We are scheduled for some minor surgery this week for our littlest fella. He’s three and a half now and is quite the little ball of fire. This is his first surgery, so it is a little nerve-wracking for us. However, our older child has had a few surgical procedures over the years, and I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along the way for how to prepare for your child having surgery.
The thought of your child having surgery is enough to make most mothers break out in hives. And to be honest, there’s probably not much that will take any bit of that nervousness away. It’s your baby and it’s surgery, no matter how minor or major. We have been very lucky, and all the procedures we have been through with our kids have been relatively minor surgeries. But in all that experience, I have learned a few ways to better prepare myself, my child, my family, and our home for the surgery and recovery time. And I want to share those tips with you to help in your preparations, should the need arise.
Prepare Your Child
First and foremost, prepare your child as best you can ahead of time.
Our kids are still really little. So, there isn’t a whole lot of “preparing” them for the experience. However, I think honesty is the best policy. Be honest with your child and let them know what is going to happen, and when it will happen. If they ask you questions, answer them. If they ask if it’s going to hurt, be honest. You can answer as simply as saying “Maybe a little – but not for long and you’ll have medicine to make it feel better.”
Our children’s hospital here has tours available every week for upcoming patients. If you think your child will be nervous, or if you are looking at a more significant hospital stay, go with your child to take the tour. Often seeing the rooms and hallways will make your child more familiar with the hospital, subsequently helping alleviate the anxiety and the unknown for them. Plus, our tour ended with a popsicle and the nurses told our kids that as soon as they were awake from surgery, they could have a popsicle then too. I thought that was so smart of the nurses because it gave us something to look forward to when we came back for our procedure. It seems like a small thing, but to our little guys, it was huge!
On the Day of Surgery:
If there’s a toy, blanket or stuffed animal (or all three!) that your child wants to take with them, let them. If it helps ease their worries and/or keeps them remotely entertained through the waiting and surgery preparation, then, by all means, take all the toys. Similarly, I like to order a little new toy of some sort to throw in my hospital bag. That way, we have something brand new to keep us occupied and also, it’s just a nice and special little treat.
I’m also a big fan of the iPad or tablet for the surgery waiting and prep for your child. If they love having that electronics time, now is the time. Let them wear it out while they wait.
In addition, dress them in something very comfortable and keep in mind what kind of procedure is being done. If they are having tubes put in their ears, bring a button up shirt that doesn’t have to go back over their heads and possibly hurt their ears. When our oldest had hernia surgery, he was going to have several incisions in the belly and groin area. We made sure to bring some comfy zip-up pajamas so he didn’t have a waistband of pants squishing his brand-new incisions.
The next most important item on the to-do list is to prepare yourself. No one is going to benefit if you are a basket case. Your child will take their cues from you, so you best get your game face on. If you are nervous, figure out how to hide it well.
If you want to shed a tear after they are wheeled off to surgery and out of your sight, go right ahead. I know I sure did (and still do). Just keep it bright and sunny for your little one because they will need that reassurance from you.
Self-Care Ahead of Time
The night before, try and get as much sleep as you can. Most likely you will be heading to the hospital early and it will certainly be a long day. Moreover, the subsequent days are likely to
Make sure you feed yourself well. Above all, this is not the day to eat junk food. Eat a nice, balanced, and hearty breakfast, and have nourishing foods for your meals the rest of the day too. During the procedure, you will likely already be super antsy, no need to add a doughnut sugar rush to the experience… not that I’ve done the leg work on this particular issue. It’s probably also not the day for a triple espresso shot either. Again… I might have done the research on this… don’t do it. In short, feed yourself well as much as possible.
In addition to eating well, I also like to make a few meals ahead of surgery time so that I’ve got dinner covered for the next few nights. That way you can just throw it in the oven or microwave and heat it up and you’ve got instant delicious dinner for your family.
Prepare the Home
Next on the list is to get your home prepared. I can’t stand sitting around in a super messy house and I think it’s stressful to look at. I know my little guy is going to need my focus and attention, so I need to get the house cleaned up and ready to go before we have the surgery.
I try to make sure the laundry is all caught up and put away. I like to change the sheets on all the beds, especially the patient, the morning before we leave for the hospital. Fresh sheets are just wonderful and soothing. And I make double sure that we have an extra set of clean sheets for everyone involved in case anyone gets sick from the medicines or anesthesia.
For that same reason, make sure the washing machine is ready and available. You never know when you might need to throw emergency laundry in the wash. That’s not the time to realize that you have a load of towels in there from two days ago that you forgot to put in the dryer. (Anyone else? Anyone? No? Just me? Sure. Fine. I stand alone…)
Grocery and Drug Store Supplies
I go to the grocery store and make sure we are all stocked up on the food we will need for several days. In particular, I make sure we have some of the very favorite treats of whichever child is having the surgery. Certainly, if it’s oral surgery, make sure you have lots of ice cream, popsicles, and frozen treats.
I also run to the drug store and make sure I’m stocked up on basic medicine for the kids like Motrin and Tylenol. Also, make sure you’ve got bandages stocked as well. Chances are they won’t need pain meds for too long, and you may be able to supplement the pain meds with Motrin. So, have some on hand just in case. (It goes without saying, but let’s just say it for safety’s sake. I’m not a doctor. Unless your doctor tells you it’s ok to mix medicines, DON’T.)
For entertainment, I make sure we have a new movie or two to watch. Also, it’s a good time to get a few new iPad games or Nintendo (or whatever the kids are playing these days…) game. Especially if you are going to need to keep your child still and resting for a few days.
To be extra sneaky, I like to make a comfy bed on the couch with our ottoman and some blankets. This makes it fun to “Camp-Out” on the couch while you can snuggle up and your child can be still. And if they need some middle of the night care, you can go to the couch and just stay there if they happen to go back to sleep. And bonus, you can sit and rest with your child too, because I’m betting you will be tired and need it.
The last big area to prepare is your family members. Especially any siblings in the house. Let them know what to expect and if they need to be careful or quiet around the patient when they get home. Make sure they know (assuming they are old enough to understand) if there is anything they can’t or shouldn’t do around the patient.
Depending on how much of a recovery your child will have, it might be a good time for any siblings to have some time at Grandma’s house. As a result, the kids at Grandma’s house feel special having one on one time with Grandma and it also lets you focus on your recovering child. If Grandma lives out of town, maybe she can come and stay with you for a few days. That will greatly help you be able to focus on your child.
Don’t overlook a new treat for your child or children that didn’t have any surgery. For example, I usually order a new toy for the child having the surgery AND a new toy for the one that didn’t have anything done. A new toy will help keep everyone occupied and at the same time, it reminds your child that didn’t have anything done, that they are still special too. It’s just that Mommy has to take extra care of brother right now.
Above all, try to have realistic expectations for your time at home after your child’s surgery. Especially, if you have taken a few days off. This isn’t going to be the time you re-organize the entire house or put in new landscaping. Just take it easy with your child.
What to Pack:
For your child
The hospital will tell you if there is anything out of the ordinary that you might need to bring with you. For a quick day surgery, I would suggest packing these items:
- New toy
- Favorite toy, blanket, stuffed animal, etc
- Favorite snack (for after the surgery – IF APPROVED BY STAFF)
- Sippy Cup (Our kids are pretty particular about their cups – so I bring one from home)
- Comfy clothes (a few sets, in case of nausea and vomiting)
- Phone with charger
- Small cosmetic bag (contact case, solution, glasses, chapstick, toothbrush) – Just in Case
- Change of clothes (In case your child gets sick on you)
- Any paperwork you need for the hospital
- A few small snacks
- Ibuprofen or Tylenol – You will be pretty tense and you may start to feel sore. Especially if you are leaning over the bed to snuggle on your child. I thought my back was surely going to snap in half more than once leaning over the recovery bed.
Wrapping It Up
To sum up, no matter how minor the surgery, if it’s your child, it’s still nerve-wracking. It’s my sincere hope that you never have to use any of this advice. But if you do, I think I’ve compiled a list here that should get you off to a really great start in helping your child (and yourself) get through the surgery and recovery period.