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If your child is having surgery: 12 tips for families

January 22nd, 2005 · 6 Comments


scene from the hospital waiting room yesterday

Thinking about Michaela’s surgery yesterday, I realized I’d like to write up ideas from our experience that might help other families in a similiar situation. Here are 12 tips that came to mind.

  1. Talk about it

    Talk about it with the hospital staff. Ask questions.
    Talk about it with the kids. Set expectations as much as possible.
    Talk about it with each other as parents. Share responsibilities… and fears.

    We tried not to mention it too often with the children. We didn’t want them to think it was a big deal and be concerned. However we did want them to be prepared for what might happen.

    For a while I tried to deny I was afraid. But telling my feelings to Ted helped me prepare. I felt calmer after a cry.

  2. Do the math

    Two kinds of calculations are required. I needed to call various offices to ensure insurance coverage and to determine what our family’s bill would be. (I’m amazed that this minor surgical procedure will cost nearly as much as Michaela’s birth.)

    I also had to determine when Michaela could have clear liquids. However I made a mistake in my math, confusing “check in time” with the time the surgery was scheduled. By time I realized my error it was too late and I had missed the window when our daughter could have enjoyed apple juice. She was understanding and I am grateful.

  3. Prepare well in advance

    Allow for enough time in preparation that morning in case other small emergencies erupt. Yes, let’s just say that Elisabeth decided not to digest her dinner Thursday night. I was glad I had enough time to give her a bath before we had to get to the boat.

  4. Fun for the whole family

    Others may not agree, including the hospital’s information packet, but I believe we all benefitted by being together. Abigail and Elisabeth knew nearly as much as Michaela did before she went to her surgery. They were only separated from her for the hour or so that she was in the operating room. The girls were able to see what Michaela experienced. And the sisters benefitted in tangible ways from the generosity of the nursing staff who treated them to popsicles, stickers and toy bears that Michaela received.

  5. Pack snacks

    Since Michaela’s procedure was short, I was glad we had packed snacks. Otherwise we would have had to take a longer lunch and might have missed her recovery. Cheese sticks, crackers, juice boxes and granola bars made easy munching. Snacks were also helpful in the van commute home, when Michaela was hungry, after fasting for hours.

  6. Hold hands

    Hold hands. Give hugs. Cuddle. Kiss. Repeat.

  7. Take toys

    Michaela brought two of her hippos, each named Happy. I let her sisters each bring a toy too. The hippos accompanied Michaela into the O.R. and lay on her lap during recovery. I also packed stacks of books. A pad and pencil for each girl proved to be fun when we began playing tic tac toe among ourselves. However, I’m not sure I needed to bring as much as I did. The waiting rooms were amply supplied with toys. The child-sized blood pressure cuffs and plastic but functional stethoscopes seemed to be favorites.

  8. Take pictures

    Ted gets the award for most creative hospital use of a digital camera. After we were told that the recovery room didn’t have a mirror, Ted grabbed the digital camera and used it to show Michaela what she looked like after surgery. From the photos I snapped, I now know what she looked like in recovery and I can tell what has changed since we left the hospital. Thanks to the offer from one of the staff, we even took our first family photo in years, Ted and Michaela in their hospital attire!

  9. Talk to strangers

    Crises break taboos. Sitting in the waiting room, we met two other families whose children were also surgery patients. Conversations started. I found comfort knowing we were not the only ones. In retrospect I wish we had attended one of the parties the hospital held each month for pediatric surgery patients; perhaps we would have met new friends there too.

  10. Find fashion that fits

    I’m glad I thought to bring Michaela a sweater that zipped rather than pulled over her face. However, I wish I had thought ahead more and had tried to buy one or two other cardigans. She will probably spend the weekend wearing the same outfit. No one mentioned this need to me but I thought of it myself.

  11. Use our doctor

    Perhaps it’s too early to post a recommendation. But I am grateful for our physician, pediatric opthamologist K.David Epley. Not only did he respond to email when planning the surgery, but on Friday he also gave us his cell phone number and then called us later to see how we were doing at home. He also called this morning. I appreciate his style of asking whether we have questions and listening to us. He even accommodated a strange request of ours. Both he and the staff anesthesiologist visited with us before and after surgery. I would give high marks to Swedish Hospital as well.

    A physician’s ability to communicate is a crucial skill. Referrals, and experience count, but if the doctor can’t talk to me or speak on my level, I’d try to make another choice. I took Michaela to a doctor who has more experience and authority but he couldn’t connect well with me or my daughter. A doctor that wants to know what I think and treats my children well will receive referrals from me. An assortment of plastic sunglasses helps too. 🙂

  12. Throw a party and pass out presents

    Earlier in the week I had asked Michaela what she wanted to eat after her surgery. So we bought a pepperoni pizza. I let each of the girls choose a treat in the store to share at our special supper. It was fun to have a little party.

    We did open a few gifts last night. But I believe the best presents are praises. I tried to thank the girls and especially let Michaela know that she did a great job. As I could I tried to thank the doctors and staff and let them know we were grateful. They were wonderful.

Michaela’s surgery was one of the best experiences I have had with medical care. I hope that these tips help others have a good experience too.

Tags: health

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 C.K. Sample, III // Jan 22, 2005 at 3:08 pm

    Glad everything went well. Prayers your way…

  • 2 enoch choi // Jan 22, 2005 at 7:22 pm

    our prayers were with you. really glad it went well, and thanks for posting these helpful tips…

  • 3 JENNY // Jan 23, 2005 at 12:27 am

    Great post Julie:) What wonderful ideas! Most of all, I am thrilled Michaela is doing well. Was praying for all of you:)

  • 4 Julie // Jan 23, 2005 at 12:34 am

    Thank you, C.K., enoch and Jenny for your prayers. 🙂 And thank God for His goodness.

  • 5 Andrea // Jan 25, 2005 at 6:24 am

    Excellent tips! Glad everything went well for you and the rest of the family. Give ’em all hugs from me.

  • 6 Robert // May 27, 2005 at 10:53 am

    “I realized I’d like to write up ideas from our experience that might help other families in a similiar situation.”

    Excellent tips and wonderful ideas!

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