Preparing Kids for Surgery


This is the next installment of re-postings of RxCreative founder Jonathan Kohler’s blog posts for the soon-to-fold Health Dialog Care Compass. Here, a guide for preparing kids for operations:

There’s probably nothing that makes a parent more anxious than having a sick child in the hospital, except maybe having that child go to the operating room.

It’s natural to be scared. But if your child is having an operation, there are some things you can do to help you and your child prepare for surgery.

1. Ask about Availability of Child Life Specialists and Child-Friendly Facilities
Most hospitals that operate on children have Child Life specialists trained to help kids feel more comfortable in the hospital and to figure out how to reduce fear and discomfort during treatment. And there are usually playrooms, toys, and movies available for kids. Child Life specialists can sometimes arrange for visits to the OR in the days before surgery, and provide other preparation tools and toys.

2. Eat Right the Night Before
To minimize the risks of anesthesia, kids can’t eat or drink anything for several hours before an operation. You may hear medical people refer to this as “being NPO” – which stands for Nil Per Os, which is Latin for “nothing by mouth.” Often this means that your child won’t be allowed to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before surgery. To keep your child from getting cranky, plan a late dinner and a before-bed snack. And be sure to ask about the NPO plan – sometimes kids who are scheduled later in the day may be allowed to have breakfast.

3. Bring Favorites from Home
Even if the hospital is well equipped for children, nothing beats favorite toys, stuffed animals, and handheld video games from home. If you have a portable media player with favorite movies and music, bring it along. Or ask the hospital staff if they can provide a player for your child’s favorites.

4. There’s Nothing Magical about Hospital Food
Quite the opposite, really. Your child may have certain very specific dietary restrictions immediately before and after surgery (clear liquids only, for example), but once your child is allowed to eat regular food again, it’s often OK to bring food from home or from a favorite restaurant. Check with your nurses and surgical team beforehand, of course.

5. Find out How Long the Whole Surgery Process Takes
There will be some time before and after the operation when your child will be away from you, so even a 20-minute operation can mean your child will be away for a couple of hours. Being prepared for that time will help you feel less anxious. And ask about how long your child can expect to be in the hospital, so you can prepare your support team (see below).

6. Take Time for Yourself and Have a Support Team
This might be the most important thing. Being in the hospital with your child is a hugely stressful experience. Add in sleep deprivation, irregular meals in the cafeteria, and the practical impossibility of getting a good shower, and it quickly gets overwhelming. Don’t feel that you have to be at your child’s bedside every moment – the hospital staff make good babysitters. Better yet, by arranging for friends and family to come in to be with your child, you can get a break to go home and take care of your own life for a few hours at least once a day.

What am I missing? Parents, what would you tell other parents about how to get ready for your child going in to surgery? Share your own experiences and insights in the comments.

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