Here's a survival kit for making it through with your sanity intact.
Waiting...... while your young child is wheeled back into surgery is a nail-biting, soul-crunching experience. Most parents don't get it. Most kids float through childhood without even a hint of needing surgery. And if you tell a parent of one of those kids — the uber-healthy ones — that your child needs surgery, watch out. You'll be sure to get huge exclamations about how strong you are and how awful it is for someone so little to have to do something so painful.
While these statements are true and always well meaning, as the parent with a surgery pending, you don't feel strong. You definitely don't want to talk about how awful the experience will be for your little one. You just want to get it done.
Since my son was born with cleft lip/cleft palate and has now faced anesthesia five times in his four short years (with more to come), I have had a bit of experience with this. During all these surgeries, I have gathered together a checklist that I believe every parent should have before taking a little one into surgery.
Parents expect and plan for their children to be uncomfortable. We pack their security blankets and the extra soft socks. We try to anticipate their every need. But you will have needs, too. Give yourself permission to meet your own needs while meeting your child's needs.
Sometimes even giving yourself permission to go to the restroom or leave the room to grab a bite in the cafeteria is hard. But if you want to be your best for your child, your needs are important too. Meeting your own needs makes you a better parent, particularly during times of stress.
2. A Mental Stop Sign:
Going into surgery is scary. Sending your kid into surgery is terrifying. You are fully aware of all the possibilities for complications and none of them feel acceptable.
During scary times like these, it is normal for your brain to provide intrusive thoughts about worst-case scenerios — graphic and detailed visions of your child in pain or worse. But to your brain, these images start a chain reaction of stress hormones in your body, almost as if you are going through the surgery yourself. You need to know these flashes are normal (not predictive) and are not helpful. Tell yourself to stop the parade of horrific images.
Telling yourself to stop those visualizations of your child in distress is much easier said than done. Come prepared with something else to distract your mind while your baby is back there.
4. Long-term perspective:
I have found that it is extremely easy to get lost in the moment during these stress times. And, yes, it's important to take each moment as they come.
An image of your child in your arms, fully soothed, with a little smile on his/her face as he/she recovers can be a good reminder that this too shall pass. Better yet, see him/her playing again and happy. This way, the visualizations making your body feel as if it's actually happening are working for good, not evil.
5. A good relationship with the nurses:
Let's face it. The doctor is critically important to any surgery, but it's the nurses that make or break the experience. They are the ones who spend the most time with you and your child. They are the ones who know how to get an extra popsicle for your little man/lady or which doctor to approach about a necessary, but perhaps controversial treatment.
I would not even be above bribing some good will with baked goods if it came down to it. Bottom line, you want the nurses to want to help you, so make sure you thank them and treat them with the respect they deserve.
6. A partner or support person:
Having two people really is golden. It allows you to have some support. It provides two heads to keep track of all the details. It allows one of you to do the holding of your child while the other one is able to focus on talking to the doctor. It allows one of you to run out for food without leaving your child alone.
7. Ear plugs/ear buds:
If you've ever been in a recovery room, you know all that separates you from the person next to you is a thin sheet. Babies and kids coming out of anesthesia are prone to crying....loudly. If you are at all sensitive to sound, you might want to consider some earplugs or something to lower the sound. You will already be stressed and worried about your own kid. You don't need to be also having a reaction to the kid (or kids) down the hall who are screaming and difficult to soothe.
I think most people know they will have to practice patience while they are waiting for their child to come out of surgery and wake from anesthesia. Where I think most people forget to practice patience is in the recovery. Some recoveries are quick and miraculous. Some are tedious and frought with complications. Either way, try to remember that every kid heals in their own way and things will eventually resolve.
9. A Night Out:
Yes, that's right. You need to remember that having your kid go through surgery is tough. Their needs are naturally going to be primary for a bit. But once the dust settles, make it a priority to get out on the town and blow off some steam, adult-style. You've earned it. Cheers!