What to Expect When Your Child Needs Surgery


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On Friday Jude had his first experience in a hospital. He had an inguinal hernia for which he needed surgery to correct. When I was about his age I had the same surgery but I know idea what to expect as a parent. So I documented our experience at the hospital to share with other parents who may be have to prepare their child for surgery. Jude’s was a fairly simple outpatient procedure so we were in and out of the hospital in about 5 hours. Our hospital has an excellent children’s surgery center and did a wonderful job keep both us and Jude calm and informed.

To help him prepare for surgery we let Jude pack a bag with some of his favorite items.

Jude packed…

  • Books
  • Computer Tablet for playing games/watching shows
  • Change of Clothes
  • Toys
  • Stuffed Animal/Lovey

I also packed a back with items I though we might need during the day.

I packed in my bag…

  • Insurance Card
  • Completed Hospital paperwork
  • Cash
  • Snacks for Joe and I while we waited
  • Water
  • Cell Phone
  • Cell Phone Charger

Jude wasn’t allowed to eat anything after midnight before the surgery so we woke him up around 11pm to eat a night-time breakfast. He ate a bowl of cereal, 2 cups of juice, blueberries and half a waffle. He was super excited to eat night-time breakfast and I think it helped him to not be too hungry the next morning. We told him that because he was eating breakfast now he couldn’t eat breakfast in the morning because we had to go to the hospital.

meal before surgery

On the way to the hospital he was a little tired even though we didn’t have to be there terribly early. To distract him from being hungry we let him play with toys, watch tv and just kept him busy so he forgot he was hungry. He didn’t seem to mind too much except for when his little brother got to eat breakfast and he didn’t, but we reminded him he couldn’t eat breakfast today and he seemed to be OK with that.going to the hospital

The hospital called and told us they had a cancellation and if we could get their earlier he could be seen sooner. So we rushed out the door and got there about 30 minutes before our scheduled time. After we checked in at the front desk Jude and Joe played a few games in the waiting room. We packed some books, our Nook and a few toys but thankfully the hospital had a great waiting area for kids and we never had to wait a very long time.


They gave us a restaurant style pager that went off anytime we were needed somewhere. We registered and then waited a few more minutes until they took him back to pre-op.


In pre-op they weighed him, took his blood pressure and listened to his heart.


They gave him a child-size hospital gown and socks (he was able to leave on his underwear). Then the Child-Life Specialist brought over some washable markers and told him he could color on the bed sheet, which he thought was awesome. We even wrote some special message to him on the sheets.



The children’s pre-op waiting area had a cute playroom that was filled with toys and playing movies. There was another little boy about Jude’s age in the playroom so they played together for a bit while they waited.


Kids were allowed to bring a comfort item that would accompany them into surgery so Jude chose his C-3P0 Build-a-Bear to be his surgery buddy. Each kid’s waiting room had their own TV so Jude got to watch some Disney Jr. and Spongebob. Watching shows seemed to help keep him preoccupied and calm.


Then the nurse brought in some “giggle juice” which was medicine that was supposed to make him calm and happy before they took him back to the operating room. He didn’t really like the taste of the medicine and spit most of it back out but the nurse said if he got some in his mouth he was probably fine. Then the Child-Life Specialist brought over a mask for Jude to decorate with sticker and she even lined the inside of the mask with flavored lip balm (Jude choose grape) so it would smell good. He decorated his mask with all Toy Story stickers.


While we waited the anesthesiologist came and spoke with us about the options for pain medication and general anesthesia and to make sure we didn’t have an opposition to the standard procedure. Then the pediatric urologist that was performing the surgery came out and gave us a run down on what would take place during the surgery. I really liked how thorough all of the nurses and doctors were when dealing with the parents and how sensitive they were with the children.


Then it was time for him to go back to surgery. We’d been waiting a little while and Jude’s medicine was kicking in. A few times he asked to go home but was pretty glazed over. When it was time for them to wheel him away he got a little sad but the nurses did a great job distracting him. I tried to be encouraging the whole time because I didn’t want him to be afraid. I told him I loved him and that he was brave and that I’d see him in just a little bit.


The surgery took about an hour so Joe and I went down to the cafeteria to get a little lunch (and coffee) while we waited. I packed us some snacks and GoPicnic lunches since I wasn’t sure what they would have available in the cafeteria. (They were really good by the way.) We called our parents to let them know how everything was going and then came back to the waiting room until the surgeon came out to speak with us.

hospital cafeteria

The surgery lasted about 45 minutes and then the surgeon came to talk to us. He told us that his surgery went well and we would be able to see Jude shortly. We had to wait about another 30 minutes until they buzzed us back to see him. His bear even got a bandage after surgery.


He was asleep when we went back. They prefer for the parents to be present when the kids wake up so they aren’t scared. We had to wait with for another 30 minutes until we could finally get him to wake up. But as soon as the nurse mentioned Popsicle he opened his eyes. surgery13

He was extremely groggy and could barely keep his little eyes open but he loved the Popsicle. After he finished the Popsicle the nurse took out his IV and unhooked him from all the wires. We dressed him and we were pretty much on our way as soon as the anesthesiologist signed off on his papers.


He was still heavily drugged so Joe carried him to the car where we gave him a little more water and he dozed all the way home. He wasn’t hungry right away but he was very interested in getting home to open the presents that Grammie and PopPop bought for him.


The doctor told us he needed to take it pretty easy for about 24 hours and then he could resume most typical 5 year old boy activities. When we got home he played Legos, watched a few shows and even got to play video games with Joe. They also told him to eat only mild foods for the next 24 hours but after about 3 hours his appetite returned and he wanted to EAT. We kept the foods pretty light but let him eat. Luckily, he didn’t vomit but I know some people will after anesthesia.


I was very impressed with the hospital staff and they way they treated us. I was also very proud of how brave Jude was the whole day. We tried to be very sensitive to his needs and also keep him informed of what was going on and he handled it wonderfully.

I think the key to preparing a child for surgery is for the parents to be calm and sensitive to what the child is going through. Surgery isn’t an everyday ordeal and most kids do better with routine. I’ve found that when we have to break routine it’s important to keep the kids informed of what is going to happen next so they don’t feel scared or anxious. Also, keeping them informed of what is going to happen next so there aren’t any surprises. The unknown can be scary so if kids know what to expect they can prepare how to emotionally deal with the situation.

I pray we never have to visit the pediatric surgery center again but if we do I feel more prepared.


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