My son has been in speech therapy for quite some time now, and we’ve known he may need surgery at some point. Without getting into too many details, the issues he was facing was affecting his speech and his breathing so we decided it would be best to correct it now.
This was our son’s first surgery, so we were extremely nervous and anxious leading up to the scheduled date. I knew I was going to prepare him in advance and bought books to help do so, but left it all until a few days before because it just made me so upset to talk about it with him. The things that were weighing heavy on my mind the most were:
-Thinking about the anesthesia and how risky it is. What if he doesn’t wake up or has an allergic reaction? I just felt like maybe it wasn’t worth the risk…
-I blamed myself, I thought maybe he had inherited this from me. But funny enough, the doctor checked both my husband and I’s mouth and it was totally inherited from my husband so I had all this mom guilt for nothing!!
-I thought he would hate us when he woke up and realized what we had done. I literally was freaking out about him never trusting us again. He ended up with 17 stitches in his mouth, so yes it was going to be tough to explain that sort of trauma to a 3.5-year-old.
Despite all of the anxiety and stress leading up to the surgery, if you plan ahead and put some effort in, there are ways you can make the surgery experience for your child and you less daunting. Here are some things that worked for us, take what applies to your situation, noting things will vary by age and type of surgery that is being performed however:
1. Prepare your child. I got books about hospitals and surgery so that he could relate to the characters in the stories and also learn about doctors, hospitals and some of the tools he may see while he’s there. There was one book we got about tonsils being removed and since his was an oral surgery, I felt like he could relate to this story.
2. Meal Plan. Because his surgery was oral, I knew his diet would be limited. So we made popsicles, Jell-O, baby food, pre-prepped Ziploc bags of chopped fruit for smoothies and ice cream together and I told him that after his visit to the hospital he would get all of these special treats. He was so excited!
3. We did surgical play with props. I let him check my mouth with a flashlight to look at my tonsils like the book he was reading and we took turns playing doctor and patient.
4. I talked about how fun the hospital visit will be and how when he wakes up from his nap, he will get to open a special gift. I showed him a wrapped gift before we left for the hospital and reminded him that when he woke up he could open it.
5. We talked about the “magic mask” (anesthesia/gas mask) and when he got to the hospital they gave him one to put on his Yoda stuffed animal to practice.
6. No one was allowed to eat or drink in front of him the morning of. Or, in fact, after the surgery… My husband ate his late lunch in his office at home and I would run in and sneak bites.
7. We made sure we had all the pain medicine we needed beforehand, both Tylenol and Motrin so we wouldn’t run out.
8. Have simple activities ready, or download/purchase some movies for a nice relaxing day post-surgery. A friend of ours dropped off a nice little gift, a magnet coloring kit that he spent hours playing with. They left it at the door with a nice little note which was a wonderful surprise upon arriving home from a long day at the hospital.
Overall, our son was surprisingly cool as a cucumber upon arriving at the hospital. I thought he would be in a panic that day as he doesn’t adjust to change very well. However, he walked in the hospital, asked for his doctor and acted like he was in charge of the place. He was interacting with the staff the entire time, laughing and having a great time with them all! I think all of the stories we read made it super exciting for him to go to the hospital.
One thing I recommend is preparing yourselves for the big day. We spent so much time preparing our son, we didn’t think of us and we had a few surprises. The first being, only one of us could go in the room pre-surgery with him for the anesthesia. Since we didn’t prepare for that, we quickly decided that I would go. I had no idea what to expect and as he was strapped to the table, four people held his arms and legs down as he slowly went under. I cried HYSTERICALLY as I watched his little body desperately fight to stay awake. FYI: apparently this is totally normal, I just wish I had mentally prepared for that part because it truly broke my heart. I couldn’t breath and felt an immense amount of guilt that I was doing this to him. Another unexpected moment was that he was a complete nut when he woke up from the anesthesia and didn’t want anyone, or anything and was just screaming no to everything! They warned us about that but it was pretty shocking to witness your child behave so out of character. He spit medicine in my face and screamed that he didn’t want any of his favorite tv shows that we downloaded either. It was some pretty wild behavior that we were almost wanting to laugh at because it was so crazy and you could tell he was just loopy coming back to his normal self.
All in all, it doesn’t have to be a scary and horrible situation. Kids are so incredibly resilient and if you prepare them well enough, they can handle going into a situation like this. Just remember parents, prepare yourself as well!
Please share this with anyone who is worried about a child’s upcoming surgery, and comment below on some ways you prepared your family members for a surgery so that everyone has access to a collective group of ideas that we can all use in the future.
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