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Preparing Your Child for Surgery

What is surgery and why is it important? 

Many children need to have surgery, also called an operation. But what does this mean and why is it important? 

On this page, you will find information to share with your child about having surgery, written in terms Child Life Specialists believe children can easily understand.

child interacting with nurse

How to Explain Surgery to Kids

  • Sometimes children are born with a body part that did not grow right or does not work well and the doctor can make it better with surgery. 
  • There are many common surgeries for children
    • Sometimes kids have to have surgery to put special tubes in their ears to help prevent ear infections and to help them hear better.
    • If a kid gets sore throats over and over again he/she will need to have their tonsils removed.
    • Other times kids might be hurt in an accident and the doctor will help a bone or body part heal better with surgery.
    • Maybe they have a lot of dental work to get done and it is easier to do it with the sleep medicine.
  • When someone has an operation that means they will need a kind of medicine called anesthesia. Anesthesia is medicine that gives kids and grown-ups a "medicine sleep" and they cannot feel anything at all. They don't even dream.  When the surgery is finished the doctor stops giving the medicine and the person wakes up.

Your job for the day of a planned surgery and before:

  • Please be sure to ask the doctor or nurses any questions you have about your surgery.
  • Remember to follow all of the instructions for the day of surgery like not eating or drinking anything after midnight. You get to drink some apple juice or eat a Popsicle after your surgery is over.
  • Think of things you can do to help you stay relaxed or less nervous about having surgery. Did you know that when your body is relaxed you body heals better?
  • Bring a stuffed animal or blanket with you.
  • Take big, deep breaths.
  • Think of your favorite things or a special place.
  • Hold a loved one's hand.
  • Remember you are having surgery to help your body be better and healthier.
  • Most kids go home after their surgery, but some kids stay in the hospital for a day or two. A family member can stay with you in your hospital room if you do stay.

The surgery center is a very busy place where you will see lots of doctors and nurses taking care of other kids and grown-ups that need to have an operation just like you. They will be wearing "scrubs" or hospital clothes, and some doctors and nurses will have on cool, colorful "doctor" hats. You will get to wear a "doctor" hat too.

What happens on a typical day of surgery?

  • On the day of your surgery, you will arrive at Patient Registration where you will speak with the receptionist and let her know that you have arrived.
  • Next, you will be directed to the pre-op area. This is where you get ready for surgery. You will change into hospital pajamas and meet the people who will help with your surgery.
  • The nurses and doctors taking care of you will check your temperature and listen to your heart beat and breathing. They will talk with your parents and ask a lot of questions about your health.

Child eating popsicle in hospital bed

  • You will meet a child life specialist who can teach you more about your surgery and everything that will happen and talk to you about ways to stay relaxed or feel less nervous. She also has games and activities.
  • While you are waiting for surgery you can watch TV, play in the playroom, play a video game, color and draw or play a board game. 
  • You can also bring your IPOD/MP3 player so you can listen to music before your surgery.
  • If you are about 10 years old or younger you will probably drink some relaxing medicine before you go to the operating room. 
  • If you are older than 10 years old, you get this medicine through your IV that will be started in the pre-op area. We use numbing medicines to help make getting an IV easier.
  • A stuffed animal or special comfort item can go with you to the operating room.
  • When it is time for surgery, you will get to give hugs and kisses and say "see you soon" to your loved ones. 
  • Nurses who work in the operating room will roll you on your bed to the operating room and stay with you the whole time you are having surgery.
  • When the surgery is over, the doctor will speak to your family about your surgery and then two family members will meet you in the recovery room.
  • You will usually spend about one hour in the recovery room while the sleeping medicine or anesthesia wears off a little bit.
  • Depending on the type of surgery, you may go home the same day or spend a night or several days in the pediatric unit.