Surviving Surgery

by Amanda Frightening words that no parent wants to hear:  “Your child needs surgery.”  The immediate thought afterwards is “What if he/she doesn't wake up?”  To put the life of your child in another person's, a veritable stranger's, hands is an emotional mountain to overcome.

My son had eye surgery this past September at CHEO.  They have an amazing Day Surgery Unit team.  The hospital staff are what make the difference in providing that reassurance to the parents and to help them cope.  They are extremely organized and experienced.  Along the way they offer several opportunities for you to ask questions.

Word of advice:  write your questions down.  When you are under pressure or experiencing anxiety, you may forget something that is important to you.  There is always a preoperative appointment with the surgeon, you meet with the nurse the day of to take vital signs, they are a good source of information and reassurance.  There is a nurse who explains directly to the child using pictures and dolls exactly what will happen leading up to the surgery.  This piece is the most valuable for my son; he was included in every step. The staff at the hospital made the effort to speak directly to him, call him by name, and make every effort to make him comfortable with the whole process.   The doctors are an important piece of the equation.  They talk fast, but when were heading to the operating room, they introduced themselves, their specialty and the role they would play during the surgery.  They spoke to my son, asked him if he had any questions and answered him in a way he could understand.  In my son's case he had two anaesthesiologists in the room as well as his opthalmologist who would be performing the surgery.  He wouldn't walk with me to the operating room.  He wanted to walk with the doctors because they had blue pyjamas on, just like him.  Way to break a mother's heart!  Post surgery, there are two nurses in attendance in the recovery room to monitor his vital signs and make sure things go as they should after surgery.

I was not feeling nervous until the day of the surgery.  And then I didn't sleep, worried about whether or not he would wake up from anaesthesia.  The fear of the unknown is the worst kind.  I know, in theory, how things work and that this is a very common surgery that is done routinely.  This brought no comfort to me on that day.  Coping with the feelings and anxiety is half the battle.  It is very natural to want to avoid putting your child in that situation, but in the end the risks really are very small if your child is healthy and the surgery is relatively minor. My best advice to any parent is to not go it alone.  My husband was with me the majority of the time, he did have to leave to go to work while he was still in the operating room, but I still had his support, and he had mine.  Bring your spouse, partner, co-parent, a friend or family member.  Typically, you are only allowed two adults present the day of the surgery, no siblings.

Forty-five minutes when your child is under the knife, is an eternity.  Your eyes can hardly leave the clock.  Your mind tries to push it to go faster which is irrational but an uncontrollable reflex.  I was in the waiting room for ten minutes by myself when the surgeon appeared, stated the surgery went as planned, my son did extremely well, and he was sleeping it off in recovery.  I have never felt such relief, it flooded every part of me and I would have fallen if I had not been sitting down.

As for my son, he had it easy.  He slept through the whole thing, and as soon as he woke up there were offerings of juice and popsicles (he ate two!), and a movie to watch.  They called me as soon as he was awake, so for him, it was like I never left his side.  He even realized that daddy was missing and asked where he was.  He spent an hour under observation in the Day Surgery Unit and then were were able to go home.  Children are resilient.  I believe they cope better than we adults do.  Ignorance can be bliss, and it's better that way for a child.  I would rather suffer the trauma than him.


Amanda was born and raised in Ottawa where she continues to live with her husband and son "J". Amanda is bilingual and interests include reading, blogging, socializing, and advocacy on children and teen issues.