My son had an operation in 2010 to separate his webbed fingers, he was about 18 months old and at the time I was terrified and it was the last thing in the world I ever wanted to put him through. My heart actually ached whenever I thought of it. He sailed grumpily through the surgery with two blurry eyed parents and family by his side. The surgery was away from home and we stayed in a hotel the night before and the night after his surgery. The night before we went out for dinner and tried to squeeze as much fun into a strange trip as we could. After the surgery he was quite uncomfortable so there wasn’t much sleep to be had, but now I look back really fondly on those two days spent in Derby Royal, because I was the parent and couldn’t melt down in the way I really wanted to, we actually spent some lovely time together as a family in those few days. The way young children react to such events is amazing, I took his lead and we skipped our way through it and it really was not as bad as I thought it might be. So looking back here are my top tips to prepare and survive surgery with young children. Some of this will apply to hand surgery but some can be taken for any surgery with young children.
1) Preparation – Before the surgery, read some books about kids going into hospital. Usbourne and other publishers do some great stories like this. It will allow you to open up an easy and more natural conversation about what is going to happen when they go into hospital, which will help all of you talk through what is going to happen and if they are old enough it gives them an opportunity to ask questions. Because my son was little it might have helped me more than him, but I was glad to make him familiar with where we would be going soon and what happens in hospitals etc. We still read this book on occasion now and it still a lovely way to remember the experience and talk about it from time to time. After all its just like any other memory or family event, something we all went through together, not something to be scared of.
Using your child’s favourite cuddly toy or figure, prepare a bandage before the surgery for the cuddly toy. That way you child will be prepared for their bandage and have a comrade with the same sort of injury. This was my mums idea and my son was never into cuddly toys so we just did it on an old doll that belonged to my nieces. It was really nice to have that doll around and good distraction for my son too.
Think about what kind of clothes you will be able to get on them after surgery. If it’s a big bandage, no tight t-shirts!. It’s very hard to get a toddler dressed at the best of times, let alone when they have a sore bandaged hand. So loose clothes that are easy to get on are best. My lovely mum even had some clothes adapted by opening the seams and adding Velcro. I think we went with a baggy short-sleeved shirt in the end as it was summer.
2) Make it an adventure – stop at a nice park on the way, go to child’s favourite place for breakfast or dinner, bring their favourite toy. Most children’s hospitals are kitted out for lots of fun toys and games when they get there, but it always helped me to make an adventure out of the whole trip, it was a good distraction for us all and helped make more happy memories out of the trip than sad memories.
3) Save your tears and sadness (it will be you that has way more than your child!) for when they go into theatre or they are asleep. They don’t want to see you upset, so save it for when they are not around and let it go! I know I did, big loud snotty tears as soon as they put him to sleep!
4) Remember they will be hungry – When they wake up from surgery, they will be starving, remember they will have fasted before the surgery. I mistook this for pain because I just assumed that would be the case, we gave him a piece of toast and he was happy as! Obviously wait until the doctors say they are allowed but remember small toddlers and hunger is not a good combination so as soon as they are able to eat, get some of that lovely hospital toast for them!
5) Post Surgery – Your child will have a ginormous bandage, once you stop worrying about them being in pain you will start to worry about keeping it clean and keeping it on! Prepare yourself, young children will have trouble with keeping a bandage, clean, dry and in place. I think we ended up getting the hand re-dressed about 3 or 4 times, one time he even trapped it in a drawer! When you are leaving the hospital, make sure you know all your local options for getting the hand re-dressed, it’s usually not your GP that can do this. The best service we had was at our local children’s hospital, they had all the right size bandages and experience we needed to get it bandaged back up properly. I wish I had been prepared for this, it would have saved us a lot of worry.
6) Spoil them rotten – A personal plea from me, anyone that has been through surgery deserves a lot of tender loving care, young children that have been amazingly brave and been through surgery deserve to be spoiled rotten in my humble opinion.