Recently, I was a guest of our local hospital getting some surgery done on my nose (I will save you the details) and I noticed several children getting prepped for operations. In fact, the doctor that did mine, before she got to me, she did an adenoid operation on a little tyke that could not have been much more than two.
Face it, surgery at any age is scary, heck even I was scared and my surgery was pretty minor and only a half an hour long and I am an adult! Imagine what it would be like for a child who has no idea what is going on?
The nurses at the hospital that I was at are the best and they were very nice to me (I was alone, my parents had left and my hubby was coming later after my surgery as he would have just had to wait till I was out of surgery.) I can not imagine taking a child there, yet, it needs to be done sometimes. How do you as a parent get your child ready for their upcoming surgery?
One thing you can do to prepare your child is visit the library or go online. There are picture books available for children that show what it is like to be in the hospital and have an operation. There is a good one about Franklin the Turtle who must go to the hospital to get his shell repaired. Take some time, and do some research and tell your child what to expect. You could even purchase a doctors kit for your child and have them play with it with their teddy bear. They can take the temperature and pulse of the bear and bandage it up and even pretend to perform surgery on the bear. This will also help elevate fears.
Explain the problem at their level of understanding. Do not use such terms as cutting you; opening you up; sewing you up; putting you to sleep (they might confuse this with what is done to the family pet); you just need to tell them that the doctor is going to fix them up and when they wake up, though they feel kind of yucky right now, in time, they will feel much better. Assure them that they can take a favourite toy or stuffy with them. One of the little girls that went into the operating room before me had a little stuffed doll that was brought out with mom as soon as she was put under and was no doubt returned to her when she woke up.
Two of the greatest fears that are felt by young children (both preschool and school aged) are a) the fear of abandonment by their parents and b) the fear of pain. Explain to your child that the surgery is to fix a problem, not create a new one.
Be sure to anticipate the reaction of your child. Most children will react in a fearful manner. You will need to emphasize that fear, anxiety and their response to pain is quite ok and very normal.
Since most minor surgery is done in the day surgery unit, chances are, your child will not have to stay over night. (a girl that had the same doctor as I, whose operation was to follow mine, was having her tonsils out, which was also day surgery.) Also, most hospitals in both the United States and Canada allow at least one parent to be with the child prior to the operation (they will send you out when the child is asleep) and will allow you to come into recovery when your child wakes up.
Remember, it is not only the words you communicate, but the way you communicate and more importantly, your non verbal way also tells your child that there is no need to worry and that everything will be fine. If you are lucky enough, some hospitals offer a pre-operation tour, programs for children before their surgery or family orientations which are run by people who are trained to deal with questions and fears that a child might have.
When the day of the surgery arrives, do your best to soothe your child (they might not have slept well the night before, so they might be extra upset because of their tiredness). When you arrive in the waiting room prior to surgery, you can use the room that they have set aside for children. Be sure to cuddle with your child just that little bit extra and let them know that you will be there when they wake up. You will no doubt be able to accompany your child into surgery and be asked to wait in the waiting room until the surgery is finished, then someone will come get you, so you can be in the recovery room when your child wakes up. During that time, you can obtain further instructions on care of your child and when your follow up appointment will be or when you need to consult the doctor again.
During the recovery of your child, there will be discomfort, allow them to have a special treat (mine was some salt water taffy and my favourite books, some tasty soup and knowing that I did not have to do housework for a few days!) and remember that this was another hurdle that you as a parent succeeded in clearing and another one that you deserve a pat on the back for!