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Preparing Yourself and Your Child for Surgery

Posted on Nov 08, 2021

An operation, whether outpatient (where your child goes home the same day) or same day admit (where your child stays in the hospital overnight, or several days after the procedure) can be stressful. On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Raquel Gonzalez, M.D., pediatric and surgical critical care surgeon at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and program director for the Surgical Critical Care Fellowship, provides several pointers that can make the experience a little bit easier.

The process of scheduling an operation starts off in the clinic, where you bring your child for the surgical evaluation. At the time, you meet the surgeon who will be performing the operation. We discuss the actual procedure, how long it will last, we work on picking a day for the procedure. Moreover, we obtain permission to perform the operation. You will also be provided with general information of the surgical process.

What should I expect several days before the operation?

Several days before the operation, you will get called by our preadmission team, and will be provided instructions on when your child should stop eating and drinking. These instructions are meant to be very clear, as we will need your child to have an empty stomach several hours before the operation to make sure that the process of falling asleep with general anesthesia is safe. Your child will usually be required to have nothing to eat, which we term NPO, for eight hours. This may vary based on the age of your child. Clear liquids, which are see- though liquid substances, are usually allowed about three hours before the procedure.

The preadmission team will also inform you of the actual time of the operation and when you and your child should arrive to the hospital the day of the procedure. The arrival time is usually a couple of hours before the actual operation, to allow time for registration and to meet the perioperative and anesthesia teams.

Are my child and I required to get tested for COVID-19 before the operation?

You are not required to be tested for COVID-19 before the operation. However, your child does need a COVID-19 test within three days of the operation. This will also be arranged by the preadmission team. The test can be done at our facility, or at a facility of your preference. For the latter, the test will also need to be done within three days of the operation. However, we will usually need those results within 24 hours of the operation.

What should I bring to the hospital?

Please make sure to bring your ID the day of surgery. You can also bring a sweater, as it can get cold in the hospital waiting area. Feel free to bring a book as well, especially if the operation is scheduled for several hours.

How do I explain to my child what to expect before and after surgery?

During the surgical clinic visit, the surgeon will help explain the process to you and your child. You might have to reiterate some of this information at home, to help ease your child. However, you are not alone in this process — surgery is a team sport. During the preoperative assessment, the team will continue to explain the process to your child. Moreover, we have a wonderful group of Child Life specialists, who are specifically trained to help with this delivery. At times, they are present in the preoperative suite, and use several resources such as books, and toys to help your child.

Although we understand the process of undergoing surgery can be a lot to take in, we are here for you and your child, and hope to work with you to make the process as smooth as possible.

On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital experts. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Stories each Monday for the latest report. You also can download our free Pocket Doc app, which features a symptom checker, parenting advice and other tools for staying in touch with us.


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