Preparing your child for surgery

Last week my daughter had surgery. We knew ahead of time that she would be staying overnight. As you can imagine there was a lot of anxiety and questions surrounding the surgery and being in a hospital. In her short 7 years she had never had to have surgery and to her, hospitals were where women went to have babies or where her great grandparents went when they were sick. The unknown can create havoc for adults and children alike but there are things you can do to help calm the nerves and make the unknown less scary.

I want to share how we prepped our daughter for her surgery and what we packed for the hospital. Feeling prepared going into the situation creates a sense of peace which allows for better decision making and presence – both of which are imperative during a circumstance like surgery. You will need to be calm for your child. You will be answering lots of questions (and repeating yourself to multiple personnel) and you may need to make unexpected decisions. Being prepared doesn’t take all the jitters or emotions away but it does help you navigate them from a place of peace.

Before I proceed, please remember that my suggestions are what worked for my daughter and family and by no means is a definitive plan that will work for everyone. Things will need to be tweaked or our ideas may spark a new idea for you. My purpose is to provide a starting point.

Pre-surgery Prep:

o   My daughter had a lot of questions about surgery so we shared some experiences from different family members who had surgeries. This showed her that she was not alone and that others have gone through a similar experience. We gave her an opportunity to ask questions and answered them with age appropriate honesty. (You know your child and how much is too much or too little to not cause more angst.)

o   We hopped online and took a look at the hospital rooms we would stay in after her surgery. She knew the hospital because we see certain doctors in the outpatient building but she had never been on an inpatient floor. The familiarity with the hospital was helpful because she already knew where she was going.

o   She and I talked about the operating room prep area. This is where she would get her blood   pressure, temperature, pulse ox and so on taken. She would need to put on a hospital gown, take her earrings out, mommy would have to answer lots of questions, everyone would want to meet her and say hello…you get the idea.

o   We talked about the “flavored air” that would help her body get sleepy and ready for surgery. I assured her that I would stay with her until she was asleep. We also talked a little about the people that would be in the room to help her and the doctor.

o   We also promised her that I would be there as soon as she came out of the surgery.

o   I had a long talk with the pre-surgical and anesthesia teams BEFORE the day of the operation. I wanted all my concerns noted and questions answered.

o   I put together a folder with all the information I may need…notes from the doctor visit when we set up the surgery, phone call notes leading up to the surgery, a copy of the labs that were to be drawn that day (it was in the computer but things can get missed), etc. This helps you feel confident answering questions and assures that things go as smoothly as possible. It also helps the surgical team make sure they have everything in place.

o   My daughter helped me prepare for the day. It made her anxious to physically pack the bag so instead, she and I made a list of what she wanted to bring and what she would need. I got it all together and she approved it before I packed our bags.

o   The day before surgery we talked about what she would not being able to eat, that Jell-O counted as a clear liquid and she could have it for breakfast, and that after the surgery she could eat and drink whatever she wanted when she felt up to it.

All of the information about what to expect could also be made into a social story or booklet to help your child as well. Another idea would be to have a picture of your surgeon so they become a familiar face prior to the surgery, especially if they are not someone your child knows well. Older or more inquisitive children may like to see pictures of the instruments and tools used during surgery. Take cues from your child as there is a fine line between what will help ease the anxiety and fears of the situation and what will make it worse

I wanted to make the surgery and hospital stay as comfortable and “normal” as possible for my daughter. In order to do that I made sure we brought things from home that would help create a comfortable, familiar and peaceful space.

Items we packed:

* Familiar items such as her own pillow, blanket, pajamas, lovies
The key to this is to wash everything you can before the surgery and store them in Ziploc bags or space bags. (There are ones that you can roll the air out instead of using a vacuum – fabulous.) This helps cut down on the risk of infection and will allow your child to have their special lovie or stuffed animal accompany them to the OR and recovery. (Of course, you need to check with the facility about their specific rules.) We set aside the pillow, blanket and pajamas for after the surgery when we got into a room.
The Ziploc or space bags were great to pack to go home in also. It was easy to take them right from the car to the washing machine when we arrived home.

* Washcloths…you can use them to help calm itchy skin, to cool off, use as a distraction or even to lightly wash up
I brought Norwex body cloths with us. They are lightweight microfiber cloths that are super soft and gentle on the skin. They also have a self-cleansing component which I liked for being in a hospital. I packed them in a Ziploc bag and put the used ones in a separate bag to transport home.

* Thieves spray
I used Thieves spray on remotes, keyboards, chairs, sides of hospital beds, bed trays, door knobs, bathroom sinks and toilets…you get the idea. It is a quick and effective way to sanitize the environment with no chemicals or harsh scents.

* Essential oils and portable diffuser (of course speak to your doctor/facility before bringing and using)
We use essential oils all the time and I had used them when my husband was in the hospital a few years ago, so I knew how helpful they were. I also brought a portable diffuser. After the surgery, I put a calming blend in the diffuser and sat it next to her bed. It was a lovely way to help calm everyone and the nurses loved the scent, too.
I also brought lemon essential oil. A little dab of this on a cotton ball helps get off the residue from the sticky pads they put on to monitor you during the surgery, without alcohol or harsh rubbing. I applied a little coconut oil afterwards to soothe the area.
When we were about to be discharged, they took out her IV and I dabbed on a little lavender essential oil mixed with some coconut oil to help protect and soothe the area.

* Own tissues and toilet paper
This may sound silly but trust me, having soft tissues and toilet paper can make a world of difference. You may be able to skip the toilet paper, my daughter requested it so it came with us.

* Medical Folder (copies, organize paperwork given, etc.)
I mentioned this above but it is great to put all your discharge papers in along with any other information you need to keep track of when you leave the hospital. Everything being in one spot is a life saver.

* Face wipes and toothbrush (a small toiletry bag filled with your essentials)
Being able to freshen up makes you feel like a new person!

* Calming activities (bubbles, coloring books, fidgets, books, etc.)
There are child life specialists in hospitals who can visit with your child and often a playroom you can visit (depending on your child’s situation). I found having my own bag of tricks is better and everything was on hand at the moment we needed it.

I want to leave you with one very important note. Be nice to your nurses! They are there to help you and more importantly, your child. I can tell you from our experiences they will also advocate for you and your child. I hope these suggestions help make your child less anxious if they face a scary surgical procedure.

Taralee is an educator, advocate, philanthropist and a published author.

She has passionately contributed to the fields of special education and early childhood education since 1998, meeting her student’s and client’s needs in the home, school and community. She excels at recognizing each child’s unique gift and successfully ignites their love of learning through exploration, discovery and play. It is through this work that "Inspired Education" was born. As a philanthropist, Taralee served as the President and member of the Board of Trustees for the Southern Regional New Jersey Early Intervention Collaborative for 8 years.

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