Friday, May 26, 2017

7 Tips for Going Through Surgery With Your Child


A couple weeks ago I took Johnny to the hospital to get new ear tubes put in his ears and to have his adenoids removed. This was the 6th surgery Johnny has had since he was born almost 4 years ago. I feel like I've become a bit of a pro at going through surgery with a kid. I'd certainly rather I were a pro at some other parenting skill, but this is what I've been given. So I thought I might as well pass on my treasure trove of knowledge to the world wide web. Hopefully this post will always be irrelevant for you. But if you ever do end up needing it, I hope it will be helpful.

Here's what I've learned.


1. Fasting is the worst. The required fasting before surgery is so hard for a little kid who can't understand why a meal might be delayed a few minutes, much less a few hours. If you can, schedule surgery for as early in the morning as possible. That way you can just wake up your child and load him or her into the car, leaving no time to even wonder where breakfast is. If that's not possible, distract, distract, distract.


When Johnny was still nursing and couldn't eat or drink before surgery, Alex would be the one on baby duty and I would hang out in a different room. No mom, no milk. Once we got to the hospital there was enough going on to distract him so that he wasn't constantly wanting to nurse.


Now that Johnny is older distracting him means putting on a favorite movie and getting out all the annoying toys. When he asks for breakfast I tell him that we are going to the doctor soon and he can have something when we got home. He seems to understand this at least a little, because he stopped asking for food.


Ear tubes, 2016
Ear tubes, 2017. The fire trucks have saved us from meltdowns twice!


2. Distract again. Once you arrive at the hospital, you may still end up waiting around quite a while before it's time for surgery, and your kid still can't eat anything. So bring lots of stuff to do! Our children's hospital has tons of toys in the waiting area of the surgery center. They also bring you more toys once you're in your pre-op room. I don't know if this is normal for children's hospitals or not, so you may want to bring some of your own toys, or coloring books. Johnny had been given a book of Minions stickers from his Grandma to bring with on this most recent surgery day.

If your surgery is inpatient, and you're going to be in the hospital for a few days, these items will also be helpful in distracting and entertaining your child while he or she recovers from surgery.


3. Bring a lovey. Johnny's lovey is Zebra. Zebra has been with Johnny for all of his surgeries. He gets to carry it with him, it stays with him during surgery, and is there when he wakes up.


Zebra with us for Johnny's 2nd surgery at 4 months old. 


At this most recent surgery they gave Johnny a tiny air mask to practice putting on Zebra, so that when it was his turn it wouldn't be as scary. Well, it was still scary for him, but he had Zebra and Mama with him for comfort.


4. It's ok to be upset. Like I mentioned before, I've become kind of a pro at taking my kid in for surgery. This time around I thought I was doing pretty good. It was just outpatient surgery, it would only last about 30 minutes total. We've definitely been through longer and scarier procedures. But when the time came to take Johnny in to the OR, I couldn't help but feel the lump in my throat, and the burning in my eyes.


It's OK to be upset when your child has surgery, big or small. It's ok to be scared when your baby goes through something that is scary for them. It's not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of love, concern, and empathy. And it actually is a scary thing, entrusting your child's health and safety to someone else. But while you may feel sad and scared, don't despair, pray, and do remember that the doctors know what they're doing.


Johnny after his very first surgery. He was 3 days old. 


5. Waking up can be rough. It might seem like saying goodbye to your kiddo before surgery is the worst part of this ordeal, but seeing them right after they wake up can be hard too. Depending on your hospitals protocol, they may still be asleep, hooked up to machines and monitors, or have wounds or bandages, which can look scary. They may be awake, disoriented, and in some pain and upset about it, which can also be scary. Or they maybe laying in bed groggy and bleary-eyed, but comfortable.

Whatever state your child is in, the important thing is that you are with them. It will comfort them to see you and know they're not alone. You can also help advocate for your child if you think they need more pain management or anything else.


6. Bring some support for yourself. For this most recent procedure I took Johnny to the hospital by myself. I didn't really have a choice. Alex can't miss a day or rotations unless it is an emergency. My mom was staying with Trixie. My dad and other family were working. And my friends either work or are home with their own babes. I thought I would be fine to take Johnny on my own, because it was just outpatient, and we've been through this before. But by the time we were done I was completely drained.


Having another grown up around is really helpful, even if the procedure your child is going through is minor, and all the more so if it is higher risk. It makes such a difference to have an extra set of hands to help hold kids, play with kids, get water, carry stuff to and from the car, if you're pumping to wash those stupid pump parts for the millionth time, wait with you during the surgery, and be emotional support.

If your child is going to be in the hospital for a few days make sure you are not stuck in the hospital the entire time. You will want to be by your child's side every minute of their hospital stay, but it will be good for you to get out a few times. Take turns with your spouse, or have another family member come so that you can step out of the hospital for some fresh air, go for a walk, or go home and shower in your own bathroom.

It's ok to take a break. In fact, it will be good for you. In order to take good care of your child you have to take care of yourself too.

7. Keep asking until you're satisfied. As your child's parent you are their number one advocate. It is important you understand what's going on and that you are happy with the care your child is receiving. So ask questions. If there is anything you don't understand, ask about it. If you concerned about something, ask about it. If you are unhappy about the way something was done, ask, nicely, about it.


It is true that there is no such thing as a stupid question. My experience has always been that health care providers are more than happy to answer questions and talk through anything with you until you feel good about it. No question is too small or too silly when it comes to your peace of mind and your kiddos healthcare.


Sweet snuggles after surgery in January 2014, 9 months old.

Linking up with Kelly for some quick takes!

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