Ladybug’s cerebral palsy has required numerous surgeries in her short 8 years of life. So many in fact that I’ve lost count. Yes, I know I should really know how many times she’s had surgery; but, when all the procedures start getting close to 20, you lose track.
In two weeks we will once again be heading to the operating room followed up by a 4-5 day hospitalization. Since preparing for a surgery has become pretty routine for us, I thought I would share with you some tips to help your child.
Use A Doll or Toy to Explain Surgery
Using a doll or stuffed toy to show your child where the doctors will be operating and what they will be doing is helpful. This allows for the child to visually see what will be done. I’m not saying actually mimic a procedure, but just use the body parts to show what will be corrected during the procedure.
Take this time to explain why they need the surgery, and the benefits that will come from it.
If your child will be in a cast after the surgery, point that out on the doll as well. You can use a first aid wrap to wrap around the doll showing where the cast will be and explaining why it needs to be there during their recovery.Use a doll or stuffed toy to explain the #surgery #specialneedsparenting Click To Tweet
I’ve also seen some facilities put an actual cast on a doll or stuffed toy too. This can be a fun way for your child to have some emotional support during their recovery. It can help with anxiety because their doll is having surgery too, or help prevent them from feeling out of place because their doll/toy has a matching cast. If you think this could be a benefit for your child, simply ask if it can be done during the pre-opp routine.
Explain How Surgery Day Will Go
Even if your child doesn’t really understand what surgery is, they’ll pick up on the fact that it isn’t just another doctor appointment. Prepare them for what the day will bring. If you’re unsure what to expect, here is what the typical routine looks like for us.
- We wake up and drive to the hospital. Make sure you’ve explained to your child ahead of time any dietary restrictions they will have. They probably won’t be having breakfast.
- Once we get to the hospital, we will need to check in and register.
- Next, we wait. Have fun watching cartoons or playing with the activities in the waiting room while you wait to be called back.
- Arrive in the pre-opp room. Here you’ll clean your child with special wipes to prevent infections and change into the hospital gown. Some hospitals have a special device that blows warm air under the gown to keep their bodies warm.
- Next, the surgery team will come in and go over the surgery with you. This is where they’ll talk about the anesthesia and the procedure. The doctor will probably make marks on their body for points of incisions.
- After all the pre-opp activities have been completed, I explain to Ladybug that she’s going to go and take a nap while her Dr. fixes (whatever the surgery is for). Remind them that when they wake up they might be in some pain or wearing a cast/brace. Reassure them that when they wake up, the nurses will bring mom and dad to them.
- After the surgery they’ll spend some time in a post-opp area. This is where you’ll meet back up with your child and a nurse will be monitoring their vitals, pain levels and medication needs.
- After your child is doing well and is calm they’ll be moved to their recovery room in the hospital. Depending on the surgery, you might be here a few days, get comfortable.
Prepare Them For Recovery Expectations
Taking time to communicate to your child what the weeks following surgery will be like is also important. Like I said before, if your child will be in a cast, or wearing some sort of brace let them know ahead of time. This will prevent them from waking up scared because they weren’t expecting the cast.
Will they need to stay in bed for so many days? When can they start bearing weight again? Will there be any diet restrictions? How long will it be before they can go back to their favorite activities? These are things that you might not have all the answers to right away, but it will help your child if they know that they won’t be back to normal the day they leave the hospital.
Pack Comfort Items
Packing a couple favorites from home will be comforting to them. It’s something familiar, and something they love, so don’t forget to pack their favorite doll or stuffed toy! If the hospital stay will be a few days I also suggest packing some favorite movies, books, or games. Pick things that will bring a sense of security to your child.
You might even choose to have a small gift for them in their hospital room. Nothing lifts a child’s spirits more than a gift! Just remember that they probably aren’t going to be too excited for a gift right away. You might decide to wait to give them their gift the day after surgery.
Some hospitals (especially larger children’s hospitals) have plenty of toys on hand for children to play. Don’t feel like you need to pack a week’s worth of activities. Check with your hospital to see if they have things to keep the kids entertained, but remember they are recovering from surgery. Chances are they are not going to be up for playing much those first few days.
Prepare Their Siblings
Lastly, don’t forget to prepare your other children for surgery. If possible, make arrangements for them to stay with friends and family during the hospitalization and ideally the first couple days your child is home (especially if they’re younger).
Make sure they are aware of why their brother or sister needs this surgery. Let them know what will be happening and what it means for them.
If possible have them visit at the hospital. They probably have lots of questions and are processing emotions too. Often times, seeing that their brother or sister is alright is all they need. Make sure they are prepared for what they’ll see before coming, especially if they’ve never been in a hospital.
Finally, prepare them for the recovery period. It can be difficult for a child to wrap their head around the fact that their brother or sister isn’t feeling 100% right away. Make sure they understand that you will be needing to be taking extra care of their sibling, and you probably won’t be going out to do fun things as much for a few weeks.
I also suggesting finding opportunities to make them feel extra special. Some children might feel proud in being your special helper during this time. Getting away on a quick date can also be beneficial, especially if it’s a long recovery.
How do you help your child prepare for surgery?