What to expect when your child has day surgery

I had thought that I was an old hat when it came to having a child go through day surgery, we went through so many with Ethan when he was a baby that I naïvely thought I knew what to expect. Alas, surgery for a 3 month old and a 7 year old are vastly different.

Ethan in PICU under sedation

On an emotional level, I think regardless of age and previous experience, there will always be a level of fear that takes over when your child has surgery.

Approximately 7 out of 10 surgeries can be performed as a day surgery, so chances are that if your child needs surgery, they’ll be in and out within the day.

In the weeks or so leading up to the procedure you will get official confirmation of the appointment and instructions from the hospital as what you need to do to ensure your child is ready for surgery.

**Please read the letters, notes and instructions and follow them, to ensure you and your child are as prepared as possible**

Before surgery day

Each child will react to the news they need surgery differently, you know your child, so judge accordingly.

Ahren is a worrier. We knew if he had too long to dwell on his surgery he’d panic and get himself in to a state. So we waited until 2 days before his surgery to tell him. This wont be ideal for every child, but for Ahren it worked out perfectly, a mild freak out and some reassurance from us and he was ok, not jumping for joy, but he didn’t have to wait too long for it to be over with.

We went over the procedure with him, what to expect before, during and after. He rather liked the idea of a day time nap whilst his brother was at school!

Morning of surgery day

Depending on the timing of the surgery, your child will be allowed a small breakfast and then have to starve until after their surgery. We followed our usual morning routine until 7:30. We kept Ahren distracted with games, reading and other such activities all in hopes of keeping his mind off his surgery and the fact he couldn’t eat or drink.

It also helped me, keeping him distracted stopped me dwelling on it!

Booking in for day surgery

Having arrived at hospital and reported to the reception desk we were seen by a nurse, anaesthetist and surgeon. Each of them took the time to introduce themselves to Ahren and explain hat they would be doing. This helped immensely with calming both his and my nerves. This is also standard practice from our experience over the years, even in an emergency situation, someone has come out to explain what was going on.

Prepping for surgery

Depending on the type of surgery, your child may have to change in to hospital gown.

You are then taken in to the room where your child will be knocked out. Once your child is on the bed the nurse will attempt to distract him, most likely with some sort of ‘Where’s Wally’ picture on the wall whilst the anaesthetist is placing the mask over their mouth. As your child chats away they are slowly being ‘taken under’ and before you know it, they’re asleep.

Now, this is where it can get scary, it’s normal for your child to “fight” the anaesthesia.

Ahren literately tried to throw himself off the bed whilst bending himself in half, the nurses expect this and have lightening fast reactions. It looks horrible, but is a normal reaction and nothing to worry about, I wish I had been warned of this before hand.

At this point you can give your child a quick kiss and you’ll be escorted to the waiting area whilst your child is whisked away for surgery.


Whilst you wait

I’ve passed more hours whilst my children are in surgery than I care to count, so I’ve learnt a thing or two about those hours.

Go for a walk. Not too far, you want to stay close to the hospital, just don’t wait in the waiting room. Every time a door opens, an alarm sounds or a nurse hurries past you will assume the worst, don’t do that to yourself.

Get a coffee, make phone calls or go have a cry if you need to.

You’ll be given an approximate timescale for when your child is due to be in Recovery, make sure you are back about 10 minutes or so before then.

Waiting in recovery and discharge

Each child reacts differently, some take awhile to come back round and others, like Ahren, wake up raring to go and ready to walk out the door.

Take heed of the aftercare instructions, even if your child seems 100% they’re still recovering from surgery, no matter how minor. Ask any questions you have, if in doubt about something, ask!

Also make sure you have been given contact details for after hour emergency care.

Back at home

A slow and lazy rest period is ideal, don’t let them feast after their pre-surgery starving, simple and bland is best until all the surgery drugs are out of their system.

Follow the instructions from the discharging nurse, if they say take the following day off school, no matter how alert your child seems in the morning, keep them off school.

Before you know it, your child will be back to their usual self and you can put the worry away until the next worrisome parenting moment.