Last week I spent the day in hospital with my youngest son. He was there for a simple procedure which only required day surgery. We were in at 6.45am and out by 11.30am. It was, by all accounts, a routine hospital visit and the whole thing went off without a hitch. But it still wasn’t much fun.

Hospital visits aren’t easy for anyone. It’s a bit scary and lonely and intimidating and it’s even harder for kids.

Whether you’re visiting the emergency department or in for a quick day surgery procedure or scheduled for a few [or more] overnight stays, there are a few tips to make the whole experience less yuck for everyone.

Prepare

There’s lots to do before a scheduled hospital visit!

If you have a choice in the matter then try and plan it around a suitable time in your work, social or school calendar.

Take into consideration any perceived recovery times and make suitable arrangements to accommodate them. This may mean notifying their school and taking leave from your work place.

Talk to your child as honestly and truthfully as their age and comprehension will allow. Give them as much time as you think is necessary, keeping in mind that the younger they are the less amount required. If they are under six, a couple of days should suffice. Older children will benefit from one to two weeks notice to give them enough time to process it and ask any questions.

Reassure your child that you will be with them almost every step of the way. In most cases you will be able to stay with your child until they are asleep (have an anaesthetic) before their surgery. You presence at this time is extra comforting (for both of you!) and usually you will be either asked to hold your young child or hold the hand of your older child. You can also be with them in recovery after the operation.

Coping with Anaesthetic

Watching your child ‘go under’ or ‘go to sleep’ is a horrible thing to do. Even though you know it’s for the best and they’re in the best possible care etc etc, there’s just something extremely disconcerting about watching your child lose consciousness. Talk to your child’s anaesthetist about any concerns you may have and ask them to explain each step of the process prior to going in. If you feel that it will be a traumatic experience for you then ask for a support person of your own to come along to hospital with you. They will probably not be allowed in the operation theatre but they can wait just outside ready to catch you when you come out. Fear and anxiety can make you a bit a wobbly, so ask the surgeon if you could have a chair to sit by the bed while you are holding your child’s hand.

TIP: If you feel that you will be extremely anxious and upset, perhaps consider having your partner or other trusted person sit with your child instead. Children feed of their parents’ emotions and your fear may make the process extra traumatic for your child.

Fasting

Generally surgeons will try to schedule children’s procedures in the mornings to help them cope with the fasting required before going under a general anaesthetic.

This time round I didn’t tell my seven year old son that he would need to fast before his procedure. I fed him as much food as possible before he went to bed and thankfully we needed to be at the hospital so early that there wasn’t any time for breakfast at home so he didn’t notice that he hadn’t eaten. It worked a treat! When he was a baby though, we had a terrible experience where his turn was ‘bumped’ along the list several times on the day of his procedure. He wasn’t allowed to drink anything for at least two hours prior to his procedure. By the time they finally saw him he had gone about 10 hours without a drink or anything to eat. I was livid but in hindsight I should have demanded that he be given a drink. It was a terrible experience which could have been avoided if I had been a stronger advocate for my child.

TIP: Be proactive and regularly communicate with the nurses throughout your waiting time so you will be able to make sensible decisions for your child.

Carparking

It’s a good idea to investigate what car parking is available around the hospital prior to admission. There are often timed street parks which may be suitable but will only take coins, so make sure you’ve got plenty in your purse. Some hospital parking stations offer long-term parking passes which you will need to apply for in advance. If you rely on public transport it may be a good idea to make arrangements for someone to give you a lift there and back, if possible.

What to wear

Something comfortable for everyone is my best suggestion. Easy to slip on and off for your little one as they will need to get into a gown anyway and pack layers if their stay is a longer one. Slippers are important for the overnighters.Think tracksuit pants and t-shirts plus a hoodie in case it gets cold. For you, make sure whatever you’re wearing is comfortable enough to spend a lot of time sitting around in uncomfortable vinyl hospital chairs.

What to bring

Any x-rays, doctor referrals or reports necessary to the procedure. Also any prescription medication that your child is taking in their original containers.

Something to do

This can include reading books, activity books, colouring in books and crayons/textas. If your child has a handheld gaming device, this is a great time to bring that out!

I brought my laptop and one of the other mums had a tablet she was swiping away at. A couple of magazines to flick through is always a good idea.

TIP: Many hospitals have terrible mobile service so don’t bring anything that relies on that!

Something to eat

Even for day surgery, the hospital will provide something for the patient after they come out of general anaesthetic and usually they won’t let the patient be discharged until they have been observed eating, drinking and keeping it all down! But sometimes it’s nice to have something on hand that you know your child would love to eat. Maybe some fresh fruit or a little packet of chips or some favourite biscuits.

It can be hungry work for us waiting too! Lots of hospitals have cafes in-house but they can be expensive and often the vending machines are far from a suitable snack solution. If you have time bringing along a pre-prepared snack pack for yourself is a good idea. Think nuts, fruit or even a sandwich. A bottle of water is a must and if you’re a tea drinker, a couple of your favourite tea bags is a great idea… especially if you’re planning to be there a while. If your admission time is an early one, a home-made coffee is a godsend!

Going Home

Bringing a new patient home for recovery can be a relief but can also be a bit nerve wracking. Make sure you are clear on what is required for any post surgery care including any necessary medications, surgery site maintenance, pain relief etc. It’s also a good idea to have a firm understanding of what symptoms to look out for that may indicate a problem.

Often children are more clingy and sensitive than usual after undergoing a traumatic experience and additionally, a general anaesthetic can have a variety of emotional side-effects. You should be prepared for a disruption to your usual household routines during this time. This may include meal times, bed times and behavioural expectations… and that’s just for you! If you have a partner, enlist their help and if you’re on your own ask for a relative or friend to provide some extra support or company at home.

Most importantly, remember that your little one looks to you for reassurance. So the best thing you can do is arm yourself with everything you need for you to feel as confident as possible and that will make the whole experience easier for your child too.

Good luck!

Author

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