Having a child undergo surgery can be an anxious time for parents and children but there are some things you can do to lessen your anxieties and that of your child.
If you have time, arrange a pre-op visit with your child to have a tour of the hospital they will be attending. This allows them to become familiar with this new environment and gives them an opportunity to meet some of the staff and familiarise themselves with some of the equipment in the hospital. This is also a good time to ask any questions about hospital procedure eg what to bring in, routines of meals and bedtimes and visiting hours, where to wait while your child is having surgery, what will they wake up with after surgery?
It also gives you a trial run of where to park and where to go when you are admitted. All these things will lessen both your anxiety and your child’s about what to expect.
In the days before surgery you can reinforce what you saw and the information you were given by reading a book about going to hospital together. Local libraries will stock something suitable.
We also recommend you encourage your child to engage in medical play at home with their dolls or soft toys. Both these activities will provide you with an opportunity to talk about their surgery and allow them to ask questions and express any fears they may have. Medical play where your child can play the doctor or nurse as well as the patient also allows the child to be in control of the situation. You don’t need to buy an expensive medical kit, a simple kit can be made with: bandaids, cottonwool, a bandage, a medicine cup, an empty medicine bottle, a syringe (without needle attachment) and an old X-ray.
Prior to surgery organise home and work so you are able to be with your child while they are in hospital. If possible arrange for other children to be looked after so you can give your attention to your child undergoing surgery. Get your child to help you pack their bag for hospital the night before and don’t forget to pack their favourite toy and a couple of their favourite books (named), as this will give them a link to home. Check the fasting times given to you and prepare your child if they are going to miss breakfast. On the day of surgery allow plenty of time to get ready. Be calm and confident with your child as you talk through the day with them. All of this will help your child feel less anxious.
After admission sit with your child and help them to stay still and quiet (books and puzzles are good). Remember never give fluids or food to your child while they are fasting. You may need to get the nurse to reinforce why they can’t eat or drink if your child is finding this difficult.
It is recommended one parent accompany their child to theatre as your presence reassures them. Most hospitals allow you to stay with your child to the point of anaesthesia. You may be required to wear a hat, gown and shoes to do this. This can be an emotional moment but your confidence and positive manner will really help lessen your child’s anxiety. Reassure them you will be close by and will come to see them after they wake up from the surgery.
Once they are in theatre get yourself something to eat or drink or phone your partner or a friend if you need to talk. Staff are happy to answer any questions or concerns. Don’t forget to tell the staff where you will be or give them a contact number so they can reach you as soon as your child is awake in recovery.
In the recovery room your child will have frequent checks of their pulse, blood pressure and wound. They may have an IV drip and oxygen mask and leads on their chest to monitor their heart. Don’t be alarmed, this is normal and staff will be happy to talk to you about anything that is concerning you. When the recovery staff think your child is ready they will organise for an orderly to take them back to the ward where they will continue to do regular checks on your child. Let the nurse know if your child is experiencing any pain or discomfort. When your child is allowed to drink, small sips of water are only allowed to begin with to prevent vomiting. As this is tolerated bigger amounts are permitted. If your child needs to go to the toilet let the nurse know.
If your child is going to be in hospital overnight or for a few days, if possible arrange to stay in with them (most hospitals provide a folder bed or recliner chair). Arrange for your partner, relative or friend to give you breaks so you don’t become exhausted! Some older children really miss their friends at school and worry they will make new friends while they are in hospital. A visit or letter or card reassures them they are not forgotten.
Before going home make sure you understand all instructions regarding your child’s care and any medications they may need.
Once home give them time to settle in without too many visitors. Your child may regress or become clingy or demanding. This is normal and with reassurance and time they will regain their confidence and feel secure again. Again when they are well enough medical role play allows them the opportunity to work through some of their hospital experiences.
If you would like any further assistance preparing your child for hospital contact; The Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital on 0468 740 422.