Herzliya Medical Center
This question, which might be the most important in the surgery preparation phase, occupies many parents, and likely you too. The answer to this question seems quite complex, but it’s actually quite simple: you should tell your child everything, almost, be transparent and hide nothing from him. That’s the key to properly dealing with a situation that isn’t simple.
A study recently conducted at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital discovered that about a third of kids undergoing surgery might develop post-trauma – a medical repressive syndrome. This figure is alarming, but quite understood: most children don’t enjoy going to the doctor, even if it’s only a pediatrician at the HMO. A real surgery at the hospital, therefore, will be terrifying for them.
Alongside this figure, the study came up with a finding that isn’t less important, according to which the more parents who share with their child what he’s about to experience and what they’re going through – the smaller the chance he’ll develop post-trauma.
In other words, the most important tip regarding preparing the child for surgery is sharing and transparency: talk to the child about the procedure he’s about to have, explain to him why he’s about to have it and tell him how exactly it’s going to happen – starting with the day and time where you’ll leave home, the course the child will go through in the hospital and up to the moment where he puts on the anesthesia mask.
Of course, there are things that can be ‘softened’ for him and made more pleasant: “hospital” will be “clinic”, the “surgery” will be “treatment” and more. There’s no reason to go into deep details, but it’s important to give the child the feeling he’s being shared with and nothing is hidden from him – because he feels everything, even at his young age.
The importance of sharing isn’t one-sided: it’s important that throughout the time until the surgery, you encourage the child to ask questions to unload the stress and share his fears and concerns. Don’t avoid telling him you don’t know the answer to a certain question – this admittance will make him feel you’re in the same situation with him, and create confidence and explain that he’s not alone. The solution in such a situation is, of course, to promise the child you’ll check it with the doctor – and indeed do that.
As a derivative of this matter, it’s important that you remember that what you show the child affects him directly – like in any field in your life. Therefore, if you show intense anxiety, the child will also become anxious. If you show stress, the child will also become stressed. If you show you’re extremely afraid, the child will also suffer from it.
If you conduct yourselves with calm, tell your child that you’re indeed afraid but show confidence in the medical staff and the procedure – the child will also become calmer. Above all, it’s important that you try to understand where you stand in this emotions spectrum before you go to the child and tell him what’s about to happen.
One of the most important parts of preparing the child for surgery relates to the hospital and the medical staff. This is a relatively new perception in the modern medicine, as in the past, this was not given great emphasis, but today even the new doctor understands the great importance of properly preparing the child for surgery – in a way that doesn’t “place the burden” on the parents.
As part of this matter, you’ll receive, first and foremost, details instructions from the Herzliya Medical Center hospital’s medical staff before the surgery, for 2 main reasons. One – so you know what’s expected for you and your child; two – so you know how to best explain to your child what’s about to happen and answer questions he’ll ask.
If your child is anxious and concerned about what’s expected, you could introduce him to the surroundings in which the surgery will take place. This way, you could have a preliminary tour of the hospital with him, talk to the staff and more. This way, you could illustrate to your child calmly and pleasantly what exactly will happen in every stage, and most of all – you could clarify that you’ll be with him in every stage. This is an important matter in itself: emphasize again and again to your child that you’ll be with him in the operating room until he falls asleep, and that you’ll be there when he wakes up as well. This has great importance for him.
The early familiarity is very significant as preparation for the surgery. When the child gets to the hospital on surgery day, he’ll already know the place, which would look much less estranged. This is a significant matter for the child’s dealing with the procedure.
You could also get help from the medical staff in the real preparation for the surgery, mainly the long fasting the child must follow in preparation for the procedure (if the surgery is done under general anesthesia, which is the case for most pediatric surgeries). Although early morning hours are the standard for operations at Herzliya Medical Center, to facilitate the matter, this is not always possible. The staff could help you understand how to pass the difficult hours without food and drink with relative ease.
You could also understand how the medical staff ensures that the child will not feel any pain during the procedure, within the ‘no pain’ policy of the hospital. It’s recommended to tell about this important matter to the child as well: explain to him that he won’t feel any pain during the treatment, and will even have sweet dreams. This should be another aspect of the important reassuring efforts.
One of the ways to reduce anxiety and concern with every person is to give control for his own destiny – or least give that feeling. This is true in all ages, and very true in children as well. None of us like to be in uncertainty and helplessness.
This matter should guide you too during the days before the surgery. Show your child he’s a partner to the decision making the process, even if only seemingly, and continue to share with him – this alone will “bring him into the picture”.
A very important matter in which the child should have almost exclusive decision is the matter of the favorite items he wants to take to the hospital: every child undergoing surgery can bring with him 2-3 items he loves and is attached to, to give him as homely feeling as possible, before and after the surgery. Let the child pick what he wants to bring, as nobody knows better than him which item will make him feel most comfortable.
Remember that the surgery and its effects don’t end when the surgery is over – both physically and mentally. Talk to the child about the surgery in the following day, encourage him to share with you what he’s feeling in any aspect and reward him for the great courage he showed and his heroism. You could always use Herzliya Medical Center’s “hero certificate” for this purpose, which he received upon his discharge and is certain to make him feel good.