to the lobby and 2 minutes later the doc came out and said she was done. It was so quick and painless.

Ann said: Thank Goodness for the surgery! I pray that he will have a quick recovery!! It sounds like he was truly a “big boy” as he chose the bandage route… that’s great!And I hear you about the crying as a parent. I have a 7.5 week old, and he is coming up on his 2 month immunizations, and I already feel teary eyed about it.

Manisha said: Glad to hear everything went well. Blessings to Brayden and you all.

Janelle said: I wish Brayden a speedy recovery! If you don’t mind me asking, what hospital did you go to? I live in Utah County and so I’m just curious. I’ve had to take my little one to Primary Childrens and it’s a great place.

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13 thoughts on “How to Prepare Your Child for Surgery”

  1. The timing for this post is amazing. In two weeks my son has surgery because he's tongue tied. This gives me a better idea as to how to not just prepare him but myself as well. Thanks!

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  2. My daughter has surgery this Thursday. Thank-you for your insights-some very helpful things that I had not thought of. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Reply
  3. I am and otolaryngologist (ENT) and a mom of two who LOVES your babywise blog. I totally and wholeheartedly agree with everything in this post. The best way to approach any surgery is to be prepared, and that makes life easier on you and your child. Make sure when you read on the Internet, though, that it is from reputable sources, otherwise you'll get unnecessarily worried. Good websites are WebMD, any of the American Board of _____ (for whatever specialty it pertains to) or physician offices websites. Thanks for all you do for all us moms out there! I wouldn't have survived without your blog these last couple of years!

    Reply
  4. This is somewhat off topic, but we've done similar preparation for our 2.75 yo for my husband's eye surgery (just today!). We've been talking to her about it, telling her about his eye patch, that he won't be able to pick her up, that she'll need to be careful of his eye, etc. We even had her play with an eye shield before hand so it wouldn't be scary for her. She is super excited to play Dr and take care of patient Daddy 🙂

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  5. And sometimes, there's no opportunity to prepare. You take your child to the ER with breathing difficulties from a cold and end up having half a lung removed 12 hours later. In those situations, stay calm and level-headed, so that emergency personnel can focus on your child instead of you. The EMTs who flew my son and I out of town for surgery actually congratulated me on this, but I was just on autopilot, trying to do the best thing for my baby. Our child wasn't quite 6 weeks old, so there was no need to prepare him for any of it, but we did explain things to his 2 year old sister in a very basic way. Essentially, she was told that her little brother was at the hospital because he was very sick and that the doctors were making him all better. She would have fun staying with family while we lived at the hospital. From a breastfeeding angle, I have some very practical tips on making breastfeeding work in a situation where your child is having major surgery. They're on my blog: http://mamagab.blogspot.com/2011/08/nursing-through-major-illness-wbw-post.html Our baby was unable to eat for 5 days after surgery, so he was on a feeding tube, and it would be a week before he was nursing. Still, he never had formula and eventually, we went back to a great nursing relationship.

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  6. I agree with everything you said. Great post!I'm a nurse anesthetist, so I can offer a couple of things from that perspective. Generally, people in my line of work who do pediatric anesthesia do it because they love working with kids. We do our best to establish a rapport with you and your child from the moment we walk through the door. As an above poster mentioned, make it about your child, not about you. If you act calm and happy to see us, chances are that your child while respond likewise. Of course you want questions answered etc. which your anesthesia provider should be happy to do, just be calm and friendly about it. It seems like common sense, but I think that as moms we are somehow wired to be defensive (that's a good thing!), and this can really impact the child's attitude. Some children, and some ages are more prone to wake up angry as you said, but (and this is true of everyone, adults and kids) going to sleep happy gives you a much better chance of waking up happy :)I hope that might help someone a little bit. I am so thankful for all the work you do on this blog and I'm glad to lend what expertise I have on this topic.

    Reply
    • Rachel,There were a few reasons. One is Brayden was at the age when it wasn't statistically likely it would correct itself. If your son is young(1-2), there is still chance it will correct itself. We first saw Brayden's when he was barely three, then we watched it for about 9 months before deciding to go for surgery. So it wasn't a decision we came to lightly.It was on his dominant hand and if it wasn't corrected, it would have interfered with simple skills like scissors and handwriting. It also would have interfered with piano and sports. So we did it so he could have full function of his thumb.

      Reply
  7. If this wasn't divine timing! Thank you for your post. I was preparing my 16 month old for surgery and your tips are so helpful. We scheduled the surgery after his afternoon nap which helped (he did not have GA). Having snack, sippy, and books helped as we waited for the appt, and his blanket and lovey comforted him almost immediately afterwards. Having all items prepared the night before ensured we didn't forget anything since our minds were on so many things the day of.Again, thank-you,Wimberley

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  8. Hope you are doing well now!.. It is one of the most common causes of pain and limited range of motion in the hand. This condition, commonly called ‘trigger finger’ is caused by swelling along the tendon in the palm of hand, and outward towards the finger. This particular tendon goes through several tunnels (pulleys) on its way toward the finger, which help maintain its position and proper functioning. For some people, local steroid injection has been shown to help in early forms of trigger finger. However, most patients are not content to spend many weeks being treated with conservative measures, only to have symptoms persist. Fortunately, a technique performed here in Phoenix Arizona can effectively treat tenosynovitis in New Mexico using the EndoTech® Endoscopic System. Get To Know More About Endotendon Procedures.. Thanks

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