Your guide to preparing your child (and yourself) for surgery

Wise up to what will happen during your child’s operation, so that junior will feel calmer about the procedure.

As parents, we try to prevent our children from getting hurt, and do everything we can to ensure that they remain in good health.

Sadly, however, your little one will sometimes need surgery to treat a serious illness. During an operation, the surgeon uses medical instruments to gain access to your child’s body. In a simple operation, the surgeon may incise skin to clear an infection, stitch torn skin or remove a skin growth.

In more advanced surgical procedures, the surgeon opens the body to remove a tumour or an organ, to stitch a torn intestine, reconstruct an anatomical anomaly and so on. The main aim of surgery is to help patients recover from their condition.

With modern advancements in the medical field, simpler surgical procedures can be done with low risks for the patient.

Understandably, most people will be stressed if their loved ones need surgery, what more if it involves their child. Nor are you alone if you wonder, “Why surgery ― Is there no other option?” and “Can the body not heal itself?”

Dr Nidhu Jasm, a paediatric surgeon at Thomson Surgical Centre, explains, “When a surgeon informs you that your child requires surgery, it is because other medical treatment options have been exhausted, or medical treatment is not possible, or it is too late to consider anything short of an operative intervention. Sometimes, it is the only way forward.”

She assures parents “With modern advancements in the medical field, simpler surgical procedures can be done with low risks for the patient.”

Common surgical procedures Dr Nidhu performs include circumcision, herniotomy, appendectomy, tongue tie release, among many others.

It’s natural to be stressed if your child needs surgery. What’s worse is that your kids can pick up on your anxiety and become fearful too. To lessen your child’s and your apprehension and improve the experience, Dr Nidhu lists ways in which parent can prepare themselves and their child for an upcoming surgical procedure.

Strategy #1: Educate yourself

Use reliable sources to read up as much as you can on your child’s condition and the recommended surgical treatment. Knowing what will happen will prepare you to manage any physical and emotional trauma your little one may go through.

Strategy #2: Ask the surgeon plenty of questions

Don’t hesitate to ask your surgeon plenty of questions as you want to make sure he/she explains everything you need to know about the procedure, as well as the risks involved. If you think it will help you and your child better understand what is happening, ask your surgeon to draw or show you pictures or diagrams to support what they are explaining to you. Your surgeon will be happy to do so.

Strategy #3: Get a second opinion

As you want to make an informed decision for your child’s sake, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion. Most surgeons will be happy to assist you with getting one.

Strategy #4: Don’t rush to do non-urgent surgery

For non-urgent elective surgeries, do book the procedure several days in advance. This gives you and your child more time to mentally prepare yourselves for the operation.

Strategy #5: Talk to your child

Before the surgery, use language that your child understands to let them know what to expect. Withholding information from children or tricking them will cause them to lose faith in the information adults provide. Don’t resort to such short-term measures. Instead, communicate in an honest yet reassuring manner with your child to build trust with them. Tell your child, “We are all trying to help you get better”.

Strategy #6: Explain surgery do’s and don’ts to junior

Tell your mini-me ― in an encouraging manner ― what they can and cannot do after surgery. For example, while he/she may not be able to go swimming, they can play their favourite computer games at home.

Strategy #7: Be positive

Dr Nidhu suggests that parents talk about the surgery as an experience that will ultimately help their child. For instance, you can say something like “Doctor is going to get rid of the little monster in your tummy that is causing pain, so that you can have your favourite food again”.

Before the surgery, use language that your child understands to let them know what to expect…communicate in an honest yet reassuring manner with your child to build trust with them.

Before the surgery

Several days before the surgery, you will receive a call from the clinic to remind you about your child’s need to fast (including food and liquid intake instructions). Do take note of such medical advice as it will ensure your child’s safety during the procedure. As instructions vary for each patient, be aware of the specific instructions they will give for your child.

Talk to your child positively about the upcoming surgery and give them plenty of encouragement and motivation. The night before surgery, do pack your child’s favourite toy, game or colouring book, and do bring along a familiar pillow or bolster. Make sure everyone gets a good night’s sleep ahead of the next day’s procedure.

On the day of the surgery

Dr Nidhu advises, “Parents should stay calm and be a good role model for your child. As your little one mirrors your actions, they will become anxious on sensing that you are. Follow the nurses and surgeon’s instructions… You’ll have a chance to ask any remaining questions before the surgery starts.”

What to expect in the operating room

One parent will be encouraged to keep their child company in the operating room. Your kiddo will be given a gas to breathe in that allows them to fall asleep within a minute or so. As some children struggle during this process, having someone familiar in the room with them helps them to relax.

Once your child is asleep, you will need to leave the operating room. A nurse will escort you to the waiting room where you will be given an estimated time as to when the surgery might end.

In such a nerve-wracking situation, every minute will seem like an hour. It is even tougher if the surgery lasts several hours or is performed in the wee hours. Make sure to have family with you for support and that you can be contacted on your mobile.

After the surgery

The surgeon usually updates parents about your child’s well-being shortly after completing the procedure. If required, he/she will also offer more details, including pictures and specimens.

The nurses will alert you as soon as your child rouses after the operation. Children sometimes wake up crying, not from pain but because they want to see the familiar faces of their family. However, most children will settle down when their parents arrive.

You will be given clear instructions as to when to feed your child after surgery. The surgeon will also see you again when he/she ensures that it is safe to discharge your child from the hospital. You will subsequently need to bring your child for a follow-up check-up in the clinic to ensure that he/she has fully recovered from the surgery.

For more info on children’s surgical procedures, call Thomson Surgical Centre at 6846-6766 or email surgicalcentre@thomsonmedical.com.

This article was first published on SmartParents.