doctor with young child in hospital

Preparing your child for surgery

With an extensive network of leading-edge pediatric surgeons, UTMB Health is ready to deliver the surgical solutions you and your family need; however, we know that providing this expert care is just a part of the equation. Planning a surgery for a child can be a stressful and exhausting experience for both the patient and the parent or guardian involved. 

Often times, there's many unknowns, feelings and emotions to manage but being prepared ahead of time will help both your child as a patient and you as the caregiver. Following these tips will empower you to be involved in your child’s medical care and recovery.

What to expect

Ask your doctor if the hospital has a child life specialist or a pre-operative teaching class for children. A child life specialist is a trained member of the team who explains what will happen and why, in terms that a child will understand. Having a virtual or in-person tour of the hospital helps children see what to expect and gives them and their parents opportunities to ask questions.

  • Who is my child scheduled to see?
  • What procedure is my child having done?
  • When should my child arrive for check-in?
  • Where do I go for the scheduled procedure and where should I park my vehicle if driving?

Ask about any protocols or policies that may affect your child’s admission or stay, including testing, masking and visitor requirements.

Have a list of current medications and allergies handy for quick, easy reference, as you will likely be interacting with a variety of different medical team members throughout your stay.

What to bring

Bringing familiar and favorite items to the hospital is vital to help a child to feel safe, secure and to cope with being in a strange place. These can include pajamas and favorite toys, stuffed animals or blankets. Older children may want to bring their tablets or phones, but don’t forget chargers so everyone’s devices can stay fully powered. If the hospital has a child life program, they will have access to play items and play spaces for children to utilize.

Plan to Stay

Children look to their primary caregivers for comfort during new experiences. Having a parent or family member stay in the hospital is very important. Research shows that when caregivers are present and providing routine daily care of their own child, patients have improved sleep, are more cooperative with tasks, and parents feel less helpless.

Questions to ask about recovery

All procedures are different and come with their own guidelines and timelines for recovery, pain management and more. The specific questions you may ask about post-surgery may vary slightly from what’s listed here. What is most important is thinking about what to expect once you’re back home and getting back into a routine. Life will go on after you’re discharged, so it’s important to consider what you’ll need to know when it’s time to leave the hospital. If you are unclear about anything, please talk with your child’s care team.

  • What is the best way to manage pain at home?
  • When can my child go back to normal activities?
  • Does my child need to be on a special diet after surgery?
  • Do we have to stay overnight in the hospital and for how long?
  • When do we follow up with the surgeon in clinic?
  • What are symptoms that might be signs of a post-operative complication?
  • Who can I call for questions or concerns after clinics are closed?
  • How should things like bandage care and bathing be handled?

No matter how silly some of these questions may sound, ask them anyway. You are your child’s No. 1 advocate, and you know them and your family’s day-to-day life better than anyone. So speak up until you understand the long-term plan.

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To learn how a certified child life specialist can help you, contact Regina Burdett at UTMB Health Clear Lake Hospital at (832) 632-7721 or Lizette Perez at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston at (409) 772-3424.