Preparing Your Child for Surgery
Dealing with Infants
Even though they can’t yet talk, infants are very sensitive to their surroundings and can easily get disturbed by the hospital environment. They are acutely sensitive to the pitch of their caregivers’ voice and their mannerisms. So if you are tensed, your infant will feel the stress too. Lower your anxiety levels, remain calm and composed, and stick to a routine to help your infant cope better with the surgery. Carry their security blanket if they are used to one, whether it’s the pacifier, a favorite blanket, or a stuffed toy. As compared to older kids, infants will need extra comforting. Sometimes, surgery is carried out on an empty stomach, so if your child has to go with little or no food for a day, it is going to make him very cranky. They may even demand to be held more often than usual. Hold your baby close and offer all the comfort you can.
Dealing with Toddlers and Preschoolers
An age when children can’t yet fully communicate their wants, but still want to be independent. You might want to ask your pediatrician to have a friendly talk with your little one about the hospital visit. One of the best things you can do to allay their fears is to buy a doctor set and play with them. Kids this age love role-play, and this will prove the ideal setting for you to explain what might happen on the day of surgery. Take turns playing the doctor and then the patient so your child gets a better understanding of the scenario. You could even use his stuffed toy as the patient with your kid enacting the role of the doctor to better explain what a surgical procedure seems like. Always use child-friendly language. It might be a good idea to take your kid for a tour of the hospital facility, and familiarize him with the settings. On the day of surgery, bring along their favorite toy, books and DVDs.
Dealing with School-aged Children
Children of this age are much more mature and a lot more curious than toddlers and preschoolers, so expect to be bombarded with numerous questions about the surgery. Explain why he or she needs to undergo the procedure. Kids can sometimes be fraught with guilt and feel that surgery is a way they are being reprimanded for behaving badly. Explain that this is not true, and the surgery is being carried out simply to fix a problem. Take them on a hospital tour, where they can see and understand for themselves where they would be during the surgery. Explain terms like anesthesia, surgeon, operating room, operation, and the fact that they will meet many nurses and doctors at the hospital. Inform them what all steps are followed before the actual surgery takes place (they might not be allowed to have food, they will have to change into a hospital gown, the nurse will take initial readings like temperature and weight, etc.). Talk about the fact that once it’s all over, they may see some body part (where the surgery took place) covered in bandages, and it is nothing to be scared of, and it will be taken off in no time once they recover. Emphasize that they will feel better very soon. Offer a lot of hugs; it provides children the physical reassurance to feel safe and secure.
School-going children may have seen surgery or a hospital setting on TV, and may have a wrong idea about the whole thing. Clearly state that whatever they saw on TV is not the real thing. Never ever tell them they are big kids now and should not cry. This can have an undesirable effect. They might just keep their fears to themselves, for fear of being ridiculed. For them, a surgical procedure can be terrifying. So encourage them gently to voice any concerns they may have and discuss and soothe their fears. Tell them it’s perfectly normal to feel scared and even angry, and there’s nothing wrong if they want to cry. In fact, crying will help your child by providing an outlet for all the bottled up feelings he harbors about the hospital and surgery.
Watch how you phrase your words. Phrases like “anesthesia will put you to sleep” should be strictly avoided. Children generally associate “put to sleep” with animals, especially when animals are euthanized. The phrase might actually scare them if they think they too will never wake up from surgery. Also carefully explain that there might be a bit of pain after the surgery has been completed, and that doctors will give medicines to get rid of it.
Helping Children After the Procedure
Children, especially infants and toddlers, can be excessively irritable after the surgery and difficult to console. Handling them might be tougher, especially if they can’t be picked up and held yet. The fussiness could be because they are hungry, in considerable pain, or side effects of the anesthesia haven’t yet completely faded which can make them feel groggy. If you are alone, take help from friends and family, especially if you have other kids to look after. Once the child enters the recuperative stage, follow all the instructions prescribed by the doctor. Give the prescribed medication on time, without fail. Older children might like a visit from other family members and friends, so ask your loved ones to pay them a visit. Visiting friends and family can be a welcome distraction from pain. Decorate your child’s room with balloons, so when he wakes up, he will be pleased and remain cheerful.
A child undergoing surgery is not a pleasant scenario, and something no family should ever have to go through. Remember that as the parent, your child will look up to you for comfort and support. So it’s essential that you do not neglect yourself and take good care in the days leading up to the surgery, and accept any help that comes your way, without hesitation. This will help you as a family cope with the stress of the imminent surgery in a better way. Children will pick on the tone of your voice and your emotions, so stay composed, however anxious you are. Abide by the doctor’s guidelines about any special aftercare procedures, so your child will recuperate faster.